Having a widespread range, it can be found growing in the grasslands, open forest, mountainous regions and even in the urban flower beds. Not only does it grow wild, but it is a cultivated flower that adds interest and compliments many a fresh cut or dried flower bouquet. Naturally, it is a lovely white but in cultivated varieties it can be found in white and soft pastels to brilliant shades of yellow, red, orange, and gold. But the interesting thing about this plant is that regardless of the color, they all have the same medicinal attributes. This wonderful plant I am talking about is Yarrow AKA Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium L.) is a member of the Composite Family and can be found growing along roadsides, open prairie, and along the edges of aspen poplar groves. As identified by the book Wildflowers Across the Prairies, revised and expanded edition, by F. R. Vance, J. R Jowsey and J. S. McLean, this perennial flower has 10 to thirty disc florets forming a 1.5 inch (4 cm) densely packed terminal flower cluster which are usually white, but occasionally light pink. The flowers will typically appear from June to August on stems that emerge from a branching rootstock. The leaves are wooly, blue green in color averaging about 1.5 to 6 inches (4 - 15 cm) long, 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide and divided into many segments.
Growing right along side the Yarrow AKA Common Yarrow is the Many-Flowered Yarrow (Achillea sibirica Ledeb.) which at first glance will resemble its cousin. But on closer examination the Many-Flowered Yarrow flower heads will form a flat topped cluster and the leaves are linear and deeply toothed but not segmented and are somewhat less hairy as photos in the article on Saskatchewan Wildflowers illustrates.
Interestingly, Yarrow has been cultivated for the home garden partially because of its ability to withstand, if not thrive, on neglect. With it's ability to naturalize a bed coupled with it's wide range of colors, it's interesting foliage and it's ability to repel deer, attract butterflies, lady beetles, and parasitoid wasps that prey on aphids and garden grubs, it makes a nice addition to the garden and to fresh cut and dried flower arrangements. As identified in the Garden Design article 10 Best Yarrow Plants For Heating Up The Summer Garden, “Yarrow produces an abundance of broad, flat-topped flower clusters (or corymbs) made up of dozens of tiny daisy-like florets. Yarrow flower colors range from white and soft pastels to brilliant shades of yellow, red, orange, and gold.”
Yarrow will quite often make an appearance in greenhouses in the spring of the year. But, because of its spreading nature from its branching rootstock, started plants can quite often be obtained from those gardeners that already have it. Although the spreading nature of Yarrow makes it challenging to control in confined beds it is great if you are wanting to naturalize an area of the yard as The Spruce identifies in How to Grow and Care for Yarrow Plants. The naturalizing abilities of this easy to grow plant coupled with its drought tolerance, also makes it a perfect candidate for Xeriscaping as identified in this article from The Spruce, 10 Flowers to Grow in a Xeriscape.
If Yarrow sounds like something that you would want growing in your yard and you are unable to find a gardener who has some and your favorite plant nursery does not have it, Yarrow can be started from seed. As West Coast Seeds explains in the article How to Grow Achillea, seeds need to be started about 8 - 10 weeks prior to the last frost by simply pressing the seeds lightly into the soil. Transplant the yarrow starts into the garden when it is still cool providing “loamy, well drained soil with a pH of 5.5 to 7.0.”. They also recommend to “Divide plants every 3-4 years. Cut plants to ground level in autumn.”. Personally, I do not divide until it grows outside its boundaries. I typically leave all stocks intact in the gardens and flower beds in the fall to act as a snow catchment, allow for seed drop and help to provide shelter and food for the birds during the winter months. Granted, it makes some extra work in the spring, but in my opinion it is worth it.
If you do not have the garden space to grow Yarrow but want to gather some for bouquets or use in medicinal or herbal medicine, harvesting from the ditches, grasslands or forest fringe areas is a definite option depending on your intended use of it. If you are planning on using the flowers for a dry flower bouquet, fresh cut bouquets or medicinal purposes, harvesting alongside a dirt road may not be the best idea. And equally as important for medicinal purposes, is not to harvest it from alongside a contaminated water body, from a sprayed field, or from a field recently fertilized (chemical or natural).
Regardless of the intended use, it is extremely important that you ethically forage Yarrow and all herbs, berries, etc.. Ethical foraging means that you are aware of your surroundings when harvesting, you take note of how many of what you plan to harvest are around you and that you don't harvest everything to ensure that you are leaving a seed source and food for the birds and animals that may use what you are foraging. I think that Wild Muskoka Botanicals summed it up perfectly in her article 5 Rights of Wildcrafting - Introduction to Foraging, with the statement “Your impact as a forager is on the entire ecosystem, not just the species you are harvesting.”.
