The Monthly Wort
The Monthly Wort will provide readers with detailed descriptions of specifically chosen herbs (aka “wort”, meaning a useful herb), splitting it into 4 categories over the span of the month. Herbal History, Medicinal Uses, Magical Uses and Growing/Harvesting. In order to get the full scope of each plant, stay tuned every week as we delve into spiritual and practical experience of Herbalism.
The use of yarrow in herbal remedies spans history and continents. If you read the previous blog on this Monthly Wort, Yarrow: A History, then you will already know just how long it has been in use! In fact, it was still part of the U.S. Pharmacopeia from 1836-1882 and is very relevant to today’s herbal practitioners. Almost all of the yarrow plant can be used therapeutically, particularly its aerial parts, and it can be found very easily in variety of forms.
- Yarrow is still in use and still effective -
Scientists have identified over 100 compounds in this plant! Yarrow’s main chemical components are a-pinene, b-pinene, tricyclene, isoartemisia ketone, camphene, sabinene, y-terpinene, borneol acetate, limonene, eucalyptol, camphor, borneol and chamazulene.
Either fresh or dried, it can be utilized in teas, tinctures, oils, baths, poultices, vinegars and many more that I feel might be too long to put in just one blog. Below will be a list of its most popular uses in correlation to what preparation will provide the most beneficial results.
Wounds and Abrasions: This is yarrow’s most well-known use, as it correlates to its many names and that it can be picked and used fresh for this purpose. It is what is known as s a styptic (a substance capable of stopping bleeding when applied to a wound). Funnily enough, due to its chemical makeup, it can both increase and decrease the pH of a solution, something herbalists call “amphoteric”. Specifically to yarrow, it can act as both a hemostatic (halting the flow of blood) and a diffusive (increasing the movement of blood). You would think these two actions would contend with each other in the use of dressing a wound, however the increasing of blood flow also increases the regrowth of blood cells, which halts the immediate bleeding and speeds up the healing process. Talk about opposites working together! The anti-inflammatory and antiseptic oils, as well as astringent tannins and resins, combine with the silica to repair damaged tissue (Sakellaridis).
For these very reasons, yarrow should be a part of any first aid kit. Use a poultice, compress or salve.
Flu and Fevers: Yarrow is antimicrobial and an anti-inflammatory all at once! This makes it very good for reducing pain, relaxing the circulation, help remove excess mucous from the system, fight nose and throat infections, and it is also a mild sedative, according to The Herbal Academy. Use as a tea, infusion or tincture. (Tea and tincture recipes found below.)
Menstruation and Postpartum: Yarrow is blood moving, remember? When it comes to period cramps and discomfort, much of it is caused by uterine cramping and inflammation. With yarrow being both an anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic, it helps reduce the spasms in your uterus. This aids in pain reduction as well as proper circulation, which can also fight sore muscles and bloating. This might start to sound a bit repetitive in its use, as yarrow helps minimize heavy blood flow for the same reasons that it stops field wounds from bleeding! Tea or bath.
For postpartum mothers struggling with hemorrhoids, yarrow is perfect addition to a sitz bath as it is an astringent.
Headaches: Rather than posit the information myself, here is a great quote from Phyllis A. Balch CNC, a nutrition author: “Modern research has confirmed the historical use of yarrow to relieve pain caused by a broad range of conditions. Yarrow teas and tinctures contain salicylate-like derivatives, such as stigmasterol and beta-sitosterol that reduce the inflammatory process, which may accelerate healing. These compounds stop the formation of enzymes necessary for a series of chemical reactions that cause inflammation and pain. Yarrow also contains compound designated sesquiterpene lactones, which reduce the action of pain-provoking hormones, the prostaglandins.” (Balch) Compress or Tea.
Digestive Support: Thanks to the azulene in yarrow (which relaxes internal muscles and stomach spasms), it can improve digestion. It also normalizes hydrochloric acid secretions and heals gastric mucus alterations, in other words, easing stomach cramps, indigestion, painful gas and constipation. Use tea, tincture or oil.
