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Helpful Herbs: Yarrow

A hardy perennial with fernlike leaves and clusters of aromatic flowers, Yarrow was is a wild flower with a rich history in healing. The bright flowers of the Yarrow plant make it a pretty feature in any garden, and its resilience makes it easy to grow in many climates.

Yarrow is usually started from seed and, since it can spread quickly, dividing the plant is usually required every few years. They prefer rich, dry soil and need little in the way of watering or fertilizing. Since these plants can grow up to four feet tall they often require staking, and are perfect for bordering a herb garden or sowing loose in a field.

Planted in full sun, Yarrow will start to blossom in late spring and often continues throughout the summer and into early fall. Its blossoms are compact clusters of white, yellow, or pale pink flowers. These flowers can be cut and dried for Yarrow’s most common medicinal and culinary uses, or be included in a pleasing bouquet.

Yarrow has a completely unique flavor, vaguely reminiscent of licorice. It was once a common herb in our kitchens, and is still included in tea brews. You can also use dried Yarrow in a number of recipes, including vinaigrettes, fruit salads, and to season pasta dishes. Yarrow tea can be bitter, but with a dose of honey it is a hearty cure for the common cold.

Yarrow is most commonly used as a healing herb on open wounds. It is antiseptic and hemostatic, meaning it will help to stop the flow of blood and prevent infection. Yarrow can also be used to stop nosebleeds, and as a rub to speed the healing of bruises and abrasions.

As a tea Yarrow is used to prevent infections such as the common cold, fever, and chickenpox. Yarrow essential oils are also used to combat headaches, toothaches, and because of its anti-inflammatory properties can help to reduce high blood pressure.

The Latin name for Yarrow, achillea millefolium, derives from the legend that the Greek hero Achilles used Yarrow to treat wounds on the battlefield. Other traditional names for Yarrow include woundswort, nosebleed, staunchweed, bloodwort, and soldier’s woundwort, all reflecting its treasured ability in wound healing. Navajo Indians chewed Yarrow to soothe toothaches, and called it “life medicine”.

In Maine, Yarrow was used by the Native Indians to break fevers and colds, and it is still grown in the medicinal herb gardens of the Shakers at Sabbathday Lake. Yarrow was also an easy to grow alternative to hops for earlier brewers.

The mythology behind yarrow is as deep as its medicinal cures. In Ancient China, Yarrow was part of divination practices and the stalks were said to represent the balance of Ying and Yang. The French name for Yarrow, St. Joseph’s, reflects a story that Joseph was given Yarrow by Jesus to treat an open wound. Dried Yarrow could be hung in a home to keep the Devil out, and Yarrow has been used in alchemy for divination for centuries.

A bright flower to put in the garden, Yarrow is a treasured healing herb that will soothe wounds and connect you with a rich history of herbalism.

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