One of our most powerful and versatile herbs is viewed by most as just another stinky weed.
by Ingri Cassel
The generic name for yarrow, achillea, was granted this herb in honor of the Greek warrior-god, Achilles, who used this herb to stop the bleeding wounds of his soldiers after using the leaves successfully on himself. It has been used extensively since Achilles’ time to stop bleeding in battle wounds and has earned the folk names: soldier’s woundwort, knight milfoil, staunch weed, and herbe militaris.
Today yarrow is more commonly used for the treatment of colds and flus. The first time I realized the power of yarrow, I had just moved to Idaho (Winter 1986). I woke up on a Saturday extremely ill with chills, nausea and feeling achy throughout my body. I immediately brewed a strong pot of yarrow tea. We were invited to a potluck that evening in Spokane and I told my husband that I didn’t think I could make it. After drinking most of the pot of tea over the period of two hours, I seemed to snap out of it and joined my family in traveling to Spokane for the potluck. I was amazed that I was able to recover so quickly.
Yarrow grows wild in all the mountains of Idaho, and in most of the hilly, mountainous regions of the country. The plant can also be cultivated in a garden, especially in areas that get sufficient sunlight. Both the flower and leaves are used medicinally. No house should be without this incredibly diverse and valuable herb.
Maria Treben, famous European herbalist, tells us that women could be spared many troubles if they would only drink yarrow tea from time to time. The tea has helped many women resolve irregular menstrual flow and assists menopausal women with the inner restlessness and hot flashes associated with hormonal imbalance.
Yarrow is a powerful diaphoretic (sweating) herb, which acts as a blood purifier while opening the pores, allowing free perspiration for the elimination of waste and thereby relieving the kidneys. Specific medicinal applications include fevers, eruptive diseases (such as measles, chickenpox, smallpox, etc.), hemorrhage of the lungs and bowels, jaundice, suppressed urine and incontinence of urine, chronic dysentery, typhoid fever, diarrhea (including infants), colds, obstructed perspiration, catarrh (especially of the respiratory tract), uterine problems, wounds, ulcers, diabetes, colic, Bright’s disease, stomach gas and flatulence, high blood pressure, hemorrhoids, sore nipples, influenza, rheumatism, congestive headaches, ague (malaria), all cancers and hair loss. The leaves are used as an effective first aid to stimulate blood clotting in cuts and abrasions.
I will never forget the phone call from an old friend who was fearful about a tumor growing in her larynx. She had seen a naturopathic doctor who felt that the condition was serious enough to warrant surgery. She was feeling quite desperate at this point and asked me for my herbal advice. I told her that you can resolve any illness as long as you are willing to fast on nothing but a bitter, tonic tea for three days.
I gave her the option of fasting on chaparral or yarrow tea. When she went to her local apothecary shop, she decided to go with yarrow due to the FDA warnings to only use chaparral leaf externally. She was faithful about consuming nothing but yarrow tea for the following three days. When she went to her naturopathic doctor, the surgery had to be cancelled since there was no trace of the original tumor. He was astounded that her tumor had literally disappeared in such a short amount of time and took notes as to how she had treated it. What amazed him even more was the simplicity of her treatment.
For most of us, yarrow’s strong antiseptic and bitter taste would deter us from using this tea on a regular basis. To minimize the unpleasant taste, yarrow is often mixed with elder flowers and peppermint. A local health food store owner makes a cold and flu tea blend which contains yarrow and is quite pleasant to the taste. Her secret? She adds cinnamon chips and cardamom seeds.
Yarrow’s volatile oils, alkaloids, flavonoids and organic acids (tannins and salicylic acid) are responsible for its medicinal properties. Yarrow also contains significant amounts of vitamin C, thiamine (B1) and chromium.