Yarrow has many names, including Nosebleed, Milfoil, Thousand-leaf, Soldier’s Woundwort, Devil’s Nettle, Devil’s Plaything, Bad Man’s Plaything, and Yarroway. The name yarrow is Anglo-Saxon.
From Trojan War to American Civil War
The sixteenth-century British herbalist John Gerard states that Achilles stopped the bleeding wounds of his soldiers with yarrow in the Trojan War some 3,000 years ago. [Gerard’s Herball.] Thus, historically it was called herba militaris, or the military herb. In fact, the herb was found on the battlefields right up to the American Civil War.
Yarrow’s broad use
Yarrow enjoyed widespread use. The Native American Utes applied yarrow to injuries and sores. At least 46 American Indian tribes used yarrow. The first century Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides used yarrow on ulcers to prevent inflammation. John Gerard recommended yarrow to relieve “swelling of those secret parts.” An English shopkeeper used yarrow with brandy and gunpowder, plus comfrey, for back pain. Yarrow appears in the U.S. pharmacopoeia from 1836 to 1882. In 1982, it still appeared in most European pharmacopoeias.
Long history of healing
For centuries, yarrow has been used for healing wounds. And in the 1950s, an alkaloid from the plant was found to help make the blood clot faster. Its anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic property is azulene, the same volatile oil found in chamomile.
Probably because of its close association with bleeding, the early seventeenth-century herbalist Culpeper recommends yarrow for women’s complaints, including menstrual cramps. Interestingly, like many herbs, yarrow has the power to both stop and start nosebleeds. Its popular name “nosebleed” comes from its ability to stop nosebleeds; contrariwise, if you roll up the leaf and apply it inside the nostrils it will cause a nosebleed. According to folklore, it could be a positive sign if your nose bleeds.
It was used historically in witchcraft, hence its nicknames, Devil’s Nettle, Devil’s Plaything, and Bad Man’s Plaything. There was a spell where the leaf was inserted in the nose while the following lines were recited:
Yarroway, yarroway, bear a white blow/
If my love loves me, my nose will bleed now.
Yarrow is very astringent, a tonic, a stimulant, and mildly aromatic. It is reputedly a wonderful preventative of baldness and should be in any shampoo that makes that boast. Oily hair also benefits from it in rinses. I include it in facial steams for normal to oily skin. It is fine in herb baths. It is a perfect ingredient for a cleanser, especially for oily skin or toner. Yarrow’s anti-inflammatory properties make it great for skin care. It is often used in cosmetics as a soothing agent. Yarrow has also been historically known as one of the best remedies for a fever.
Yarrow in Scandinavia
In Sweden, yarrow is called “Field Hop” and has been used to make beer. It is considered much more intoxicating than when hops are used. It is used in Norway for the cure of rheumatism, and the fresh leaves are chewed to cure a toothache.
Planting yarrow next to other herbs increases the essential oils of the surrounding plants.
Chemical constituents: flavonoids and salicylic acid; yarrow contains a volatile oil that contains achilleine, which is said to be identical with acontitic acid; acontitic acid is a white to yellowish crystalline solid that is soluble in water and alcohol; it can also be obtained from sugar cane; it is used as a wetting agent and as an antioxidant; yarrow also contains resin, tannin, gum, and earthy ash.
Caution: Taking yarrow internally can cause sensitivity to the sun.