Use yarrow for

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Yarrow is our favorite remedy for nosebleeds, and it's well worth keeping a patch by the back door if anyone in your family suffers from them. Simply pick a few fresh leaves - available year round, though at their best in spring and the fall - and rub them between your hands to bruise them, releasing the aromatic oil. Roll the leaves into a nasal plug, insert into the affected nostril and leave until the bleeding completely stops before gently removing the plug.

Julie's father suffered a really bad nosebleed once in the middle of the night, but luckily we had a patch of yarrow close by and the bleeding was soon stopped.

Yarrow has a traditional reputation of being able to start a nosebleed as well as stop one, from a time when bleeding was considered desirable as a cure for migraine. Indeed, one of the plant's old names was "nosebleed."

It is certainly as effective at breaking up congealed blood as it is at stopping hemorrhages, making it a valuable first-aid remedy for thrombosis, for blood blisters and bruises with bleeding beneath the skin, as well as hemorrhoids. If treating for hemorrhoids, take yarrow tea or tincture internally, and place a yarrow poultice or compress over the affected area.

This special ability to both stop bleeding and break up stagnant blood makes yarrow a valuable menstrual remedy. It will correct both heavy and suppressed periods, and will normalize blood flow if there is clotting.

It is also a remedy for vaginal discharge and helps prevent painful periods. Austrian herbalist Maria Treben considered yarrow "first and foremost a herb for women."

This has truth, but the plant's old names of soldier's woundwort and knight's milfoil bring us back once more to yarrow's affinity for battlefields and for being a wound-packing material, probably long before the Achilles myth was recorded. Its use paralleled the development of weapons, and it was the herba militaris, the herb dressing carried by battle surgeons around the world until at least the American Civil War.

Yarrow has long had a particular repute for closing bleeding wounds caused by weapons or tools made of iron. In France it is called the herbe au charpentier (English version: carpenter's grass) for the same reason. It is useful to know in case of domestic or outdoor accidents that yarrow's emergency help can be at hand. Find a plant, strip the leaves, crush them and pack into the wound: it is antibacterial and antimicrobial so you will not introduce infection.

The reason why yarrow is so versatile - it was known as a "cure-all" herb - is that it works to tone the blood vessels, especially the smaller veins, and lower blood pressure by dilating the capillaries. This means it has a beneficial whole-body effect through the blood system, especially on conditions related to hypertension and including coronary thrombosis.

Yarrow has proved beneficial in the treatment of so many illnesses and afflictions that no garden should be without it.

Achillea is an important diaphoretic herb, and is a standard remedy for helping the body deal with fever. It stimulates digestion and tones blood vessels.

- Hoffmann (2003)

... Any treatment for external and internal haemorrhage calls for the inclusion of Yarrow ... I cannot imagine dealing effectively with painful periods or with high blood pressure if the prescription did not include a small but positive amount of Yarrow.

But there is another range of bodily ills for which yarrow is well recommended, and this is in reducing fevers. By relaxing the skin, yarrow will open the pores to allow copious sweating and the release of toxins. Yarrow taken as tea or as a bath at the beginning of a fever or flu is an excellent way to reduce the body temperature. It is an herb for measles and chicken pox, and it is safe for children. It was once called "Englishman's quinine" for a claimed benefit for treating ague (a form of malaria).

The sweating/purifying/relaxing effects are enhanced, herbalists have found, by combining equal quantities of yarrow, peppermint, and elderflower in a tea, drunk as hot and as often as the patient can stand. The same mix works well as a skin lotion or in a bath. The equivalent mixture for high blood pressure is yarrow plus nettle and lime blossom, again taken as a tea.

Yarrow has various other health benefits, as befits its all-rounder status. Its effect on bodily fluids helps in cases of diarrhea and dysentery. It is effective for colic and blockages of the urogenital area, as also for stomach cramps, cystitis, arthritis, and rheumatism.

A yarrow lotion makes a good eyebath and stimulates the scalp, with traditional benefit to the hair; plugs of crushed leaves help to relieve toothache or earache.

Yarrow has a further dimension to its long human history: it is an herb of divination, used by the Druids for predicting the weather, by the Chinese for auguries (in the Book of Changes or I Ching), and by love-lorn English maidens for indicating who their true love would be. One chant from East Anglia links the yarrow of blood and the yarrow of foretelling:

Yarroway, yarroway, bear a white blow/ If my love love me, my nose will bleed now

These were benign uses, but the past is not one-sided and yarrow also had a shadow side, being called the "devil's nettle" and "bad man's plaything." For the most part it was involved in sympathetic magic, as in its part in St John's day celebrations (see page 161).

All this virtue, and a little vice, comes with a tally of yarrow's profit and loss account. No question, it is one of the great presences in western herbalism. At the same time, some cautions should be noted.

Yarrow has a stimulating effect on uterine contractions, so is best avoided in pregnancy; prolonged use externally can, in some people, cause allergic rashes and make the skin ultra-sensitive to sunlight; large doses can cause headaches.

You should also be aware that the active constituents of yarrow vary from plant to plant and by locality. If you try yarrow for any of the uses we have outlined and it seems to be ineffective, go to another plant and use that.

Milfoil is always the greatest boon, wherever it grows wild in the country It should on no account be weeded out. Like sympathetic people in human society, who have a favourable influence by their mere presence ... so milfoil, in a district where it is plentiful, works beneficially by its mere presence.

- Steiner (early 20th century)

Yarrow by Maria Merian (1717)

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Yarrow tea

colds and fevers

• scanty menstruation

• heavy periods

• menstrual clotting

• high blood pressure

• to tone varicose veins

• to prevent blood clots

• weak digestion

Yarrow tincture

• scanty menstruation

• heavy periods

• menstrual clotting

• high blood pressure

• to tone varicose veins

• to prevent blood clots

• weak digestion

Fresh leaf

• nosebleeds

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