A couple weeks ago I wrote a column about Queen Anne’s lace. Someone brought in a sample the other day and inquired if it was the wild carrot or maybe the poisonous water hemlock. I smiled and told her it was neither, but it was an herb with significant merit.
The plant in question is yarrow (Achillea millifolium) also a member of the aster family. According to legend yarrow was named after Achilles, the Greek mythical hero who used it to stop his soldiers’ wounds from bleeding. This herb has a much finer textured foliar featheriness than wild carrot or water hemlock, but like them it possesses clusters of white flowers which are wonderful for use in fresh or dried floral arrangements.
Yarrow is a perennial herb that is common over most of the US and Canada. It tolerates the extreme cold and dryness of some tundra areas to the heat and humidity of Florida. Single unbranched stems sprouting fern-like leaves grow up to three feet tall. Common yarrow was introduced from Europe but originated in Asia.
Yarrow spreads by a combination of seed and aggressive rhizomes. Seeds can transport the plant over a wide range, but the rhizomes are underground stems that pop up and form new plants. This helps individual plants squeeze out less dominant species and take over small patches.
This aster relative grows in full sun on a wide variety of soils. Wild varieties have white flowers, but many cultivated ones are grown ornamentally and can be yellow, pink, or red. Most ornamental types are less cold hardy, but still very adaptable to all parts of North Carolina. Best of all, deer don’t particularly like yarrow.
Yarrow has many medicinal uses. I already alluded to its styptic properties, but it is also a great fever reducer. All parts of the plants have chemicals that open our pores and help us sweat and reduce body temperature. The most common way to administer it is by making a tea. Three cups per day is usually sufficient. Bathing in an infusion of yarrow can be effective too, especially for children.
Yarrow contains volatile oils that have antibacterial properties. It has also been used to treat inflammation, indigestion, menstrual problems, insomnia and to increase urine flow. Many commercial preparations are available, but the herb preserves easily. In open air leaves and flowers dry quickly without degrading.
As with any herbal medicine, check with your physician if you are taking any prescription medication. Yarrow contains chemicals that interfere with blood thinning medicines like Plavix and Coumadin. You can use yarrow for indigestion, but not if you are using Nexium, Zantac, Prilosec and maybe a few others. Yarrow also lowers blood pressure, so if you already take something for that you might overdo it.
Whenever you embark on any medical regimen, do your homework. Learn as much as you can about what makes the drugs or holistic herbs work. Sometimes the active ingredients might even be similar from a chemistry standpoint. You’re never too old to learn so read many different sources (with different funding sources and political philosophies) and ask questions. Then use the brains God gave you.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.