Yarrow, an herb closely related to chamomile and chrysanthemums, has been used since ancient times by people and cultures around the world. Traditionally, it’s been used to reduce inflammation (especially in the digestive tract), to treat skin wounds and minor bleeding, and as a sedative to relieve anxiety or insomnia. (1)
You may not have even heard of it, but in the 17th century, this herb was actually a very popular vegetable. (2) Back then, the leaves were commonly prepared and consumed like spinach. Today, it’s an underutilized culinary and medicinal herb.
Speaking of culinary herbs, do you like tarragon? Yarrow has a similar flavor profile and can be used in place of tarragon in recipes. With a sweet, yet bitter, flavor, it really can make any dish more interesting, and you’ll reap health benefits galore too. Let me tell you all about this intriguing ancient herb.
What Is Yarrow?
What is the plant origin and nutritional value of yarrow? Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a perennial herb from the Asteraceae family. It’s the best-known species of the genus Achillea due to its various medicinal uses in both folk and conventional medicine.
The plant is native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, including North America, Europe and Asia. It has fern-like foliage and colorful flowers of red, pink, salmon, yellow and white. Most plants grow to be 2 to 4 feet tall. In the wild you’ll usually see white yarrow and yellow yarrow.
Other common names for this herb include: common yarrow, devil’s nettle, gordaldo, milfoil, nosebleed plant, old man’s pepper, old man’s mustard, sanguinary, soldier’s woundwort, thousand-leaf and thousand-seal. Cerise queen is a bright pink variety. Achillea filipendulina, also known as fern-leaf yarrow, is a variety native to Caucasus, Iran and Afghanistan.
For medicinal purposes, the flowers, leaves and stems are collected when the plant blooms. You can actually eat a yarrow flower and leaf. These parts are rich in nutrients and phytochemicals, the chemical compounds that occur naturally in plants.
Some of these health-promoting phytochemicals are flavonoids and terpenes. Some of these flavonoids and terpenes that have been isolated from the plant include: luteolin, apigenin, casticin, centaureidin, artemetin, sesquiterpenoids, paulitin, isopaulitin, desacetylmatricarin and psilostachyin.
A 2013 study published in Food Chemistry showed that commercial yarrow has a higher content of fat and saturated fatty acids, proteins, energy value, sugars and flavonoids, while wild yarrow has higher levels of carbohydrates, organic acids, unsaturated fatty acids, tocopherols and phenolic acids.
1. Helps Skin Wounds and Stops Bleeding
Yarrow has been employed for natural wound treatment for centuries. The chemical achilleine present in this herb is known for its ability to stop bleeding. (3) In powdered form, it can be sprinkled on wounds to not only stop bleeding, but also to dull pain. (4)
In addition, it’s a natural antiseptic so it can prevent wounds from getting infected. This is why many healing ointments include yarrow as a key ingredient. One study even showed how yarrow oil could provide wound healing from napalm (a flammable liquid used in warfare) burns. Now that’s one serious wound to be able to treat. It’s really no wonder that in classical times yarrow was referred to as “herba militaris” for its ability to stop war wounds from bleeding. (5)
2. Potential Amenorrhea Aid
Surprisingly, yarrow has also been used in traditional herbal medicine to actually encourage bleeding in certain health conditions. One of these health issues is amenorrhea, which is an abnormal absence of menstruation. Yarrow, rue, motherwort and partridge berry are herbal emmenagogues.
As an emmenagogue, yarrow can help to stimulate blood flow in the pelvic area, as well as the uterus, and encourage menstruation. Unfortunately, this usage has not yet been confirmed by clinical research, though it’s been used this way for centuries. (6)
3. Mild Sedative for Anxiety
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology looked at the anti-anxiety effects of yarrow in animal models. Researchers used a hydroalcoholic extract from the aerial parts of yarrow on animal subjects in open-field tests. They found that it had anti-anxiety affects after both short-term and long-term administration to subjects.
Furthermore, they found that the yarrow had an effect similar to diazepam (Valium), which is a common prescription for anxiety issues. The study also showed that it remained effective after short-term, repeated administration. (7)
4. Naturally Treats Mastitis
Yarrow can really help when it comes to alleviating the symptoms of mastitis. Mastitis is a breast infection that mostly occurs among women who are breast-feeding. When you have mastitis, it’s a smart idea to alternate between warm and cold compresses since cold helps relieve pain while warmth increases circulation.
Additionally, natural herbs like yarrow contain anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Yarrow has been found to be really helpful for women suffering from mastitis. Specifically, leaf poultices provide almost instantaneous pain relief and help heal sore, cracked nipples. (8)
Yarrow has also been used in folk medicine to treat fevers.
5. Reduces Inflammation
Traditional herbal medicine in China, Europe and India has used this to calm inflammation for a variety of health issues, especially inflammation in the intestines and female reproductive tract. Extracts have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Researchers believe that yarrow’s ability to quell inflammation is related to the fact that it contains both flavonoids and sesquiterpene lactones. The herb displays not only anti-inflammatory abilities, but also astringent properties. (9) This is why yarrow is often included in topical products for inflammatory skin problems like eczema.
