You have probably seen this plant thousands of times, because – on the Northern Hemisphere – it grows pretty much everywhere. It’s a modest, unassuming plant, though the deep green colour is rather nice. The small, white flowers aren’t decorative enough to make bouquets of them, and the smell is sharp, a bit “medicinal”. No wonder, really – it’s a very valuable medicinal plant, and one worth keeping.
You can easily recognize yarrow for its leaves : slim and feathery, with a mass of tiny strands (the Latin ‘millefolium’ translates to ‘thousand-leaf’, which is actually one of its common names). The stem is tough and stiff, so if you’re planning on harvesting some, don’t even try to break it by hand. The right way to harvest yarrow is to take a very sharp knife and cut the blossoming stem roughly in the middle – taking half away and leaving half to grow. Yarrow grows back very quickly, which is why it is prized as a pasture plant, said t o “grow back right under the beast’s teeth.”
- Medicinal uses
Yarrow’s most interesting qualities are those of a medicinal plant. Fresh or dried plant (millefolii herba) can be used – in decoctions or macerates – both internally and externally. Drinking yarrow infusions is generally advised in gastrointestinal trouble, as its healing properties can alleviate inflammations and cramp pains (although with serious cramps, fennel is a better choice.) Externally, yarrow preparations can be used in compresses and poultices to speed the mending of wounds, in which task it is very effective. This property is so well known that most yarrow names deal, in one way or another, with healing wounds : nosebleed plant, herba militaris, sanguinary, soldier’s woundwort… and not just in English, either. I have come across one extreme case – a solitary person wounded in the wild – who found yarrow growing nearby, chewed it into a pulp in his mouth and put the resulting mass over a cleaned wound. This was very smart of her, I must say. Even if it didn’t miraculously close the wound in seconds, it was still the best thing she could have done.
- Culinary uses
Yarrow has a bittersweet taste, and a strong, sharp smell. It does not come to mind as the best foodstuff when you pass it by in the park, but it used to be quite a popular vegetable, used similarly to raw sorrel – in soups, and salads of boiled leaves. Nowadays, we have more interesting vegetables and yarrow is hardly ever consumed, but it’s still worth you attention from time to time. Especially if you have any kind of skin trouble – acne or suchlike – you will often hear how it can be treated with zinc pills and drugs, many of them quite expensive. Whereas yarrow leaves, and especially flowers, contain a large concentration of this valuable mineral which can be ingested when eating the plant. Tea-like infusion is one good choice, but seasoning a salad with the small, white flowers is even better, because you get a medicinal, cosmetic, gastronomic and aesthetic effect all at once. Yarrow leaves can also be chopped and added to quark cheese with tasty results.
- Magic uses
Due to its healing properties, yarrow in herbal magic is best used to symbolise just that – healing, mending and closing of wounds. Herbal talismans containing yarrow are often made to help with hurt feelings and aid in moving on with one’s life after a traumatic event, searching for closure. Dried flowers are the best choice for these purposes, due to their sharp smell and pleasing appearance.