Healing Yarrow

Yarrow, in flower. Image via youcanlearnseries.com

For this post I would like to share an amazing  plant that I have recently had cause to use; Yarrow- Achillea millefolium. The quality it is probably most well known for is its ability to stop bleeding. It gets the name of its genus- Achillea- from its legendary usage by Achilles to stop the bleeding of his soldiers on the battlefield. According to Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern/ Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs by Steven Foster and James A. Duke, it has been used similarly by native cultures throughout the Northern Hemisphere as tea made from dried flowering yarrow plants for colds, fevers, anorexia, indigestion, gastric inflammations, and internal bleeding. The book cites yarrow’s expectorant, analgesic and sweat inducing properties may contribute to its effectiveness in treating cold and flu symptoms.

Yarrow is also often used for treating the female reproductive system. In James A. Duke, Ph. D.’s book The Green Pharmacy yarrow is cited as an herbal treatment for amenorrhea, a lack of normal menstrual periods; and menstrual cramps.

Beautiful yarrow leaves. Image via stillblog.net

I would also like to share what Tom Brown, Jr., wilderness survival instructor and author of numerous Field Guides has written about yarrow in his book Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants:

“Food: The dried leaves of yarrow brewed in hot water for ten to fifteen minutes make an excellent and healthful tea. It was so sacred to Grandfather that he rarely drank it as a tea and only after he felt that he was in need of a tonic to preserve good health. Caution should be used, however, because yarrow tea does induce sweating.

Medicinal: When Grandfather gave us yarrow tea to drink in the sweat lodge, he had a dual purpose in mind. First he was using the tea as a health drink since we were in the heart of the flu season. Secondly, he wanted to produce a profuse sweating during the time we were in the lodge, and the tea would induce such a sweat. Grandfather would use the tea also in alleviating fever but it was best mixed with an aspirin-bearing plant such as wintergreen. The wintergreen and yarrow tea mixture was one of the better cold tonics and one of the best for bringing down a fever. The dosage of tea should fit the patient. Use a palmful of dried herb to one cup of water. Use one cup a day for only two days, then discontinue use. This is the average dosage for patients but sometimes a stronger tea is needed.

A good use of yarrow tea is as a skin wash for all types of infections and irritations. The only drawback is that the repeated use causes sensitivity to sunlight so it must be used infrequently. I use yarrow tea as a skin wash for bad infections or irritations when all else fails. For tenacious boils and pimples, I use the fresh, crushed yarrow leaves applied directly to the affected area. Keep bandaged in sunlight. It also seems to help draw out the inflammation. Yarrow can also be used to effectively stop or slow internal bleeding, but the procedure and medication mixtures are too extensive and a bit dangerous to be covered in this book.

Yarrow varies in taste, and I know that it varies in potency depending on where it grows and what stage of growth it is in. The strongest time for collecting yarrow is just before the flowers are produced, using only the new succulent leaves. It is also good to collect the yarrow just before a rain and from areas where the soil is rich. Pick yarrow plants that are not exposed to the sun all day long, but not ones that are extensively shaded. Dry yarrow leaves slowly in a cool dark place and store in a glass or earthenware container. It is best not to keep the container tightly sealed. Store the container in a cool and dry place out of direct sunlight.”

His entry about yarrow also contains a warning about the strength of the yarrow: “Generally, yarrow should be considered as one of the most powerful herbs and is best left alone.”

Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern/ Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs also contains a warning: “May cause dermatitis. Large or frequent doses taken over a long period may be potentially harmful. Contains thujone, a toxic compound.”

Now for the fun part, I get to tell you about my cat! This is my kitty.

My kitty, Poof!
My kitty, Poof!

I love my cat and he loves me. He is very sweet to people, but not so good with other cats. In fact his greatest joy in life seems to be picking fights with other cats. Consequently he suffers a lot of bites and scratches, most of which are not serious. The first time he had a problem from a fight injury there were four holes in the skin of his armpit and through the holes I could see empty space. I took him to a vet who explained that he had gotten an infection from a wound that had caused an abscess, when the infection causes pus to swell into a lump. He said the important thing was that it drains, and Poof’s had done this already on its own. Poof was on antibiotics for a little while and he got better. Years later, I noticed he had abcesses on both one ear and a front foot. I called all the vets I could find but I didn’t have any money at the time, and none would see him if I couldn’t pay at the time. So I took matters in to my own hands and started treating him with herbs. I started with plantain (see my previous post about plantain here https://insidetaekwondo.com/2012/06/03/plantain-plantago-sp-first-aid-etc/). I made a plantain tea and used it as a wash on Poof’s infections. To also fight infections from the inside I poured a little plantain tea in Poof’s water every day. Since yarrow is very powerful, I add it for a few days if I feel like the infection needs a more powerful treatment. I stopped treating him when it seemed like he was getting better, but his infections worsened until I resumed treatment. Then he did heal completely. Recently I have been using plantain again on an abscess on Poof’s ear, with good results; and immediately again on a new abscess on his head, with the addition of yarrow. He is healing well.

Please note that I am writing only from personal experience and not recommending any treatment to anyone.

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