Plant Monograph - Yarrow

Plant Monograph - Yarrow

Well, I was searching through some old herbal course files and found my old monograph on Yarrow and thought I'd throw it up here! Admittedly verbose but I hope someway informative.  Yarrow dried herb is available on the Herbal Dimensions store HERE.


Common name: Yarrow


Other names: common yarrow, gordaldo, nosebleed plant, old man's pepper, devil's nettle, sanguinary, milfoil, soldier's woundwort, thousand-leaf, and thousand-seal, boreal yarrow, California yarrow, giant yarrow, coast yarrow, western yarrow, pacific yarrow, bloodwort, carpenter's weed, hierba de las cortaduras, milfoil, plumajillo.


Scientific name: Achillea millefoilum L.


Synonyms: Achillea lanulosa Nutt. Achillea gracilis Raf. Achillea albida Willd.


Family: Compositae/Asteraceae (Daisy Family)



Yarrow (Achillea millefolium L.) is a widespread herbaceous plant native to Europe, Asia and North America. Its virtues as a medicinal plant are numerous in folk herbalism and the ethnomedicinal literature. Many of the same uses are found amongst different peoples in different geographical locations and the historical accounts of its use date back millennia. Evidence of its use may be found dating back 60,000 years, found with the remains of a Neanderthal man along with several other medicinal herbs. Modern science and herbal practices, both Western, Chinese, Ayuvedic and Native American have all found a multitude of uses for this wonderful herb. The discovery of similar uses amongst disparate peoples lend credence to the effectiveness of its actions. It has been labelled a herbal panacea and a review of the literature certainly backs up this claim.


In this mongraph the botany, history, medicinal, chemical and herbal applications of this plant will be detailed. Much more research on the potential benefits of Yarrow are still to be explored.


Botanical Description

Yarrow is a member of the daisy family (Asteraceae) although its umbel like corymb flowerheads could have it confused with members of the carrot family (Apiaceae/Umbelliferae). It can be found in fields, banks, hedgerows and flowers between June and October.


It is an erect perennial herb ranging between 8-90cm tall though more commonly 30-60cm. It has tufty downy feathery leaves that are lanceolate shaped in outline but are finely divided bipinnate and tripinnately. The leaves are often stalked at the lower parts of the plant and stalkless towards the top. It sends out runners and is strongly scented. The flowerheads are 4-6mm across and formed in dense flat topped corymbs. They are a dirty white or cream to pink colour. It produces flattened, hairless achenes (fruit) approximately 2mm in length.


Yarrow is distributed primarily throughout the temperate and boreal areas of the northern hemisphere from the British Isles through Europe and into Asia. It is also found in North America and has been introduced into Australia and New Zealand.




Yarrow botanical drawing

Image: Yarrow botanical drawing


Yarrow unearthed

Image: Yarrow unearthed


Yarrow emerging

Image: Yarrow emerging


Yarrow stem leaves

Image: Yarrow stem & leaves


Yarrow flower buds

Image: Yarrow emerging flowers


Yarrow dense flower

Image: Yarrow dense flower heads


Yarrow seeds

Image: Yarrow seeds




Yarrow has a long an esteemed history as a medicinal herb both in Europe, Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine dating back millennia. It was found along with other medicinal herbs in the grave of a Neanderthal man dating to 60,000 years ago in Iraq making its use one of the earliest recorded.


In ancient times the herb was named Herba militaris due to its ability and use in staunching wounds on the battlefield. The common name Yarrow is a derivation of the Anglo-Saxon name for the plant - gearwe or garwela (meaning spear well) and the Dutch, yerw.


Linnaeus in 1753 named the genus 'Achillea' after the Ancient Greek warrior Achilles who reputedly used Yarrow to treat wounds on the battlefield. Whilst this reference is made in almost every article you will find on the plant the precise connection remains somewhat elusive. In the Iliad it is Patroclus that treats Eurypylus using a plant that causes blood clotting. The section shows how the knowledge of this medicinal herb originates from Cheiron the Centaur to Achilles and who in turn is said to have taught Patroclus. Further description or naming of the plant in question is not present in the text and so certainty that it is indeed what we now call Yarrow is not known for sure though its effects certainly seem similar. The relevant sections from the Iliad:


'But help me to my black ship, and cut out the arrow-head, and wash the dark blood from my thigh with warm water, and sprinkle soothing herbs with power to heal on my wound, whose use men say you learned from Achilles, whom the noble Centaur, Cheiron, taught. '


'So saying, he put his arm round the warrior’s waist, and helped him to his hut. When Eurypylus’ squire saw them, he spread ox-hides on the floor, and Patroclus lowered the wounded man to the ground, and cut the sharp arrow-head from his thigh. Next he washed the dark blood from the place with warm water, and rubbing a bitter pain-killing herb between his hands sprinkled it on the flesh to numb the agony. Then the blood began to clot, and ceased to flow.'


Herbal actions: Diaphoretic, vulnerary, hypotensive, astringent, diuretic, antiseptic, anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, anti-catarrhal, emmenagogue, hepatic, stimulant, tonic.