Yarrow can be used fresh for culinary or medicinal purposes but for an extended shelf life and medical use throughout the non growing months, it is better to dry it. As with drying for a dried flower arrangement, Yarrow can be bunched into about 3 - 5 stems and hung in a cool dark place to dry. Because I was ethically foraging and harvesting my Yarrow for medicinal uses in home remedies, I chose to dry it in a brown paper bag to prevent dust and provide the dark environment needed for drying. I could have run it through my Excalibur 9-tray dehydrator but I did not have enough to fill it. And to be honest, I prefer air drying for most herbs as I feel it is gentler on the plants thereby preserving more of the medicinal properties. Regardless of the drying method, after the Yarrow is dried, I process the plant by simply crumbling the entire plant and storing it in an air tight container in a cool dark place. A dark container would have been better to help prevent contact with light, but it is a good use of the odd jars I don't want to use for canning and being that the herbs are stored in a dark cupboard this odd jar will work nicely.
Medicinal Properties of Yarrow
Whether you are ethically foraging Yarrow or growing Yarrow from seed, transplants or was gifted some roots, it is a wonderful way to bring some beauty into your home and help pick up the spirits and make you smile. Although we know that happiness and laughter is some of the best medicine, the medicinal properties of yarrow may be able to help you when it's shear beauty may not be enough.
Although the flowering plant is the principle part used for medicine, the root has uses as well. All members of the Achillea genus, regardless of color, have medicinal properties that have been documented all the way back to ancient Greece. According to The Homegrown Herbalist book by Dr. Patrick Jones “The name Achillea has reference to the Greek hero Achilles. Soldiers from ancient Greece to World War One carried Yarrow into battle to staunch their wounds. In fact, one of the common names for yarrow is soldier wort (wort is the Old English word for plant).”.
Although Yarrow is most commonly used for stopping bleeding either applied topically or internally for internal bleeding, Yarrow is warming and can be used to break fevers. According to Dr. Jones, “It's particularly good when combined with elder and peppermint for respiratory illnesses. Yarrow is also useful for menstrual cramps.”.
But as The Homesteader's Herbal Companion by Amy K. Fewell explains, Yarrow medicinal uses also include anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, anti-bacterial, antispasmodic, lowers blood pressure and aids in cardiovascular health. And although “it is a fabulous herb for asthmatic relief and general respiratory health”, “the leaves and flower heads can be eaten and cooked much like spinach”.
Yarrow can be made into a tea infusion, a tincture or used as a compress and it's application will depend on what is being treated. Dr. Jones, a retired veterinarian, states in his book The Homegrown Herbalist that he keeps “a little jar of powdered yarrow in my oral surgery table” in case he hits an artery during surgery. “The yarrow powder packed onto a bleeding artery shuts it right down.”. He also goes on to say that the “Yarrow root is an effective analgesic for sore teeth and gums. The tincture works well for this but chewing the fresh root is fine as well if it's handy.”.
The book Practical Herbalism by Philip Fritchey, MH, ND, CNHP lists many primary constituents of Yarrow such as borneol, bornyl acetate, camphor, caryophyllene and thujone, to name a few that were listed. But he also states that it contains many alkaloids and bases along with flavonoids such as quercitin, casticin and rutin, to name a few. The author further goes on to state that “Yarrow provides significant amounts of Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Phosphorus, Silicon and Vitamin C.” and that “Yarrow has influence over the Liver, Kidney, Bladder, Spleen, Heart" and that it “is said to vitalize the blood, relieve and tonify stagnant Chi, and dispel wind cold/heat conditions.”.
Contraindications and dosages of Yarrow
Although there is much herbal literature about Yarrow from which to learn, they all have one thing they recommend and that is that they should not be taken if pregnant. But, as The Modern Herbal Dispensatory by Thomas Easley and Steven Horne identify, “Yarrow is a safe remedy, but should be reserved for medicinal use and not taken regularly.”. It further states that fresh leaves “can be crushed and applied topically as a poultice for cuts and insect bites”. Their recommendation is that infusions made from dried or fresh Yarrow can be ingested at 4 - 8 ounces, three times daily; and that, tinctures made from fresh flowers and leaf at a 1:2 ratio made from 95% alcohol or dried flowers and leaf at a 1:5 ratio made from 40% alcohol can be ingested at 5 drops to 2 ml (0.4 tsp), 3 times a day.
Yarrow (Achillea spp) certainly makes a gorgeous contribution to the garden landscape, a fresh cut flower bouquet, and a dried flower bouquet. But its contributions to herbal medicine and home remedies make it an invaluable asset in my arsenal of herbal medicines. Whether I grow it or ethically forage and harvest it, it will always be present in the Apothecary.
But if you are like me, when I am learning about a plant that I may want to add to my Apothecary, I find that I am having to read the descriptions with a dictionary of some sort at hand. Words like Anodyne, Antipruritic, Hemostatic and Spasmolytic would slow down my research as I learned their meaning. So over the course of about the last year, I have compiled these medical descriptors into a document titled Definitions of Herbalism Terms. By logging into my online store front or entering the necessary information to become a site member, you will not only have access to this FREE PDF copy of Definitions of Herbalism Terms containing over 60 definitions of commonly referenced terms in herbal medicine, but you will also have access to all the other FREE downloads and For Sale items currently uploaded. I hope you will take advantage of this opportunity and that you will find your FREE PDF copy of Definitions of Herbalism Terms to be of help in your herbalism journey.
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