As far as weeds go, yarrow is definitely one you want growing in your garden. It’s a powerhouse of a plant, packed with medicinal properties to help cure everything from fevers and colds to bleeding and bruises and everything in between.
Yarrow grows wild all over the northern hemisphere and can survive in all sorts of different climates and habitats, including meadows, forests, mountains, coastal areas and even some deserts.
Yarrow was first introduced to North America in colonial times by settlers coming from Europe. It now grows wild all over North America and has been used and revered as a medicinal plant by settlers and First Nations peoples alike ever since it was established here.
But yarrow’s use as a potent medicinal plant dates back much further than that. In fact, according to a National Geographic article, Neanderthals used yarrow along with other medicinal plants some 50,000+ years ago!
In more recent “ancient” times, famous Greek hero Achilles was said to have used yarrow to treat his and his soldiers’ battle wounds during the Trojan war. In fact, yarrow’s official, scientific, Latin name is “Achillea Millefolium” which is derived from “Achilles.”
Legend has it that Achilles even covered his whole body with a yarrow tincture to protect him from harm… But he missed his heel, which was left exposed and vulnerable. This could perhaps be how the “Achilles’ Heel” became such an infamous metaphor for vulnerability and weakness.
Yarrow is still used today as a powerful medicinal plant. Although it is considered an invasive weed by some, anyone who understands just how amazing this plant is knows better than to try to eradicate it.
So if you have yarrow growing in your yard or in the wild near you, consider yourself lucky! Do not try to get rid of it. Instead, harvest it for your home apothecary and use it to prevent and cure all sorts of ailments.
Yarrow is quite easy to identify, especially once you’ve seen it up close a couple times. The plant itself usually grows to about 1 to 3 feet tall but can grow taller. The flowers are typically white but can be pale yellow. They are small and grow in clusters at the tip of each stem.
The leaves of the yarrow plant are perhaps the most distinct feature. They resemble feathers and indeed look very different than leaves from most other plants. They also grow in an alternating pattern, so instead of having two leaves growing from either side of the stem, you will see one leaf, and then a bit higher up there will be another leaf growing on the other side of the stem, and then a bit higher up will be another, and so on.
Yarrow could possibly be confused with Queen Anne’s Lace or (more dangerously) Poison Hemlock if you do not know what to look for. But once you have seen yarrow once, you will almost certainly not forget it and it will be easy to distinguish from all other plants.
For a more in-depth comparison of Yarrow, Queen Anne’s Lace and Poison Hemlock, check out this video.
To harvest yarrow, simply cut the stem near the base (or really anywhere along the stem). While the flowers are edible and medicinal, the leaves and stem are as well so you really want to harvest as much of the plant as possible.
Yarrow is a potent medicinal herb that can be used to treat the following illnesses and ailments:
- Wounds, cuts and scrapes
- Bug bites and bee stings
- Cough and cold
- Toothaches and teething
- Detoxification and regulating blood flow
- Acne and skin irritations
Yarrow is best known for it’s incredible ability to stop bleeding and heal skin wounds. Historically, the leaves are chewed up and then the paste is used as a poultice on top of wounds to help stop bleeding.
If you’d rather not chew your yarrow, you can add a tiny bit of water and mash up the leaves and flowers as well with a mortar and pestle and then apply the paste to the wound. We did this at home when my husband had a deep cut on his hand that wouldn’t heal. We covered the cut with yarrow and secured it with a bandage. Within a day the wound was almost healed! That’s when I became a true believer.
Yarrow can also be taken as a tea to help fight colds and fevers, and to help detoxify the body. It can be chewed fresh or dry to relieve toothache and can be infused in oil or extracted in alcohol to make solutions that can be rubbed on the body to relieve bruises, burns, rashes and bug bites or taken orally as a homemade cold medication.
You can also sprinkle fresh or dried yarrow in a bath to ease rashes and burns and help fight fever.
