Yarrow – A versatile medicinal herb

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.

yarrow creeping into the grass

white yarrow flowers

yarrow growing under a crape myrtle

yarrow foliage

dense yarrow foliage


Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I recently retired from teaching high school agriculture after 25 years teaching with my wife. Until recently I wrote a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com). I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that can be purchased on Amazon in Kindle format. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone (presently out of print), a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death (this one is not yet published). In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books. I also wrote a romance novel titled Virginia. It is available on Amazon and is a different type of romance from a man's perspective.
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9 Responses to Yarrow – A versatile medicinal herb

  1. amandawensel says:

    this plant seems to be very beneficial not just for our medical purposes but for other plants as well.

  2. A versatile medical herb is the right name for the yarrow. This plant pretty much does it all, from helping humans medically to helping other plants. Great plant!

  3. its cool that this plant helps humans in so many ways.

  4. its cool how the oil is used for so much

  5. i like the fact that drinking this in a tea can help you when your sick. being sick isnt fun

  6. sbright16 says:

    I like how you can use this plant to help people.

  7. It’s amazing how different plants that you never knew about could help you in some everyday sickness! Definitely a good plant to have handy!

  8. vicky caskey says:

    I think I have yarrow, but it never flowers. do some varieties not flower? I would love to read your four books as well.

  9. I am extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the
    layout on your weblog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify
    it yourself? Either way keep up the excellent quality writing, it is rare to see a great
    blog like this one today.

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