Worn as a sacred amulet for protection since ancient times, Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is also endowed with a wide spectrum of medicinal attributes. Tracing back to ancient Greece and to a Neanderthal burial site in Iraq circa 60,000 BC, the herb has developed quite a reputation as an herbal ally. It was historically used on the battlefield, soothing the wounds of  Greek warriors in between fights. That includes the legend of Achilles, who was said to have been dipped in a yarrow tea by his mother in order to protect him for the duration of his life. Yet, we know of the fateful end of the story. She left all but his ankle immersed, which later became his downfall when he was struck by an arrow in that very spot. We refer to our “Achilles Heel” in reference to our weaknesses or vulnerabilities.

Yarrow is known throughout the world, spanning the globe with its famed ceremonial and  spiritual magic. Druids used it to predict the weather. In China, stalks of the plant were used to throw the I Ching, the book of divination. Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest traditionally hung yarrow in longhouses to repel insects and sprayed yarrow tea to evade pests while curing salmon. Many tribes used the plant cleanse an area where sick or dying people were.

Plant characteristics

Yarrow contains 123 active constituents with known pharmacological activity. Its antimicrobial flowers are hermaphroditic and come in white, pink, and purple. The aroma of the plant is not sweet, but rather astringent and pungent. Yarrow generally grows in stands of others of its kind, but can also be found individually. It has the ability to persevere throughout the winter, and  is often one of the few botanicals peeking up through the snow.

Yarrow is a wonderful ally for the garden, as it attracts bees, butterflies, and wasps. Its roots secrete compounds which protect and strengthen other botanicals around it and encourages them to become more disease resistant. The plant can also prevent erosion by binding loose soil together. It is also drought tolerant and requires little water.

Some of the most well established uses for yarrow have been for healing wounds, soothing gastrointestinal issues, for menstrual cramps, and for maintaining energetic boundaries. It's sometimes opposite, yet complementary properties, encourage inner and outer balance.

Wound healer

Yarrow has been utilized since ancient times as a wound healer, a reminder of the human body’s superb power to self heal. It has mild antiseptic and pain relieving properties can speed up the healing of various internal and external wounds. The plant encourages blood to coagulate and can also aid in tissue regeneration. Its anti-inflammatory actions decrease the risk of infection. These characteristics are related to its ability to regulate the blood flow to and from the skin’s surface.

Blood mover, Fever breaker & Menstruation Regulator

Herbal remedies with opposing (yet unifying) abilities can normalize contradictory conditions. Yarrow opens pores and purifies the blood, and has both cooling and warming effects within the body. Its ability to encourage perspiration makes it especially useful at the onset of fever, in order to move it through and out. The plant contains antiviral and antibacterial actions that support systemic recovery. It also clears toxins from the body via sweating which can cool the body and boost the immune system. Yarrow can also regulate fluid levels and works to reserve heat if needed.

In general, yarrow can regulate blood flow, which is fundamental for its ability to halt bleeding wounds. Yet it can also movement of blood to areas of the body when there is stagnancy, for example with bruising or pain. This action also works internally, and can be seen in its ability to regulate menstruation. Yarrow is both a uterine stimulant and antispasmodic that can relieve painful and/or delayed menstruation. Herbalists often recommend it to clear up congestion in the pelvis and to decrease uterine pain.

Emotional protection

Yarrow has often been used for “psychic protection” to evade absorbing other people’s energy. The flower essence enables sensitive beings to be courageous in their maneuvering through the world. Yarrow can protect against negative environmental influences for people who use technology or sit under fluorescent lights. It may also benefit those who are prone to allergies or susceptible to illness due to environmental contamination.

In a similar way the plant’s astringent properties works on the blood, yarrow can help a person’s energy from “bleeding” into their environment. Yarrow is considered "Wolf Medicine" for its ability to strengthen personal territory (boundaries). The spirit of yarrow can encourage being in a healthy community and knowing one’s limits and capacity.

Digestive Aid & More

Yarrow has flavonoids and bitter, aromatic compounds that boost the production of saliva and stomach acid, aiding digestion and stimulating bile flow. It can be beneficial when liver or pancreatic function is compromised due to low digestive enzymes or high insulin levels.

An Iranian clinical trial of 70 patients used a mixture of Frankincense (B. Carterii), Ginger (Z. officinale), and yarrow to monitor its effects on IBS and associated anxiety. The study found that the herbal blend decreased the severity of IBS symptoms, such as abdominal pain, bloating, and irregular bowel habits. Researchers noted that the anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and anti oxidative properties of A. millefolium may have had positive effects in IBS due to the inflammatory nature of the disease. They also found that the components of yarrow, by activating by GABA (a neurotransmitter that is made in the brain which blocks impulses between nerve cells), may have decreased depression and anxiety. Elevated levels of GABA increase mood and have a calming effect on the nervous system.

There are additional studies on yarrow that are worthy of further examination: The plant has been researched for its antitumoral properties in pancreatic cancer. A supercritical CO2 yarrow extract was used in a mouse model and was found to decrease pancreatic tumor growth. Researchers reported that a yarrow preparation may be beneficial as a “complementary adjuvant or nutritional supplement in pancreatic cancer therapy.” More investigation should be done to see if this also applies in humans.

The plant was also examined for Multiple sclerosis (MS), a neurological disease with no cure to date and where existing drugs only can slow down the progression of the condition. A triple-blind, randomized clinical trial was conducted on 75 MS patients. They received a water based A. millefolium preparation in 250 mg/day and 500 mg/day doses for one year. Researchers reported the beneficial effects of yarrow as an adjunct therapy for MS patients.

Yarrow has been used for: fever, colds, post-partum care, bruises, mouth sores, internal bleeding, varicose veins, fibroids, hypertension, measles, chickenpox, inflammation, heartburn, menstrual cramps, bladder infections, allergies, arthritis, leukorrhea, delayed menstruation, chills, excessive bleeding, nosebleeds, hemorrhoids, ulcers, urinary tract infections, diarrhea, gastroenteritis, strains, sprains, cuts, scrapes, bloating, flatulence, eczema, dry skin, multiple sclerosis (needs further study), arthritis, gastritis, asthma, hepatic disease

By: Sarah Russo