Daisy Family (Asteraceae)
Please note that this information is largely based on De la Foret (n.d.) except where noted. See Reference section for all reference details.
Yarrow is a powerful, aromatic plant, whose name reveals some of its lore. It’s said that the Greek warrior, Achilles, used this to heal war wounds. According to some stories, baby Achilles was dipped in a vat of yarrow tea for protection, and because he was held by his heel to do this, his heel was not protected; thus the term ‘Achilles heel’ to denote a vulnerability or weakness. In a different version, he was dipped into the mythical River Styx for protection.
Yarrow is an herb strongly associated with the circulatory system, but also works on other systems. Because it is broadly antimicrobial, it is helpful in preventing or fighting infections at wound sites, and also addressing internal infections.
Tones vessels, making them more pliable
Stimulates flow to peripheral vessels
Helps stop/helps regulate bleeding (cuts, wounds, nosebleeds, heavy menses)
Helps heal perineal tears postpartum (sitz/hip bath of leaves and flowers)
Can help break up congested blood and help it to flow (e.g. stuck/delayed menses, varicose veins, blood blisters, fibroids)
Can help normalise heavy menstrual flow
Because yarrow has antiviral and antibacterial properties, it not only helps to stop the bleeding, but also protects against infection and helps to clear infection. Its inflammation-modulating property is also helpful.
Antiseptic, and astringent (tissue tightening), it helps to fight infection and tone the tissue. If taken lukewarm or cool, it acts as a diuretic, promoting urination. It’s useful for irritation of the kidneys or urinary tract, or suppressed urination.
As an aromatic bitter, yarrow supports healthy digestion by stimulating digestive juices and can alleviate stomach cramps, while supporting liver health. It can also be supportive for intestinal flus.
As a sitz bath (a hip bath) it can be helpful for pelvic pain or irritable bowel syndrom pain.
As a warm tea, it can promote circulation to the periphery of the body and promote sweating, which helps the fever process. Its antimicrobial action is also useful for respiratory infections that affect lungs, nasal passages, or throat.
It’s also useful for addressing phlegm in lungs, and can be used as a gargle for a sore throat.
Congestive conditions/uterine tone
In addition to harmonising menstrual bleeding as mentioned earlier, yarrow improves circulation to pelvic area, and thus helps with congestive conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids. Yarrow is also useful in toning the uterus to prepare for pregnancy.
Yarrow also modulates inflammation and soothes spasms, so can relieve pain associated with menstruation. For menstrual pain relief, it’s best to start drinking yarrow infusions daily in the days leading up to menstruation, and increasing during menstruation if needed.
Heavy bleeding during menstruation may be due to oestrogen dominance, meaning an imbalance in the oestrogen to progesterone ratio (Wallace, n.d.). This in turn, may be due to blood sugar dysregulation, which in turn may be due to lifestyle factors such as diet and stress. So while attentiveness to diet and lifestyle adjustments can help address more root causes, yarrow may help reduce heavy bleeding, while also alleviating pain through improving circulation and alleviating cramps.
Yarrow infused oil applied externally to the abdomen may be used for any of these situations, too.
Yarrow compress or poultice can be applied to skin conditions to relieve eczema, bruising, and swelling, with its pain relieving action and circulatory action.
Because it tightens tissue as an astringent, relieves pain, and is antimicrobial, yarrow is useful for toothache and gum disease. A cold or frozen washcloth soaked in a decoction or diluted tincture can be used for teething pain. Fresh leaf can be chewed for toothache, or the aforementioned washcloth method can be used.
(Gemma and Blankespoor, n.d.; De la Foret, n.d.)
According to Juliet Blanketspoor, founder of the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, the flower is preferred for its support with digestion, women’s menstrual regulation (aside from excess bleeding), cold/flu support, and immune system support (Gemma, M. and Blankespoor, J. n.d.). Both the leaf and flower can be used to help treat urinary tract infection. The leaf is preferred to stop bleeding. Many people simply use the aerial parts together.
Yarrow leaf, which is finely divided and thus the ‘millefolium’ (Latin for 1000 leaves) part of its name, helps to stop bleeding. The fresh leaf can be torn up (to release juices) or mashed and applied to cut or nosebleed. The dried leaf can be powdered and then applied to cuts or wounds - it congeals into a kind of plaster. Yarrow leaf also helps to stop internal bleeding when taken internally (e.g. as a tea or tincture).
The flower is aromatic and attracts many insects, so it is an important nectary plant. The flower is used for its diaphoretic (sweat-inducing) action during colds/flus, especially when someone’s feeling hot but not having a fever. It helps to facilitate a normal fever response, which helps sweat and cool the body down. It’s often combined with peppermint and elderflower as a tea for this effect.
Yarrow is in the Daisy family of plants, which ragweed is also in, and some people may have allergies to it. It’s best to try a small amount and see if you react. In rare cases, topical use or contact with the plant can cause photosensitivity (Plants for a Future, n.d.).
As yarrow acts on the uterus, anyone trying to conceive should avoid taking it after ovulation, and anyone pregnant should avoid it. It is also recommended to avoid when breastfeeding as yarrow may reduce milk; it could be used for oversupply or when weaning (Birthsong Botanicals, 2019).