Achillea millefolium, known commonly as yarrow or common yarrow, is a flowering plant in the family Asteraceae. It is native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere in Asia, Europe, and North America.
Myth tells us it was given to Achilles by the centaur Chiron so he could use it on the battlefield and its Latin name, Achillea millefollium, still reflects this tale.
Its specific name, millefolium, is derived from the many segments of its foliage, hence also its popular name, Milfoil and Thousand Weed.
It is also called Old Man's Pepper, Soldier's Woundwort, Knight's Milfoil, Herbe Militaris, Carpenter's Weed, Bloodwort, Staunchweed, Sanguinary, Devil's Nettle, Devil's Plaything, Yarroway.
The name Yarrow is a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon name for the plant - gearwe; and the Dutch name is similar - yerw.
In New Mexico and southern Colorado, it is called plumajillo (Spanish for 'little feather') from its leaf shape and texture.
Locality and Season
Yarrow grows everywhere, in the grass, in meadows, pastures, and by the roadside. As it creeps greatly by its roots and multiplies by seeds it becomes a troublesome weed in gardens, into which it is seldom admitted in this country, though it is cultivated in the gardens of Madeira.
It flowers from June to September, the flowers, white or pale lilac, being like minute daisies, in flattened, terminal, loose heads, or cymes. The whole plant is more or less hairy, with white, silky appressed hairs.
Plants with only white flowers grow on calcium-rich soils, but pink-flowered yarrow may grow on acid soils. Plants grown on acid soils contain greater quantities of the active constituent azulene.
Yarrow was found amongst other medicinal herbs in the Neanderthal burial site in Iraq which dates from around 60,000 BC and has become famous in herbal medicine as one of the earliest indications of human’s use of medicinal plants.
Yarrow was formerly much esteemed as a vulnerary, and its old names of Soldier's Wound Wort and Knight's Milfoil testify to this. It was called by the Ancients, the Herba Militaris, the military herb.
The Highlanders still make an ointment from it, which they apply to wounds, and Milfoil tea is held in much repute in the Orkneys for dispelling melancholy.
Yarrow has been credited by scientists with at least minor activity on nearly every organ in the body. Early Greeks used the herb to stop hemorrhages. Yarrow was mentioned in Gerard's herbal in 1597 and many herbals thereafter.
Yarrow was commonly used by Native American tribes for bleeding, wounds, and infections. It is used in Ayurvedic traditions, and traditional Chinese medicine credits yarrow with the ability to affect the spleen, liver, kidney, and bladder meridians, or energy channels, in the body.
The herb contains salicylic acid (a compound like the active ingredient in aspirin) and a volatile oil with anti-inflammatory properties, making it useful to relieve pain associated with gynecologic conditions, digestive disorders, and other conditions. The dark blue essential oil, azulene, is generally used as an anti-inflammatory, or in chest rubs for colds and influenza.
Yarrow also has antiseptic action against bacteria. The bitter constituents and fatty acids in yarrow are credited with promoting bile flow from the gallbladder, an action known as a cholagogue effect. Free-flowing bile enhances digestion and elimination and helps prevent gallstone formation. Because of these anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and cholagogue actions, yarrow is useful for gallbladder complaints and is considered a digestive tonic.
In rare cases, Achillea can cause severe allergic skin rashes. Prolonged use can increase the skin's photosensitivity. Large doses should be avoided in pregnancy because the herb is a uterine stimulant. Excessive doses may interfere with existing anticoagulant and hypo- or hypertensive therapies.
In the Victorian language of flowers, Yarrow can mean both war and healing.
During the middle ages, yarrow was purported to be able to assist in both summoning the devil and driving him away. It was used in complicated Christian exorcism rituals.
Yarrow, in the eastern counties, is termed Yarroway, and there is a curious mode of divination with its serrated leaf, with which the inside of the nose is tickled while the following lines are spoken. If the operation causes the nose to bleed, it is a certain omen of success:
'Yarroway, Yarroway, bear a white blow,
If my love love me, my nose will bleed now.'
An ounce of Yarrow sewed up in flannel and placed under the pillow before going to bed, having repeated the following words, brought a vision of the future husband or wife:
'Thou pretty herb of Venus' tree,
Thy true name it is Yarrow;
Now who my bosom friend must be,
Pray tell thou me to-morrow.'
It has been employed as snuff, and is also called Old Man's Pepper, on account of the pungency of its foliage. Both flowers and leaves have a bitterish, astringent, pungent taste.
d'l'hèrbe au tchèrpentchi (i.e. carpenter's herb)
d'l'hèrbe à tchèrpentchi
d'l'hèrbe à mille fielles (i.e. thousand leaf herb)
Some traditional Jersey remedies for cuts and piles:
Nou fait sèrvi d'la tchèrpentchiéthe pouor êtantchi eune cope (yarrow's used to staunch a bleeding cut)
Nou m'ttait des fielles dé tchèrpentchiéthe dans eune bouqu'tée d'ieau bouoillante et nou s'assiévait d'ssus, pouor les morrhouites - et chenna trais matinnées d'siette (one put yarrow leaves in a bucketful of boiling water and one sat down on it, for piles - to be done three mornings in succession)