Yarrow, the Battlefield Boo Boo Butter

Yarrow (Achillea millifolium) is a decorative plant native to the temperate zones of North America, Europe and Asia and is commonly found in fields, pastures and ditches.  It’s use as a medicinal herb goes back thousands of years and the plant comes with a rich folklore history.  How many plants can claim a god keeps it in his first aid kit?  Well, actually quite a few.  But legend has it that the Achillea in Achillea millifolium is due to the god Achilles’ use of this plant to heal his soldiers’ wounds in battle (Ranson, 1954).  Historical and contemporary use of this plant include as a styptic to slow and stop bleeding and a vulnerary to promote wound healing, as well as a diaphoretic, astringent, tonic, stimulant and mild aromatic (Grieve, 1971).  These properties let to its use as to stop nosebleed, calm bleeding hemorrhoids, treat rheumatism and toothache, as a gargle for sore throat, to reduce blood pressure, and for relief from colds, bronchitis, coughs, asthma, fevers and catarrh (Grieve, 1971)(Dawson, 1980).

Contemporary research into the medicinal properties of yarrow largely supports the traditional uses.  Yarrow contains sesquiterpene lactone bitters, flavonoids, tannins and 0.1-0.5% of a volatile oil (proazuline) which have demonstrated antiphlogistic, anti-inflammatory, carminative and spasmolytic actions (Weiss, 2000).  The sesquiterpene lactones and volatile oil are responsible for the antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and diaphoretic action of the plant, while the flavonoids are antispasmodic (Wichtl, 2004).

Together with tannins present in the plant, which act to constrict tissue and have also demonstrated antimicrobial actions, these constituents support the traditional use of yarrow as a vulnerary and styptic.  A 2011 study looked specifically at the wound healing properties of yarrow and found that compared to a standard wound ointment, Madecassol, an extract of yarrow in n-hexane solution increased wound healing by 40.1% (Akkol, et al, 2011).

The presence of antiphlogistic compounds supports yarrows use for colds, coughs and fevers where the anti-inflammatory action of the sesquiterpene lactones and volatile oil would potentially ease inflamed bronchial and sinus tissues.  Here too the tannins in the plant could potentially help through the toning of tissue.

Altogether a useful plant to have in your herb garden.  And lest we forget some of its other values, yarrow makes a lovely cut flower to enjoy and is a favorite with some of our favorite pollinators.

 

References:

 

Akkol EK, Koca U, Pesin I, Yilmazer D. Evaluation of the Would Healing Potential of Achillea biebersteinii Afan. (Asteraceae) by In vivo Excision and Incision Models. Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine. 2011:474026.

 

Allen, DE and Hatfield, G. (2004). Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition: An Ethnobotany of Britain & Ireland. Portland, OR: Timber Press.

 

Dawson A. (1980). Health, Happiness, and the Pursuit of Herbs. Brattleboro, VT: The Stephen Greene Press.

 

Grieve, M. (1971). A Modern Herbal: The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-Lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs & Trees with all their Modern Scientific Uses. New York, NY: Dover Publications, Inc.

 

Ranson, F. (1954). British Herbs. Bungay, UK: Richard Clay and Company, Ltd.

 

Weiss, RF and Fintelmann, V. (2000). Herbal Medicine. New York, NY: Thieme New York.

 

Wichtl, M. (Ed). (2004). Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals: A Handbook for Practice on a Scientific Basis. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

 

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