By Rita Bober
If there was only one herb you could collect, herbalists would most often tell you to choose Yarrow because of its many uses. Most people know Yarrow as Achillea millefolium, an herb from the old country (European). But would you believe that there is also a native plant known as Achillea lanulosa. Its common name is wooly yarrow or western yarrow. It is often found in the mid to higher elevations of mountain tops. It can still be found in the mountains of California, Colorado, and New York as well as places in Canada. I first heard of this native when reading about Yarrow in "Wildman" Steve Brill's book Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places. He indicated that Native Americans used this species for bruises, burns, earaches, and arrow wounds. Both species look alike. They are perennials and grow in clumps or colonies. The leaves are alternate, soft, fern-like, and very aromatic. Its flower is a white flat- topped cluster. Those growing in higher elevations, tend to be somewhat smaller in dimension.
Yarrow is one of the best herbs to aid the body in dealing with fevers. Taken as a strong cup of hot tea, it acts as a diaphoretic (induces sweating by stimulating the kidneys; must be taken hot) – it helps sweat out colds, the flu, measles, chicken pox and fevers. The vasodilating activity that flushes the skin is good for improving lymphatic circulation and counteracts infection.
This herb is also an effective tonic for the heart and circulatory system. It lowers blood pressure by dilating the peripheral vessels. However, in several herbal books, it is suggested that Yarrow should not be used for long periods of time or in large doses because of one of its constituents – Thujone.
Yarrow has been used for centuries to stop bleeding and prevent infection in open wounds. I have made a tincture of Yarrow and Shepherds Purse to use on puncture wounds that won't stop bleeding. It really works! The leaves encourage clotting, so can be used fresh for nosebleeds. Though the hemostatic qualities of yarrow stop internal and external bleeding, it does not act as a direct coagulant in the bloodstream, it works as a vascular tonic that helps improve circulation. When used externally, it is useful in checking the bleeding of the tiny, broken blood vessels seen in varicose veins.
Yarrow contains salicylic acid which makes it a good tea for arthritis conditions. You can also tincture fresh yarrow in oil to make a massage oil for swollen joints. Fresh or dried, Yarrow also repels moths. In some spiritual traditions, it is used to protect against negative spirits. It is also the secret ingredient in an Anishinaabek recipe I recently acquired. It helps with digestive issues as the recipe uses many dry beans.
As you can see, Yarrow is a wonderful herb with many medicinal qualities. Hope you can find some growing wild in your yard. You can gather the herb anytime during the growing season but especially when the flowers are blooming. The entire plant is useful, but the flowers make the best tea. Remove a few flower heads from several plants, but leave others so there will be plenty for reseeding and pollinators. You will find that Yarrow is better tasting when it is dried.
Printed in the Spring 2012 Michigan Land Trustees Newsletter.