The botanical name for yarrow is Achillea millefolium. The genus name Achillea comes from an ancient Greek myth about the Trojan hero Achilles. As the story goes, when Achilles was a young boy he was brought to the centaur Chiron who was a teacher and healer, and became a mentor to Achilles. Chiron taught him the ways of the gods and bestowed upon him the plant yarrow, teaching him about its healing properties. Achilles took this knowledge to the battlefield and used it to staunch the bleeding wounds of his soldiers. For this reason, yarrow is also sometimes known as herba militaris, or soldier’s herb.
Its specific name millefolium meaning “thousands of leaves”, refers to the profusion of small feathery, fern-like leaves.
This plant has also historically been used as a divination tool. Chinese cleromancers would use bundles of 50 dried yarrow stalks that were cut uniformly and removed of leaves to cast the I Ching. Although nowadays most people use coins, some diviners still prefer to use the traditional yarrow stalks.
Yarrow’s medicinal properties are characterized as astringent and drying. Because of this, it is a great herb to have in your first aid kit. A simple yarrow poultice can be used as a styptic and antiseptic, to stop bleeding and disinfect small cuts and nosebleeds.
In ancient times, yarrow was associated with witchcraft as it is a very potent healing herb. It can both staunch and stimulate blood flow and is wonderful for women’s reproductive health, as it can be used to both decrease heavy menstrual bleeding and stimulate a delayed menstrual cycle - I have heard it called "master of the blood."
In these photos, we harvested a bunch of yarrow tops - including the leaves and flowers, dried them on elevated wire racks for about two weeks, and made it into a medicinal tea for later use. I have been experimenting with drinking the tea a week before the onset of my cycle, as it is supposed to ease the symptoms. Because yarrow is drying and tends to strip away, we like to follow it up by consuming something with emollient and demulcent qualities such as calendula or mallow. These marshmallows perhaps?
(Yarrow is an emmenagogue and should be avoided during pregnancy. I have also read reports of it being used as a contraceptive, so use only for a short time).
I steeped the dried yarrow in freshly boiled water for about ten minutes before consuming. The tea is fragrant and tastes a bit like a combination of chamomile and something vaguely coniferous - if you are bothered by the bitterness, you can add a little bit of honey.