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Achillea millefolium, Yarrow. Uses and Exploring Astringents

One of the folk lores about Yarrow, 𝘈𝘤𝘩𝘪𝘭𝘭𝘦𝘢 𝘮𝘪𝘭𝘭𝘦𝘧𝘰𝘭𝘪𝘶𝘮 is tied to Achilles. Lore has it that when Achilles’s was an infant his mother was told to shield him from harm by submerging him in a tea made of Yarrow, she held him by the heels and dipped him in a bath of yarrow tea, however his heels were not submerged in the tea leaving that part of his body vulnerable, the lore of Achilles has it that he died from an injury at the end of the Trojan War when he was shot in the heel with an arrow. Prior to his death Achilles’s and his soldiers used Yarrow as a treatment to cleanse, disinfect wounds and staunch blood flow from injuries sustained during the war. The genus 𝘈𝘤𝘩𝘪𝘭𝘭𝘦𝘢 was named after Achilles. Whether his birth ritual was true or just a myth, the use of the herb as a styptic (stops bleeding) and as an antiseptic are a fact!

Yarrow has more uses aside of being that for staunching blood flow or as a disinfectant. Both the inflorescences and leaves are used in both traditional and modern herbal medicine. The inflorescence (flowers) are high in volatile oils (aromatics) and possess anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, carminative (relieves wind), stimulant, antispasmodic actions. Yarrow is a hypotensive, it lowers blood pressure by the dilation of peripheral vessels. It is an aromatic bitte which I will discuss bitter herbs on a future post, but essentially bitter herbs stimulate and improve digestion, however they do so much more than just stimulate or improve digestion. Yarrow is a diaphoretic herb employed for breaking dry fevers by inducing sweat and fighting infection. Drank warm, Yarrow is a herb used as a febrifuge to induce sweating to break a fever. I would call Yarrow an alterative herb, alterative herbs strengthen the bodies own self-defense mechanisms in presence of illness/disease. It clears pelvic and uterine congestion, having been used as a hemostatic to halt flooding especially used in perimenopause and menopause. Yarrow flower tea is a stimulant to the uterine system bringing on delayed menses (emmenagogue) and this is due to the volatile oils which stimulate blood flow by irritating the tissues. My experience in working with emmenagogues is drinking copious amounts of tea in order to bring on a delayed menses, one cup is not enough. It will increase urine output (diuretic) which can be used in a comprehensive program for treating urinary tract infections. The aerial portions of the plant is what we call astringents.

The leaves are rich in tannins. Tannins occur in many angiosperms and gymnosperms. They are compounds sometimes called tannic acids derived from phenolic acids that function to deter parasite growth and herbivory. The use of tannins in herbal medicine are to dry draw, shrink swollen tissue and are mildly anti-microbial. Tannins are what define astringency. Let's review some uses and indications of astringents. In fact let's practice an exercise so that we can experience what tannins are and what they do.

Make a cup of black tea or green tea, taking two tea bags (of the same tea) place in a mug and bring 8 ounces of water to a boil. Pour the hot water over the tea bags, cover the top of the mug with a lid or a saucer and let sit for 30 minutes. After the 30 minutes remove the tea bags and take your first sip of the tea, swishing it in your mouth and then swallow. Notice what is happening to the mucosal tissues in your mouth. You will feel a puckering and tightening of the lips, tongue, and the insides of the checks and at the back of the throat you will feel a tightening and drying of mucosal tissues.

Tannins are grabby, they bind to protein and alkaloids (precipitate out of solution). Tannins are soluble in water, but they especially love hot water and duration. The longer you sit a tannic rich plant in hot water the more tannins will be extracted. Hence why many teas rich in tannic acids have directions as to how long steep.

On the thermal spectrum, Yarrow is cooling.

USES and INDICATIONS. Based upon the tea exercise can you think of any indications why we would reach for an astringent?


INTERNAL USES sore throats, mouth blisters, swollen irritated gums, diarrhea, ulcers, dysentery, bleeding gums, nasal wash for symptoms associated with allergies i.e. runny nose.


Bug bites, bee stings, itchy irritated skin, hives, diaper rash, sunburns, minor burns, windburn, minor cuts, scrapes, poison oak/ivy, a sitz bath for relieving heat, irritation and inflammation caused by hemorrhoids, yeast infections. Drawing boils, pulling infections, eye wash (itchy watery eyes). Astringents will staunch blood flow by shrinking the tissue around an injury, think about razor cuts, a bloody nose and that pimple that should had not been popped and is now a bloody mess. Dipping a cloth or cotton ball in an astringent tea and cleansing the area, applying pressure will halt the blood flow. We are familiar with the term "facial toners" when it comes to skincare and most of the popular plants used in skincare as a toner are Witch Hazel, Hamamelis virginiana and Rose, Rosa spp., well ANY astringent can work and true there are more plants higher in tannins than others and may be a more ideal choice when in a pinch black tea bags are my go to.

I like using Rhus ovata, Sugarbush that I get from my friend Nicoles garden, I recently planted three Rhus ovata shrubs so that I can use in the future not to mention it is an incredibly beautiful evergreen.

Yarrow is a native plant in California and in many other regions in North America. It can withstand heat and dry conditions. It requires well drained soil and being that I am in the Mojave Desert and the sun can be fairly intense here, I want to reduce sun exposure and have planted our Yarrow in an area that it will get part sun and shade. I encourage folks to cultivate their own native plants rather than wildcrafting. Where can you find Yarrow? Most native plant nurseries, local chapters of the state you are in Native Plant Societies will have native plant sales and if the plant is native to your region they may have it. You can also check Strictly Medicinal Seeds or in California the Theodore Payne Foundation.

If you want to just source the dried flower or leaf check in with Mountain Rose Herbs, Pacific Botanicals, Starwest Botanicals and our friends certified organic medicinal plant farm in Applegate, Oregon, Oshalla Farm.

If learning about herbal medicine, making herbal medicine, learning about herbal energetics, plant compounds, learning how to re-engage our sense of taste and smell to help identify compounds, thermal energetics and how we can apply this to our herbal practice visit our classes | events page for more information on our online Foundational Herbalism series.

 The Team

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