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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Y is for Yarrow, the herbal bandage

Yarrow, botanically Achillea millefolium, has a long history both as a medicinal herb and as a garden favorite. Its beginnings were humble, however. It grew as a wildflower for passing children to gather for loving offerings to their mothers. Now it is simply known as an easy to grow garden perennial, but back in the day, it was considered an herbal bandage. It goes by many names some of which tell how it was used. Herbe militaire, Nose bleed, Thousand weed, Soldier's Woundwort, Bloodwort and Bad man's plaything are just a few of these common names. Do they tell you anything about its uses as a medicinal herb? Some of them should unless you're dense.

Who knew something so pretty could also be useful?

It is said Yarrow was named after the hero of the Trojan war, Achilles of Greek mythology, who used this plant to treat his soldiers' wounds and staunch excessive bleeding. Its benefits as an herbal remedy don't stop there, though. The medicinal properties within this plant are numerous. They include blood coagulants, anti-inflammatories, pain relievers, antispasmodics and antiseptics. Pretty good for just a wildflower, don't you think?
Pastel shades of recent cultivation efforts
Besides being used to treat wounds, Yarrow was used as a sedative, to reduce swellings, for treating burns, ulcers, incontinence, menstrual cramps, digestive problems, fevers, urinary tract infections, dysentery, hematuria and hemorrhoids. There have also been recent promising studies showing yarrow in the treatment of hepatitis and liver disease.
It is the stems, leaves and flowers which are used for medicinal applications. Fresh leaves can be used on cuts and scrapes straight out of the garden and teas and infusions can be made with yarrow and taken for aiding digestion, treating nerves and/or relieving menstrual cramps.


Yarrow is a rather unassuming plant with subtle foliage and unremarkable flowers. Some people may consider it unworthy of allowing into a formal garden design. In recent years, however, some exciting new cultivars--some pretty pastel shades and bright pinks and reds-- have been developed to appeal to the discerning gardener. We'll talk about those and how to actually grow Yarrow in a future post.

2 comments:

  1. Woundwort is my favorite! I wonder if the cultivars have maintained the medicinal property of the original. Well, I see here is another plant I need to have tucked into a nook somewhere!

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  2. I don't know why it is, but for the most part newer hybridized cultivars don't have as much--and some have none-- of the medicinal properties. The 'wild' varieties seem to be best. I have those growing in the field!

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