Yarrow was highly prized as a wound herb. It is said that Achilles used the fresh herb to stop the flow of blood from the wounds of his soldiers. Later yarrow was made into an ointment and used for the same purpose. One of its country names is nosebleed, derived from the use of its leaf as a plug to the nostril.
Yarrow, achillea millefolium, is a very familiar wild herb. It can be found growing almost everywhere, in fields, by hedgerows and along country lanes. It is an attractive small plant, growing up to I 2in (30cm) high. The square erect stem carries longish very finely cut feathery leaves which are deep green. The flowers, which bloom from June to September, are white or pale pink, very small, and grow massed together in a flat-topped cluster which stands out prettily among other hedgerow plants. The whole plant is covered with fine silky hairs and has a pungent, rather spicy scent, while the taste is strong and slightly bitter. Yarrow has a creeping rootstock and sets many seeds so it is readily available in the wild. It is very easy to grow in the garden and, far from becoming a troublesome weed, will help to keep plants growing nearby free from disease. It is also a safer way to provide yarrow for use in the home, because of possible contamination of the wild plants by chemical spraying.
Yarrow can be planted in any garden soil in sun or in shade. Set the plants in during the spring or autumn. Once established, yarrow will need to be periodically cut back to prevent it from spreading into the other plants in the border.
Both flowers and leaves can be dried for winter use. The leaves are picked at any time during the growing season and the flowers when they are just coming into bloom. Leaves and flowers are usually dried separately, but can be mixed together for storing.
Yarrow is a useful remedy for a feverish cold, especially if taken as soon as the symptoms appear. Taken in the form of a tea, yarrow increases perspiration, helping to bring down a fever. Combined with elderflower or peppermint the tea can bring speedy relief to the sufferer.
* To make yarrow tea: Pour ½ cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of fresh or dried yarrow. Leave to infuse for 5—10 minutes. Strain and add honey to sweeten if preferred.
The tea made purely with the flower can be taken in cases of chronic catarrh. It is also beneficial to those with indigestion and flatulence and is a gentle laxative. Taken warm 30 minutes before a meal, yarrow tea will help to stimulate the appetite.
For external use, an ointment using the fresh herb will soothe painful haemorrhoids (piles). It can also be used to ease painful joints, and for cuts and abrasions.
* To make the ointment: Melt 4 heaped tablespoons of white petroleum jelly in an enamel pan. Stir in 1 good handful of chopped fresh herb. Bring it slowly to the boil and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes. Strain and pour into small pots. Cover when cold.
A poultice made from fresh yarrow leaves is said to relieve painful rheumatic joints.
* To make a poultice: Pick and wash enough leaves to make into a pulp, either by hand or in the electric blender. Spread the pulp on to a piece of muslin or cheesecloth and heat it between 2 plates over a pan of boiling water. Place over the affected part as hot as possible and leave until the poultice has cooled. Renew as necessary until relief is felt.
Yarrow is an excellent cosmetic herb when used wisely. It is important to note that when using yarrow on the skin over a long period of time, the skin may become sensitive to sunlight and discoloration of the skin may occur. Yarrow lotion is an infusion made from the flowers and is a good cleanser for oily skin. It is an astringent herb, so a weak infusion will be found quite effective.
* To make yarrow lotion: Pour 2 cups of boiling water on to 1 ½ tablespoons of fresh herb or 3 teaspoons of dried herb. Leave to in fuse for at least 1 hour then strain into a screwtop bottle. Keep the bottle in the refrigerator and use within a few days. Dip cotton wool into the lotion and wipe over the face night and morning. As soon as a beneficial effect is noticed the treatment should be discontinued.
For blackheads in an oily skin, a facial steam will help to cleanse and stimulate the skin.
* To make a facial steam: Into a bowl put 2 handfuls of yarrow and pour boiling water over them. Cover the head and bowl with a towel and let the steam cleanse and soften the skin for 10 minutes. Afterwards carefully wipe the face and finally splash the skin with cold water to close the pores. The addition of other herbs in the facial steam will help to make it more effective. Use herbs such as chamomile flowers, nettle, lime flowers and salad burnet for a fragrant steam.
A useful treatment for oily skin is to have a yarrow face pack. It will help to close large pores and improve the texture of the skin.
* To make the face pack: Gather fresh leaves and flowering tops, wash and finely chop them. Put into an enamel pan with sufficient water to prevent burning. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 10 minutes until a thick pulp is formed. Cleanse the face thoroughly and spread the mixture on to a piece of gauze. Put the warm pack on to the face, avoiding eyes and mouth. The eyes can be covered with cotton wool pads wrung out in cold water. Lie down and relax for 15 minutes. Wash off with tepid water. The face pack will also help to heal spots and pimples and will generally improve the complexion. To make the treatment more effective a cup of yarrow tea (see Medicinal Use) can be taken.
Yarrow infusion can be used as a hair rinse, when it will help to clear mild cases of dandruff. The infusion can also be used as a hair lotion and rubbed into the scalp three or four times a week to stimulate the growth and leave the hair soft and shining.
* To make the infusion: Pour 4 cups of boiling water on to 3 tablespoons of fresh crushed yarrow in a jug. Leave to stand for 2 hours, then strain and reheat by placing the jug in a pan of hot water until the infusion is sufficiently warm. Shampoo and rinse the hair in the ordinary way. Finally pour the yarrow rinse over the hair several times, massaging it well into the scalp. The infusion may be poured into a stoppered jar and used within a few days. Store in a cool place or in the refrigerator.
The infusion makes an effective lotion for chapped hands when used on an occasional basis. Pour some lotion into a bowl and soak the hands for 5-10 minutes. Alternatively use as a compress; dip pieces of lint into the lotion and spread over the hands. Leave for 10-15 minutes.
As a bath addition yarrow provides a soothing relaxing soak which is at the same time good for the skin.
* To make a herbal bath: Make a strong infusion by pouring 2 cups of boiling water over 3-4 handfuls of the herb. Leave it to infuse for 15-20 minutes then strain and add to the bath water. The addition of a highly perfumed herb such as lavender will make it more fragrant and increase the pleasure of the bath.