6. Gastrointestinal Benefits
The antispasmodic activity of yarrow makes it useful for unwanted gastrointestinal concerns like diarrhea, flatulence and cramping. Animal studies have shown that it can reduce smooth muscle spasms that contribute to GI complaints. (10)
When taken internally, the antispasmodic ability is most likely due to the plant’s flavonoid fractions.
7. Helpful for High Blood Pressure and Asthma
A 2013 study published in Phytotherapy Research evaluated Achillea millefolium‘s hypotensive, vasodilatory and bronchodilatory activities. In other words, its ability to lower high blood pressure, relax blood vessels and improve breathing. Yarrow’s effects on the study’s animal subjects backed up the medicinal use in hyperactive cardiovascular and airway disorders like high blood pressure and asthma. (11)
The flavor of yarrow is sweet but also somewhat bitter with an anise-like scent. It’s often compared to tarragon. When using it in cooked dishes, keep in mind that it’s a soft herb and high heat destroys its flavor.
Yarrow uses in cooking include the following:
- Younger leaves can be used in soups or stews similar to how you would use a delicate leafy green like spinach.
- The leaves can also be dried and used as an herb in cooking.
- The dried or fresh herb can be substituted for tarragon in recipes.
- For sautéed dishes, add it at the very end.
- Use it to make infused vinegars and oils.
- Fresh, young leaves and flowers can be used in salads.
Yarrow is available at your local health store or online in the following forms: fresh herb, dried herb, capsule, tablet, tincture, liquid extract or tea. You also may be able to find fresh yarrow in the wild depending on where you live.
A typical dose of the herb is 4.5 grams per day for inflammatory issues. However, there are no modern clinical studies to confirm this dose, so it’s best to speak with a professional on proper dosing for your particular needs.
- The herb’s use in food and medicine is ancient, dating back to the Trojan War around 1200 B.C.
- Legend has it that it was named after Achilles, the Greek mythical hero who used it to stop the bleeding of his soldiers’ wounds.
- The Native Americans called it chipmunk tail or squirrel tail.
- In New Mexico and southern Colorado it’s called plumajillo (Spanish for “little feather”) because of its leaf shape and texture.
- Yarrow and tortoiseshell are considered lucky in Chinese culture.
- The etymology of yarrow derives from the old Anglo-Saxon name for it: “gearwe”
- In British folklore, a yarrow leaf held against the eyes was believed to give second sight or clairvoyance.
- Several birds, including the common starling, use it to line their nests.
- Yarrow essential oil has been found to kill the larvae of Aedes albopictus (aka tiger mosquito or forest mosquito).
- During the Middle Ages, it was part of an herbal mixture known as gruit used in the flavoring of beer prior to the use of hops.
- The flowers and leaves are used to make liquor and bitters.
- The herb is beneficial to gardeners because it improves soil quality and repels certain types of unwanted insects.
Homemade Yarrow Tea Recipe
Yarrow flowers, leaves and stems can be used to make a medicinal tea. You can use either the fresh or dried herb. Yarrow tea can taste bitter so you can use honey to take the edge off if needed. Many tea recipes include lemon, which gives a nice boost of vitamin C.
- 1 teaspoon dried yarrow or 3 fresh leaves
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 teaspoon honey (optional)
- 1 lemon slice (optional)
- Steep yarrow in boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove leaves if desired.
- Add honey and/or lemon juice if desired.
Side Effects, Interactions and Risks
When taken by mouth, yarrow can possibly cause drowsiness and increased urination. Topically, it may cause contact dermatitis or skin irritation. (14) Discontinue use if you see signs of irritation.
If you’re allergic to plants in the Aster family, like ragweed and daisies, then you may likely be allergic to external and internal use of this herb, so be careful. It can make skin more sensitive to sunlight.
Yarrow is not generally considered toxic, but be careful when using the oil because it contains thujone in small amounts. Also found in wormwood, thujone is toxic in large amounts and has a narcotic effect on the brain. This herb also contains coumarin, which has blood-thinning abilities. This is why it should not be combined with prescription blood thinners.
It should not be used by pregnant women. If you’re breastfeeding, speak with your doctor before using yarrow products.
It’s not commonly recommended for pediatric use due to a lack of studies to determine whether or not its usage is safe in children. Speak with your child’s doctor if you’re interested in using this herb with your child.
It can possibly interact with the following medications as well:
- Blood thinners (like warfarin)
- Stomach acid-reducing medications (like omeprazole)
- High blood pressure medications
- Drugs that cause sleepiness (like anticonvulsants and sleeping pills)
Speak with your doctor before taking yarrow if you have any ongoing medical conditions or take any other medications.
- Yarrow is an herb that’s been used as food and medicine since ancient times.
- Human clinical studies are lacking when it comes to its use, but there is a long history of traditional usage as well as anecdotal evidence and animal studies to support its medicinal usage.
- This herb also has a place in your kitchen and can be used in place of tarragon in recipes.
- The leaves can be used similarly to a delicate green like spinach.
- It’s an excellent wound healer and can calm inflammatory skin issues.
- It’s also excellent for internal inflammation that can accompany gastrointestinal issues and female reproductive health concerns.
- For breast-feeding moms, leaf poultices can provide relief from mastitis.
- Yarrow tea is a great beverage choice to calm your anxiety, blood pressure and breathing.
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