One of the oldest herbs used by humankind, yarrow has always been associated with ritual & tradition.
Counted as one of the nine herbs sacred to the Anglo-Saxons, the name Yarrow is in fact a modern corruption of its Anglo-Saxon name – gearwe.
Yarrow was also sacred to the Druids who used the stems to divine the weather, and if we are to believe ancient writers, with much more accuracy than we do today with modern satellite imaging.
Similarly in Chinese divination the dried and stripped stalks of yarrow were thrown to consult the I Ching – Book of Changes.
The highlanders of Scotland traditionally made yarrow ointment for application to wounds, a tradition which has continued up until modern times.
Known to the ancients as ‘ herba militaris’ or ‘the soldiers herb’, it is on the battlefield throughout the ages that yarrow provided one of its greatest services.
Wounds from swords, spears or arrows were not stitched; instead yarrow was applied directly to the wound and even packed inside the wound to staunch blood loss and reduce the amount of swelling, enabling the wound to swiftly close by itself. Many other common names reflect this usage including “Wound-wort”, “Staunchgrass”, “Sanguinary” and “Knight’s Milfoil”.
We may attribute this valuable function of yarrow to its potent astringency. Astringent herbs tighten, tone, bind and contract, effectively equalising fluid levels in body tissue. Because of this balancing effect astringents have on fluid levels in the body, herbalists prescribe yarrow for conditions which involve fluid loss including diarrhoea, dysentery and both internal and external haemorrhages; and for those involving fluid retention i.e. oedema.
Another common name “Nosebleed” gives further testament to its astringency.
A fresh leaf of yarrow placed in the nose will cause a nosebleed and relieve the pressure which is caused by certain types of migraine. Alternately a much smaller dose of yarrow can staunch a nosebleed. A treatment which should not however be attempted by anyone who does not possess professional training and experience.
Yarrow is of most use in the household when the dried aerial parts of the plant are brewed into a tea. Prepared as such, yarrow can be used to help overcome cold and flu, lower a fever and as a general tonic when the days load seems more than you can bare.
It is not a drink that should be relied on regularly but rather one that should be used only in times of real challenge, for that extra bit of strength. Pick a piece of yarrow from the garden next time you happen to cut yourself whilst preparing dinner or shaving, apply it to the wound, and watch as this truly amazing plant goes to work.
As every organic gardener knows, this herb is as useful in the garden as it was on the battlefield in days gone by. One of the five herbs used in composting, yarrow acts as a catalyst in the process, speeding up the rate of fermentation to such an extent that you will be astonished, and the pile will be ready to turn out within 8 weeks. Only a couple of leaves is all that is required for an average sized compost bin, if you add any more it will have the opposite effect.
Not only does yarrow provide strength to humans, but it also has a healthy effect on all plants in the garden that grow within a close proximity to it.
Being such a hardy plant, rarely troubled by insect pests and spreading rapidly, once introduced into the garden you will always have more than enough yarrow on hand to meet your household and garden needs as well as those of your neighbours.