Monday, October 19, 2009

Yarrow: Achilles HEAL!

(Achillea millefolium)

As a Chinese Herbalist, I have long known the value of haemostatic herbs. Yarrow is most certainly an herb to keep on hand in case of emergency; its ability to stop bleeding is nothing short of miraculous. I could spend all day giving accounts of the successes many practitioners and laypeople alike have had using Yarrow to treat everything from nosebleeds to chainsaw mishaps. It can be used with equal success internally and externally and is absolutely an herb to know.

Yarrow has been used since time immemorial as a wound healer and has many magical associations as well. In ancient China, the stalks were used for divining rods when it was necessary to find water or for proper Feng Shui positioning. The Ojibwa knew the plant as “squirrel’s tail” for the shape of the leaves that appear in spring before the flower stalk emerges and Native Americans sometimes used it to revive a patient from a coma due to its strong aroma. If only the famous Greek hero during the Trojan War knew of this remedy when he was pierced with an arrow behind his ankle, then we would be familiar with the term “Achilles’ Heal.”

In Chinese medicine, there is a condition known as “Blood Heat” that manifests with symptoms such as manic behavior, delirium, fever, red and angry rashes or blood appearing inappropriately through vomiting, coughing, in the stool or urine, or as epistaxis (nosebleed) and hemorrhages; Yarrow suits this type of condition perfectly when taken internally either as an infusion of the leaf, or stronger still, a powder or decoction from the root. Blood Heat can also be the cause of some types of stroke, and Achillea millefolium is often used for brain aneurism and to restore consciousness. It can also calm the mind gently but effectively when there is mania as a result of Blood Heat. A couple of distinguishing signs of Blood Heat would be an excessively large pulse that is also rather rapid and a tongue that appears to be very red or scarlet, often with protruding red points near the front and the sides.

One of the most fascinating things about this herb (and others in its class) is its ability to regulate blood. It can just as easily stop bleeding as it can break through stagnant blood such as a clot; it just seems to “know” what to do. It can regulate the menses just as effectively, whether it’s used to treat amenorrhea (scant or no period), or heavy and excess menstrual hemorrhages, Yarrow will do exactly what is required. It is used for uterine masses such as fibroids or cysts when taken internally or when used in a sitz bath. It can even treat varicose veins when added to the bath on a regular basis!

Because it has such a strong affinity for the blood, it is very helpful for trauma and is a blessing for dulling pain. It speeds healing from traumatic injury, quickens the blood to mend bruises and contusions, and is even soothing for burns and blisters. For anyone who practices Martial Arts or happens to be accident prone, this is one herb you won’t want to do without!!

Yarrow is also considered to be diaphoretic (it makes you sweat); it is aromatic, pungent, cold and bitter. It is frequently added to formulas-particularly the flowers- for the treatment of colds, flu and even bronchial complaints because of its ability to bring on a sweat and bring down a fever. When combined with Elder Flowers, Chamomile and Peppermint, it makes a soothing and tasty remedy for stubborn colds with chills and body aches and it will help the patient to rest more comfortably.

Some diabetic conditions can also benefit from the addition of Yarrow to a supplement regimen when there is concurrent insomnia with high blood pressure and a history of stroke. This condition is serious however and its treatment should be under the guidance and supervision of an experienced practitioner.

Yarrow is a bitter digestive tonic when the leaves are steeped as an infusion in small dosages. For more serious digestive complaints such as diverticulitis, colitis, dysentery, and septic diarrhea (especially when there is blood), it is best to use the stronger, more medicinal root.

Finding Yarrow is really no trouble at all; its leaves are deeply toothed right to the central “vein” of the leaf. This is a signature for its ability to heal cuts and wounds. Once the flower stalk appears in summer, the leaves at the base curl up and whither while the leaves along the stalk exhibit the same characteristics as the spring leaves. The flowering head is flat-topped and has a profusion of small, individual flowers each with five white petals (the cultivars now available have a range of pretty pastel colors). It is found in fields, in waste ground and it seems to thrive in poor, dry soils. In fact, the most medicinal plants can be gathered from dry, rocky and sunny areas…probably right next to your own driveway! Just be cautious not to gather any medicinal or edible plants from roadsides or from areas exposed to chemicals, fertilizers or pesticides.

Go ahead and scout your familiar areas now for this valuable plant, so the next time you need it in a hurry you won’t have to search for it. All you need to do in an emergency is chew the leaf and apply it to the wound to staunch the blood and start the healing; a few applications may be necessary, but it does work wonders. Once you’re convinced, you will certainly want to harvest some more to dry and keep on hand in a sealed glass container in a cool, dark cabinet just in case you need it during the winter time too.

Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH (NCCAOM), RH (AHG) is a nationally board certified Chinese Herbalist, and a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. Lisl is also a certified Medicinal Aromatherapist, a level III Reiki practitioner, an Acupressurist, an Auriculotherapist, a photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher and a published writer in private practice for over a decade. She is available by appointment.
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  1. I admire your knowledge, especially in working with herbs according to the Chinese system. I usually just work with one at a time, based on mainly western thought. Glad I got to see your website! Thanks!

  2. Thanks Susan! I was trained in TCM for years as an herbalist... working Western herbs into my TCM practice has been a labor of love... AND a challenge! I don't think in Western thought at all when it comes to medicine... hmmm... or much else for that matter!! lol