Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Energetics: dry, cool; stimulating, bitter
Therapeutic Actions: anti-inflammatory, astringent, antispasmodic, antimicrobial (bacteriostatic – Wood), diaphoretic, diuretic, febrifuge, hepatic, hypotensive, styptic, vulnerary
To be perfectly honest, I really struggled with the idea of writing a monograph on yarrow. Not because it isn’t an amazing medicinal herb – it is. Fabled, in fact (more on that later). But rather, in the context of its action on the cardiovascular system – specifically on blood – I worried that our sometimes Puritanical, squeamish, and germ phobic sensibilities might divert some readers elsewhere. In popular and some traditional/religious cultures, blood is associated with horror, fear, death, and, of course, sin. Menses as (alleged) punishment for original sin? The curse of Eve?
While I do not wish to engage in cultural and religious debate, I do wish for us to come to grips with the important function blood plays for our health and how yarrow can help preserve this vitality.
Yarrow Medicinal Benefits
Yarrow has a great many virtues. Perhaps, chief among them and particularly pertinent to today’s subject is its action on the cardiovascular system by way of blood. It is known both as a blood mover and blood stopper.
Yarrow is specifically indicated in instances of bright red, profuse bleeding – prepared as a poultice, infusion, or powder, it is a very effective first aid for minor cuts and bad scrapes. I infuse organic witch hazel extract with yarrow, plantain, and St. John’s wort for a wound spray. I, personally, found it to be a real “holiday saver” when Thanksgiving preparations went all pear shaped on me after my index finger and the blade of a food processor had an unfortunate run in. This herb also appears to help break down bruising and coagulated blood due to injury. Many sources indicate this herb for hypertensive and thrombotic conditions, as it acts to lower blood pressure by dilating peripheral vessels.
In terms of women’s health, its implications are relatively clear. Yarrow can be helpful to attenuate a particularly heavy and/or protracted menses. It appears to be effective for regulating endometrial blood flow and restoring blood supply (as suggested by herbalist Michael Moore). It is even indicated for post birth bleeding (although should be avoided during pregnancy). Conversely, yarrow can encourage a delayed (not due to pregnancy) menses. I believe this dual function of both stimulating menstruation and reducing excessive flow is due to its regulating action on endometrial blood flow.
Yarrow’s natural cooling energetics and anti-inflammatory properties make it a very effective herb for rapid onset fevers with bright red, hot skin. It helps to stimulate increased blood flow, moving visceral heat to the extremities for cooling. As a bitter herb with some antimicrobial properties, yarrow is also effective for digestive complaints and recovery from stomach flu or food poisoning.
Yarrow’s actions do not seem to be limited to physical condition. From a herbal mental health standpoint, it is often suggested for addressing deep emotional wounds, those “cuts” that are deep and slow to heal. A flower essence created with pink yarrow is said to promote good emotional boundaries and may be a specific for those in healing and hospice related vocations.
Yarrow Tradition & Folklore
Much is in a name. Achillea rightfully calls to mind mythical Greek war hero Achilles for whom its Latin name is derived, himself immune to injury (with the exception of his fateful tendons). It is told that Achilles treated his warriors’ wounds with this herb. European lore and tradition associated yarrow with everlasting love – a slow growing, deep-rooted love that survives in sometimes harsh conditions. As such, it is an herb often used in wedding arrangements.
Yarrow is a hardy perennial that tends to form dense clumps of feathery, somewhat blue-green leaves. Foliage and flowers have an aroma that calls to mind chamomile, rosemary, and pine. It prefers well, drained soils in sunny locations, and even thrives in relatively nutrient poor areas such as rocky outcroppings. During the summer months, wild varieties are topped by flat-ish umbels of small, creamy white flowers sometimes blushed with just a little bit pink. I have seen some suggestion that pink yarrow grows wild in Europe. Cultivated varieties extend the color range to yellow, orange, dark pink, magenta and red tones, although it is the white and pink versions that are most medicinally valuable. Leaves and flowering stalks are the parts collected and traditionally used for herbal medicine.
Yarrow Safety Considerations & Dosage
Yarrow is typically considered safe for use except by pregnant women and those with allergies to the Asteraceae (daisy) family. Those taking medication for blood pressure, anticoagulant therapies, or with blood clotting disorders should consult a physician before using this herb; check for contraindications with any medicines you may be on. Although this herb is indicated for slowing and stopping bleeding, please be smart and seek immediate medical attention for serious wounds.
Yarrow tincture can be administered at the rate of 2-4mls, three times daily. Teas and infusions can be made with 1-2 teaspoons of the herb and consumed three times daily or more for acute fever symptoms.
Yarrow, Shepherd’s Purse and Nettle Herbal Capsules for Bleeding & Flow Control
Heavy or excessive menstrual flow (as well as post-childbirth bleeding) can be difficult to deal with, while also being physically and emotionally draining. First, I want to note that excessive menstrual flow is often associated with hormonal imbalance linked to fibroids, ovarian cysts, endometrioses, peri-menopause, and other causes; one should consult a physician for accurate diagnosis of their condition. That said, even conventional medicine is often slow to correct hormonal imbalances and excessive flow can be incredibly persistent. Thus, herbs like yarrow can be particularly useful for these matters.
Dried, encapsulated herbs are not my preferred means of administration, but they are, indeed, convenient, portable and a familiar method for most of us for taking medicine. In this instance, the ease of carrying and taking encapsulated herbs is very appealing. This “Flow Control” herbal blend is crafted from yarrow, shepherd’s purse, and nettle. Yarrow is indicated for bright red blood and hemorrhage, while shepherd’s purse is for darker, oozing coagulated blood. While nettle is not really noted for any styptic tendencies, I have included it for its mineral-laden, “blood building” qualities. These capsules are also appropriate for instances of bruising and minor injuries. Please note that while these herbs could theoretically address issues of internal bleeding, blood in vomit or stool can indicate a medical emergency and warrant immediate medical attention.
To create these bleeding and flow control herbal capsules, I grind these herbs to a fine powder in a coffee grinder and pack firmly into “00” capsules using this handy little contraption. Yes, you could fill each capsule by hand, but that is quite time consuming. By using this contraption, I can fill 24 capsules at once.
Yarrow Bleeding & Flow Control Herbal Capsules
A herbal blend to address bleeding and excessive menstrual flow, these capsules contain yarrow, shepherd's purse, and nettle. For excessive flow concerns, take one capsule 3-5x daily, starting one week before onset of period and continue until flow has stopped. For bleeding injuries and bruising, take one capsule 3-5x daily while bleeding or bruising is apparent.
- 0.4 ounce yarrow, leaf and flower dried
- 0.3 ounce shepherd's purse dried
- 0.3 ounce stinging nettle dried
Grind herbs to a powder in a coffee grinder. Using a capsule machine like this fill "00" capsules like these following instructions in the package. Alternatively, fill each capsule by hand. After either method, press each end of the capsule together to complete the closure. Store in a cool, dark, dry place and take as indicated above.
Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism the science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
Moore, M. (2011). Medicinal plants of the Pacific West. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press.
Wood, M. (2016). Earthwise herbal repertory: traditional western herbalism. Place of publication not identified: North Atlantic Books.
Grow Forage Cook Ferment. Foraging for Yarrow: Nature’s Medicine
The Practical Herbalist. Yarrow History, Folklore, Myth, and Magic