Other: It can promote hair growth and is often found in a variety of home made hair rinse recipes, including my own! Its main purpose is to encourage hair strength and prevent baldness. It is also very good, much like pine needles, at reducing dry and itchy scalp due to its anti-inflammatory capabilities. I haven’t tried it specifically myself, but I have read that you can also drink some of the tea before a shower in order to gain some of the therapeutic health benefits for clearing skin pores and closing the sealing your hair follicles. Use vinegar rinse.
The dark blue essential oils also kills mosquito larvae, so drop some essential oil into any standing water you might have around the yard!
How to Use Yarrow
Use 1 tsp aerial parts for every 8 ounces of water. Steep for 30 minutes, strain and take 3-9 grams a day. Note: Yarrow is a very bitter herb. Adding honey or sweeter herbs will help make it more palatable.
Add fresh or dried flowers to a jar, doing your best to fill it to the top (this is easier with fresh herbs, obviously). Fill the container with 80 or higher proof alcohol* (I usually use vodka, as it has less sugar) until the herbs are completely covered. Seal tightly. Allow it to infuse for 6-8 weeks in a dark place, shaking occasionally. Strain through cheesecloth and store in a dark glass dropper bottle. Tip: If using fresh herbs, I muddle them with a cocktail muddler beforehand to release all the great oils and then add the alcohol.
*If treating a child or recovering alcoholic, you can cut the tincture with water. The rule of thumb is that it has to be at least 25% alcohol to the 75% water in order to infuse and keep.
Essential Oil - This kind of oil is extracted from the dried plant by steam distillation. During the heating process, it will develop a vivid blue color due to the chemical chamazulene. Distillation is a long process and many prefer to simply purchase the essential oil.
Infused Oil - Fill a clean pint jar at least ½ to ¾ of the way with yarrow and then cover with your chosen oil (it can be olive, almond, coconut, etc.) until it is a ½ inch from the top. Using a clean, thin utensil, try to release all of the air bubbles that you can and make sure that the herb is entirely submerged. This is important because oil does not fend off bacteria like alcohol does, which can grown in any water or air pockets.
Place wax paper between lid and jar, closing tightly, and place in a sunny spot, such as a window sill. Leave it for 2 weeks, shaking the bottle occasionally. After the 2 weeks, I usually move it to a dark place for another week, just for good measure. When it is finished infusing, strain it through a cheesecloth into a clean, opaque jar. Make sure to squeeze the herbs tightly so as not to waste any good nutrients! Store in a cool place out of the sun. It should last about a month on its own.
Note: If you use fresh herbs, cover the strained oil tightly and let sit for a few days. The water from the herbs will separate from the oil and settle at the bottom. If this happens, pour off the oil, discard the water, and leave it for another day to repeat this process.
Yarrow Poultice or Compress:
For a poultice, grind the yarrow up into a paste, adding small amounts of hot water, and apply it to afflicted area. This can be done with a mortar and pestle or you can do what I did in a pinch and chew it up! Just be sure to find a toothpick after.
A compress requires making a strong tea from the herb and then dipping a clean cloth in once it cools. The cloth can then be applied to the afflicted area.
Side Effects and Warnings
In some cases, yarrow may have a cumulative medicinal effect on the system. It is important to always ask your doctor or medical advisor before taking yarrow for prolonged periods of time.
Because it is a uterine stimulant, pregnant or lactating women should avoid using the herb internally.
People with allergies towards ragweed should avoid taking yarrow, as it may cause an allergic reaction, including rashes and skin photosensitivity.
Yarrow is toxic to dogs, cats and horses.
There are no known interactions between yarrow and standard pharmaceutical preparations.
There you have it! Isn’t it amazing just how vast yarrows uses are? If you stay turned to next week’s Yarrow: In Magic, you’ll find that it is just as diverse on the spiritual spectrum as well.