Medicinal usage

Yarrow has been used for a wide and varied range of conditions and ailments. That said, 3 main categories of use are commonplace amongst disparate peoples and throughout history. These are; colds and flu's with associated fever, in bleeding and wounds and lastly in digestive issues (Buhner).


Yarrow is an excellent diaphoretic herb and through the stimulation of perspiration will lower a fever (Corby). In western herbal medicine an infusion or tincture of Yarrow is a standard remedy for dealing with fevers (Hoffman). It has an analgesic effect, somewhat milder than aspirin but can alleviate pain associated with cold and flu. As an immune stimulant it is useful to drink at the early onset of cold and flu symptoms (Corby). It contains compounds that are antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and spasmolytic. As such a steam it will help alleviate symptoms associated with upper respiratory tract infections including inflamed bronchial passages and coughing. Its antimicrobial and antibacterial actions make it useful against strep and staph infection (Buhner).


As a vulnerary Yarrow has gained quite a reputation and this effect is the source of its genus name 'Achillea' and many of its common names, eg, soldiers woundwort (see Historical section). Fresh (chewed) or powdered leaves applied to a wound by poultice or otherwise will slow or stop bleeding and will reduce the associated inflammation (Buhner). It will also speed the healing of wounds (Corby). It has been used to stop nosebleeds and one such method is applying a tincture of Yarrow to a tissue inserted in the nostril (Elpel). This ability to stop staunch blood and heal wounds is a more powerful effect than many give credit for with contemporary herbalists noting that it will be effective in serious wounds bone deep (Buhner).


Yarrow has been frequently used to treat gastrointestinal complaints (Applequist & Moerman). This includes diarrhorea and leaky gut syndrome (Corby) that it aids by toning the digestive tract. It stimulates digestion and can be useful in stomach upsets. It is a digestive bitter and tonic and is effective in treating dyspepsia (Buhner).


Other than the above Yarrow has been employed in the treatment of many other complaints including urinary tract infections, menstrual irregularity, hemorroids and thrombotic conditions associated with high blood pressure.



120 compounds have been characterised in Yarrow (Chandler, 1982) and the plant contains upto 0.5% volatile oil (Hoffman) of which is composed of some of these compounds. Also present are sesquiterpene lactones, flavonoids, alkaoids, sterols and triterpenes. The flavonoids have attracted attention for their spasmolytic action. For more details on the full range of compounds present and their characterists see Chandler 1982.



It is edible though somewhat bitter so adding the leaves to a soup or stew is preferable. Young leaves can be added to a salad (Corby). Please see 'Contraindications' regarding extended use.


Other uses

Yarrow was one of the 3 main ingredients in 'Gruit Ale'. This beverage was 'the' ale of Europe prior to the predominate use of hops and what we now know as ale (Buhner). The herbalist 'Rafinesque' (1830) has observed Yarrow has a subnarcotic and inebrient qualites, indeed it contains Thujone also found in Wormwood and the drink Absinthe. A potential candidate for this action and maybe the reason for its inclusion in Gruit Ale.


Yarrow stalks have been used traditionally when consulting the Chinese divinatory system known as the I Ching.



For fevers Yarrow combines well with Elder Flower, Peppermint, Boneset, Cayenne and Ginger. In the case of high blood pressure it can be combined with hawthorn, Lime Blossom and Mistletoe (Hoffman).


Cultivation & harvesting

Yarrow is best harvested whilst in flower over the summer months. All above ground parts are used.


If cultivating, Yarrow will grow in most soil types but prefers a well draining soil and a sunny position. It is drought tolerant and quite invasive. It makes an excellent companion plant and will enhance the essential oil content of neighbouring plants improving their ability to survive insect predation. It is also a good bee plant.


Organoleptic tasting

The live flowering plant has a pungeant aroma that remains after drying. An infusion of fresh leaves and flowers results in a pale green tea. I have personally found it to have a deep earthy, somewhat sweet scent. When drank a deep, earthy, grassy taste is present with a hint of warmth and almost peppery taste, vaguely water cress like. It is a refreshing beverage.


The tea feels calming and strengthening and yet awakens the senses.


Suggested preparations – tincture, infusion, bath, chew, liquid extract, mouthwash, oil, poultice, salve


Contraindications – Exercise caution if sensitive to Asteraceae family. Not to be used internally if in first 3 months of pregnancy or breastfeeding (Corby). Extended use either medicinally or in the diet can cause allergic skin rashes or photosensitivity in some people.



  • A Modern Herbal
  • Botany in a Day, Elpel, T.J (2013)
  • Ethnobotany and Phytochemistry of Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, Compositae (R. F. Chandler, S. N. Hooper and M. J. Harvey)
  • Holistic Herbal, Hoffman, D (1996)
  • Plants For a Future -
  • Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers, Buhner, S.H (1998)
  • The Medicine Garden, Corby, R (2009)
  • The Wildflower Key, Rose, F. (2006)
  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium L.): A Neglected Panacea? A Review of Ethnobotany, Bioactivity, and Biomedical Research (Wendy L. Applequist and Daniel E. Moerman)
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