Preserving Yarrow for Your Medicine Cabinet
The easiest way to preserve yarrow is to dry it. Just like any other herb, yarrow can be dried by hanging it upside down in bunches from the stems. I just tie a bunch together with some twine or an elastic band and hang from a hook in my kitchen. You can hang it outdoors to dry as well, but try not to hang it in direct sunlight or anywhere where it might get wet. It should take up to a couple weeks to dry completely.
Once dried, I chop it roughly and keep it in a Mason jar for use later on. Dried yarrow can be used as a tea, dumped into a bath or can be used to make tinctures and tonics later on.
Make a Tincture
Another way I preserve fresh yarrow is to make a tincture. A tincture is simply an extract made by stuffing a jar full of whatever plant you are wanting to extract the properties of, and then covering it with a neutral alcohol like vodka.
You can make a yarrow tincture with fresh or dried herbs. Simply pack a Mason jar about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full with yarrow and cover completely with vodka. Make sure that the yarrow is completely covered with alcohol as any plant matter that’s exposed to air can mold. If you are having trouble keeping the yarrow submerged in the alcohol, you could use a smaller glass jar as a weight inside the larger jar to help push the yarrow beneath the surface.
Store the yarrow tincture in a cool, dark place for at least 6 weeks before using, shaking the jar intermittently every 2 or 3 days to help infuse it. After about 6 weeks, remove the plant matter by straining the liquid into a a clean glass jar (I like using dark glass dropper bottles like these). This tincture can be taken orally as a cough, cold and fever medication at first signs of illness. Dosages may vary so always start with a low dose of 1 or 2 drops, especially if using on children.
The tincture can also be applied to the gums of teething babies and can even be used facial astringent especially if you are suffering from acne as yarrow contains salicylic acid which is an active ingredient inmost acne medications. Just put some on a cotton ball and wipe over affected area.
Make a Salve or Infusion
You can also use dried yarrow to infuse in oil and then use that oil to make a salve. To go the simple route, heat about 1/2 a cup of dried yarrow with about 1 cup of coconut oil on low on your stove. Mix together and let simmer for at least 20 minutes to infuse the coconut oil with the medicinal properties of the yarrow. Strain the oil into a clean jar or container and let cool. Apply infused oil to wounds, burns, rashes, bruises, bug bites, etc. It can also be rubbed on gums of teething babies in lieu of alcohol-based tinctures.
To make a salve, you can infuse oil the same way as explained above or by placing dried yarrow and oil in a jar and allowing it to sit and infuse for about 4 to 6 weeks before using the infused oil to make a salve. When making salves, I prefer to use a liquid oil like olive oil, almond oil or avocado oil.
Once your oil has been infused with the yarrow, strain the oil and discard the plant matter and then melt about 1 oz of beeswax (pellets or shavings) for every cup of infused oil you are using. Melt beeswax in a saucepan or double boiler on low on your stovetop and then mix in infused oil. Once well blended, pour the mixture into small jars or containers (I like to use these tins for my salves) and allow to cool for at least 24 hours before use.
This salve can be applied to wounds, burns, rashes, bruises, cuts, scrapes, bug bites or bee stings whenever you need it. It also make a great gift!
Yarrow the Wonder Weed
Yarrow is truly an incredible medicinal plant and probably has even more uses than I named above! I’m sure there are entire books written about it as there is so much it can be used for.
One thing is for sure, if you are lucky enough to find it growing in your backyard, be sure to add it to your home medicine cabinet. I am actually a bit of a skeptic when it comes to using natural medicine simply because in my experience I often find I need a stronger solution when treating my illnesses and ailments, but yarrow is truly one that works.
In fact, I’m feeling sick right now and I just drank two cups of yarrow tea, and while I don’t feel 100%, I went from barely being able to keep my eyes open to writing this entire article with energy to spare. And I honestly couldn’t have done it without yarrow, the wonder weed!