Yarrow used to grow abundantly in the field near Wickham Glen, though there is not as much this year as in previous years. The name derives from the Anglo-Saxon “Gearwe”. It is a member of the daisy, or Asteraceae, family of plants, and flowers from June to September. The flowers have a strong scent and there are many tiny flowers in a flower head, while the leaves are like fronds. Mrs Grieve tells us that it ‘grows everywhere, and creeps greatly by its roots, so it is seldom admitted into gardens in this country’. However, you see many cultivars of yarrow in people’s gardens nowadays.
Geoffrey Grigson, in his book The Englishman’s Flora, tells us that according to the Anglo-Saxon Herbarium, ‘the chieftain Achilles found it and with this same wort (healing plant) healed them who were stricken and wounded with iron.’ You are advised to pound the plant with grease and lay it on the wound. In Somerset it was known as ‘nosebleed’ – traditionally, it was reputed to both start a nose bleed, as it breaks up congealed blood, and to stop one. In this case, bruise the leaves, roll them up and insert into the nose until the bleeding stops. It is a first-aid remedy for blood blisters and also haemorrhoids, and is used in prescriptions for regulating menstruation.
It was also associated with the Evil One, and called the ‘Devil’s Nettle’, and with divination in spells and sympathetic magic. Around the world, yarrow sticks are used to read the I Ching to this day.
My former teacher Christopher Robbins, in his book The Household Herbal, describes it as a classic fever management herb – together with peppermint and elderflower, it induces sweating in the early stages of a fever. He says it is particularly useful in raised diastolic blood pressure, and also for stomach ulcers and for minor cuts – as with most medicinal plants, it has a wide variety of uses.
Combine with nettle, lime flowers and hawthorn for high blood pressure, and use as a weak tea for diarrhoea.
It contains the volatile oil azulene, also in chamomile – 5 ml of ‘yarrow blue’ essential oil will cost you at least £12.00!
A word of caution – it can occasionally cause allergic rashes and sensitivity to sunlight, and large doses can induce headaches and nausea. It should not be used by anyone on Warfarin or Heparin, and is best avoided in pregnancy. It is also highly variable from plant to plant, and in different locations.