No one ever said no, and a few even smiled and told me stories about how their granny used to do the same thing, but most of them raised their eyebrows, muttered something about it being okay, and then shut the door, shaking their heads at me. I'm sure a few even started referring to me by my strange hobby: "Look, honey! It's the weed lady!"
But in the suburbs, I systematically learned to identify local weeds (mostly by using Google), then researched them to see if they were useful in any way. Now I have the pure pleasure of learning the useful weeds on our rural homestead. So when I spotted a certain wildflower - a very common weed called yarrow - I was pretty darn excited. It's an extremely useful herb.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium L.) is a plant that can be found both in the wild and in gardening centers and domestic gardens. But, as with all medicinal herbs, the wild versions are far better medicine. (The medicinal qualities have largely been bred out of domesticated versions.)
Unlike their colorful domestic siblings, wild yarrow is a white or pale lavender flower - actually, clusters of tiny umbellate-shaped, five-petaled flowers with yellow stamens. Yarrow usually blooms between June and September, though in mild climates it may bloom further into fall. The flowers sit on long, straight stalks and the entire plant is aromatic, smelling a bit like chamomile. The leaves are feather-like, and grow all along the stem. The stems can grow to about 3 -5 feet tall. The roots are rhizome-like and are near the surface of the earth.
Yarrow is common along road sides, in grasslands, on rocky beaches, in meadows, and in the open areas around woods. It is also known as warrior plant, squirrel’s tale, mille foil, thousand leaf, wound wort, and nosebleed plant.
NOTE: Do not consume any plant you cannot positively identify.
|Close up of yarrow flowers.|
Harvesting and Preserving Yarrow
Yarrow flowers, leaves, and roots are all useful. The flowers are high in aromatic oils and should be gathered when dry and fully open (but not turning brown). The leaves are higher in tannins and may be harvested any time, though herbalists say they are more potent in spring and early summer. The root is primarily used for toothaches and is usually harvested in fall.
To facilitate using yarrow all year long, the roots, leaves, and flowers are typically dried before use. People have been air drying medicinal herbs for thousands of years, and you certainly can preserve them that way today; but if you have a food dehydrator, I recommend using it (at about 95 degrees F.). It will dry the herb more quickly and retain more of the medicinal qualities of the plant. Store in a glass jar with an air tight lid in a cool, dark, dry location. The dried herb will last several years; as long as it is still aromatic, it has some medicinal qualities left in it.
|Drying yarrow with an electric dehydrator.|
How to Use Yarrow
Yarrow is antibacterial, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic (pain relieving), astringent, vulnerary (heals wounds), and styptic (ends bleeding). Herbalists consider it cooling, drying, and a bitter.
|Yarrow flowers and leaves.|
Fevers: Another very common use for yarrow is reducing fevers. Yarrow tea causes the body to sweat, which naturally helps reduce fever.
Heart: Yarrow tea is also often used to dilate peripheral blood vessels and treat high blood pressure.
Sedative: Yarrow tea relieves anxiety and insomnia.
Reproductive: Yarrow tea is said to help regulate the menses, bring on a late period (not caused by pregnancy), reduce cramps, and reduce heavy menstrual bleeding. (Scientific studies show yarrow contains phytoestrogens, which act like estrogen in the body; this means that in women who have a good balance of hormones, prolonged use might lead to a hormone imbalance.)
Circulatory: Yarrow is said to help improve varicose veins, hemorrhoids, phlebitis, thrombosis, and generally improves circulation.
Diuretic: Yarrow tea is a mild diuretic and may relieve cystitis, irritable bladder, and stones.
Anti-inflammatory: Yarrow is said to relieve painful joints, hemorrhoids, and is known to generally reduces swelling.
Colds/Flu: Yarrow tea is recommended at the first sign of a cold and is said to relieve sore throats and act as a decongestant. Herbalists say the tea is not only warming, but stimulates the immune system and helps you "sweat out" the sickness.
Minor cuts/scrapes/rashes/bug bites/stings: Yarrow is excellent for all these minor complaints. It reduces the swelling and pain and will help prevent infection. Chew fresh leaves and apply to the affected area.
Toothache: Yarrow root helps relieve the pain from toothaches and may help any infection in the area. Hydrate dried root with a little water, then apply to the tooth.
Digestive: Yarrow tea soothes spasms and cramps in the digestive tract, including those from IBS or gallbladder attacks. It's also good for the liver and gallbladder.
Bug repellent: Yarrow tincture or essential oil helps repel insects.
Immune System & Infection: Yarrow has long been used to stimulate the
immune system. It also has antimicrobial properties and may prevent
infections, including viral and urinary.
|Closeup of yarrow's leaves.|
Good Food: Yarrow is good food, too! The young spring leaves and flowers are sometimes used in salads and soups.
Basic Yarrow TeaPlace about one tablespoon of chopped flowers, or leaves, or both, in a tea ball. Place tea ball in a cup and cover with boiling water. Cover cup with a saucer until steaming stops. Steep at least 10 -15 minutes. Drink up to three times a day. To help with fever, reheat and drink as hot as comfortably possible and take hourly until fever breaks.
According to The University of Maryland Medical Center's website (and other sources), yarrow has not been tested on children or nursing infants. Pregnant women should not take yarrow because it could potentially cause miscarriage. One study has also linked yarrow use in pregnant women to low birth weight in infants.Allergies are possible; if you are allergic to anything in the Asteraceae (aster) family (that includes chrysanthemums, daisies, and ragweed), you should not consume yarrow.
Yarrow may interfere with iron absorption or the absorption of minerals. Do not use yarrow if you have gallstones. Yarrow may negatively interact with blood pressure and blood thinning drugs and should not be taken if you are already taking a diuretic or sedative. It may also counter-act drugs used to diminish stomach acid.
Yarrow may cause contact dermatitis (rash) in some people. It may cause your skin to be more sensitive to sunlight.
It is always wise to consult your physician before taking any type of natural supplement
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