Common Yarrow is native to Europe and Asia and was originally introduced to North America during colonial times. Now naturalized throughout North America and into higher altitudes of Latin America it can found along roadsides, fields, waste areas and in lawns.
Achillea refers to Achilles, the ancient hero of Greek myth, who was impervious to wounds. He used Yarrow for himself and for his soldiers in the Battle of Troy to heal their lesions and cuts. It was commonly known through out ancient and recent history as herbal militaris, the military herb. Millefolium means "coming of a thousand leaves”, as the stem is filled with fine tiny leaves.
Medicinally, the leaves are antibacterial, decongestant, astringent, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, diaphoretic and an emmenagogue. It is used to stop bleeding wounds, treat gastrointestinal problems, fight fevers, lessen menstrual bleeding, improve circulation and reduce blood clots. The fresh leaves can also be chewed on to relieve tooth aches. Yarrow is a uterine tonic, supporting circulation, improving the tone, increasing menstrual flow and reducing spasms. Yarrow is one of those herbs which has a kind of “intelligence”. It has an affinity for blood and tends to work how it is needed, which can seem contradictory to beginner herbalists. It can either staunch or bring on bleeding. It can break up congealed blood in the case of bruises or delayed menses, while it will also help relieve access menstrual flow and and stop bleeding. This can feel confusing at times, but it always works how it needs to.
Cosmetically, Yarrow can be used as an astringent for the skin and reduce inflammation. It makes a wonderfully blue colored essential oil, that is used to reduce scarring and as an emollient or skin softener.
Psycho-spiritually, Yarrow is used as a talisman for courage and protection. In Chinese divination, the stems are used to read the I-Ching. It can be used to cultivate the inner warrior, make decisions and overcome emotional weaknesses.
'Thou pretty herb of Venus' tree,
Thy true name it is Yarrow;
Now who my bosom friend must be,
Pray tell thou me to-morrow.'
- Halliwell’s Popular Rhymes