This wonderful plant is native to hedgerows, embankments and field margins throughout the temperate zones of the northern hemisphere. With distinct and delicate looking feathery leaves once recognised it is easy to identify from early spring onwards. By June it can reach 60-70cm!! Flowering stems put out clusters of small white flowers sometimes mistaken for cow parsley at a distance.
Introduced into New Zealand and Australia as cattle feed it has also gained a strong foothold in the southern hemisphere.
Yarrow takes its Latin name (Achillea) from the legendary Greek warrior Achilles.
famed through homer’s Iliad and his part in the Trojan War. Achilles was said never to be without yarrow in battle.
In western herbal medicine yarrow is used for its astringent and diaphoretic qualities primarily. Pre conventional medicine, yarrow’s ability, when applied directly to wounds in a poultice as means to stem the flow of blood and ease pain, probably afforded it a place in every soldier of experience’s first aid kit. These traditional uses have earned yarrow common names in the British Isles such as soldier’s woundwort, woundwort, stanch weed, nosebleed, knight’s milefoil and thousand seal. Its a well known tried and tested remedy for nose bleed!
Native Americans consider yarrow a life medicine. It is still widely used for its analgesic qualities. The stems are chewed to ease toothache, an infusion for earaches, teas to help reduce fevers and to aid a restful night’s sleep. Decoction of the leaves are inhaled to relieve headaches and smoked in traditional ceremonies. While a decoction of the roots applied to the skin is used to induce a powerful stimulating effect.
Besides its marvellous medicinal qualities in British folklore holding a yarrow leaf over your eye is said to induce second site. Similarly, in china the dried stalks are still used as a means of divination in when consulting the I Ching. A method said to date back over three thousand years.
At this time of year (April) in the British Isles wild yarrow is still a low cluster of sprouting green feathery leaves. Easily overlooked amongst the profusion of vegetation striving out from its winter hibernation. But finding it now means those feathery leaves will be packed with essence and picking a few earlies will assure a potent collection.
The leaves and flowers of the yarrow can be used fresh or dried while the roots are used dried or through decoction.
Using all the above ground plant we drink yarrow in a tea on its own or as a blend throughout the year. Although the taste is noticeably lighter and grassy when used fresh, while dried it offers a lifted earthy aroma and taste that suites the cold dark winter months. I like both but prefer dried yarrow in my tea.. We often will add a little cleaver, elderflower, fennel, rose, nettle, mint or lemon balm with yarrow in a warm infusion (in various combinations). Simply because I love its taste. It sits well in the background providing an unusual earthy platform on which to host a multitude of other flavours.
Whether you are interested in yarrow’s medicinal, taste or visual aesthetic bounty this lovely little native to our soil will have something to offer you. If you do go out and discover this gem of a plant for yourself, like all of nature’s bounty, pick sparingly and you will always find an abundance.
Now as we move forward to our animals. i have foundyarrow to be selected in all its forms. They hydrosol being especially well selected for nervous or shy animals. The essential oil, more potent and strong is also selected frequently. It acts as an excellent rescue remedy for dogs and ive found it to be selected on numerous occassions for topical application. Ive applied it externally for mud fever, rubs and sores in many horses. its effectiveness always amazes me :)
The dried herb i find to be less selected by dogs but commonly selected by horses. its slightly aromatic qualities drawing them in.
What a wonderous, powerful little herb that packs a punch of healing.