There are many reasons to love Yarrow- its beauty, its tough and easy-to-grow nature, the beneficial insects it attracts, and its medicinal properties and healing versatility. My love for Yarrow is simpler and more sentimental- to me, it is the herb of camping, and the clean smell of its leaves brings me back to many past adventures in the woods of the West.
Yarrow is an herb that seems to be native to everywhere, with a long history of medicinal use wherever it grows. In many cultures, its name refers to warriors and wounds: woundwort, staunchweed, herba militaris, knight’s millefoil, and carpenter’s weed, among others.
Yarrow’s botanical name, Achillea millefolium, refers to the Greek hero Achilles, who studied with the centaur Chiron, a great healer. From Chiron, Achilles learned to use the leaves of Yarrow to stop bleeding and fight infections on the battlefield, which is one of the most common historical uses for the plant.
Although camping only sometimes seems like a battle, it can get rough out there, and it’s a great help that Yarrow grows abundantly in most of the West. I don’t recall where I first learned about using Yarrow leaves for cuts, scrapes, stings, and bites, but I remember that, from a very young age, if I had any skin problem out in the woods, my first instinct was to find some Yarrow, chew it a bit until it was mushy, and plaster it on the injury.
For many years, my family was very active with volunteer trail-building projects in Colorado, and every time I went on one, the same story would unfold: I would get a cut or bite, I’d chew up some Yarrow and plaster it on, other people would at first laugh at me and then later try it when they got hurt, and by the end of the project, everyone was sporting little green patches of pulp. It sounds gross until you try it on a mosquito bite- when that maddening itch disappears in minutes, you’ll be sold on Yarrow and spit!
What makes Yarrow effective for these injuries is a complex mixture of anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and astringent constituents, which are useful in almost any type of extraction and preparation, from the simple poultice I relied on to tea, oil infusions, brewed as beer or wine, and in alcohol extractions such as Spagyrics.
Yarrow contains salicylic acid, which has aspirin-like properties that dull pain and reduce inflammation, and it can also be used as the Cherokee did, to reduce fever. It is also rich in terpenes which have strong anti-microbial effects as well as aromatic properties, and Yarrow was the main bittering agent in mead and beer before hops was used.
With its companion brewing herbs, Yarrow created a stronger, more inebriating affect, entheogenic if enough was consumed, in contrast to the sedating effect of the hops that replaced it. The switch from complex “gruit” mixtures of Yarrow and other herbs to hops is an interesting bit of history, and may be one of the first prohibitionist and drug control movements in society.
Yarrow can also be high in silica, which is important to tissue repair for us, and disease resistance in plants. Yarrow is used to make a “prep” spray in Biodynamics, in which silica is an important carrier of light energy to help the plant photosynthesize, grow, and mature.
The silica content of soils varies greatly, and so does that of Yarrow, and it seems lowest in the more aromatic mountain Yarrow, and highest in coastal sandy-soil plants. In our area even a meticulously cleaned Yarrow leaf will feel gritty to the touch from the silica in it, and as a mineral, silica is extracted very well by Spagyric processing, and this and all the other healing properties of Yarrow are very well expressed in our Spagyric Essence of this lovely plant.
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