You've likely seen September's herb of the month in your neighborhood or local garden center. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is in the Asteraceae or sunflower family. It grows several feet high around the arid Rocky Mountains, yet lays low in eastern states where there's more humidity. The white and pink flowering varieties are favored over the yellow variety for medicinal use, but as my teacher in herb school always said, "Check the ego of anyone who claims a plant has no medicinal value." Meaning, the yellow ones might have medicinal value too!
This well-known plant has earned many alternative common names over the years, such as nosebleed, thousandleaf, and ambrosia. Like our ancestors long ago, we value this medicinally potent herb in our modern world for a variety of uses.
Yarrow's Roots in Love and War
In herbal practice, we actually do not use the roots of yarrow. The aerial parts (leaves and flowers) are what we utilize for medicinal purposes.
Wild harvested yarrow
Yarrow was said to have been carried by the Greek warrior Achilles in his belt during the Trojan War to treat battlefield wounds, hence the Latin name referring to the warrior and yet another common name for yarrow: the warrior herb. The leaves are known to support wound care in first aid, though be mindful of the type of wound you are putting plant material on in modern times!
Yarrow also symbolizes long-lasting love in several cultures. The I Ching or Yi Jing is an ancient Chinese text that claims yarrow's stalks will lead to one's love during divination ritual practice. And Greek mythology mentions yarrow when talking about the goddess of love, Aphrodite. Yarrow symbolizes love because its energetic actions are long lasting and diffusive. The plant itself is a strong perennial once established, exhibiting resilience even in harsh environmental conditions. You might even see yarrow thriving along concrete or disrupted soil where construction has occurred.
Yarrow for Reproductive Health
Wise women healers and western herbalists have used yarrow to support women's reproductive health for centuries. Yarrow supports blood flow and may alleviate the PMS symptoms associated with sore breasts and heavy menstrual flow. It also encourages a healthy estrogen and progesterone balance, therefore assisting in herbal formulas promoting healthy hormonal balance. Healthy hormone function is essential for fertility and a healthy reproductive system within women's bodies.
In addition to its internal actions, yarrow's topical astringent qualities assist midwives in helping mothers during postpartum. WishGarden's AfterBirth Sitzbath is a blend of herbs containing my favorite herb, yarrow! Preparing the herbs with hot water and sitting in this herbal bath can support a new mother's delicate bottom after giving birth. And don't forget about after-birth cramps. These intense cramps can come on fast, so having AfterEase For After Birth Contractions herbal extraction on hand may ease postpartum discomforts.
Yarrow for Herbal First Aid
The second part of yarrow's Latin name, millefolium, translates to "thousands of leaves," because the herb's soft, fern-like leaves look like many little leaves. The leaves are traditionally used in first aid responses, as mentioned earlier. Professional herbal medics know how to use them on localized wounds with minor bleeding, like cuts and scrapes.
Yarrow is called "life medicine" by the Navajo Nation, because they chew the leaves for toothaches and make infusions for earaches. Native American healers also use the leaves and flowers to infuse drinking tea, because the leaves and flowers have diaphoretic actions to assist the body in expelling heat through the skin.
Yarrow first aid tea infusion
Herbal extractions with yarrow like Serious V-Fighter can also further the body's natural immune response and support healthy mucosal tissue in response to seasonal stress.
Yarrow is my personal spirit herb. In creative tasks, it reminds me to move slowly, with steady intentions. It's a complex herb — like my personality! — and in astrology, we share the element water.
History has shown us that yarrow represents warriors and lovers, and its energetic actions can have a lasting endurance and affinity with our skin and immune systems. It's a powerful herbal ally, and I invite you to welcome it into your daily botanical rituals!
Lauren Ann Nichols attended The Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism and received her certificate in medical herbalism. She is the owner of Herbal Vice, a small batch skin care company, and grows the herbs used in her products. She is currently a customer service representative at WishGarden Herbs.
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or sell any product.
Feature photo: AnemoneProjectors, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons