Practical Self Reliance: Yarrow Salve

Ashley Adamant of Practical Self Reliance tells us how to make Yarrow Salve. A few years ago I tried to start some medicinal herbs indoors. I didn’t do a very good job. A few weeks later, most of the neglected herbs were dead and the rest were sad, scraggly things on the verge of death. Tucking these struggling starts into a few out of the way places in the garden, I resigned myself to their imminent death. A couple of years later, there was a mysterious, inexplicable abundance of yarrow growing throughout the periphery of the garden. It took some time to realize that they must have grown from that tattered start. They’ve turned into a nice, soft ground cover which the kids wish covered the whole yard. Oh, and it still has medicinal value, too.

Yarrow salve offers many medicinal and healing benefits, and it couldn’t be easier to make at home. Yarrow can be found growing in the wild all throughout the United States and is an important addition to any home remedy collection.

Yarrow Salve


With its soft white flowers and equally soft green leaves, the yarrow plant is a beautiful addition to any garden (which, thanks to its mosquito-repelling properties, is why you’ll often find it planted in backyards and surrounding areas).
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is also easily found growing in the wild, where it can be foraged and then used to make this salve.  If foraging is new to you, read my post about foraging and using yarrow for tips on locating and identifying this plentiful flowering plant.
This salve uses the leaves of the yarrow plant, if you find yourself with an excess of leftover yarrow flowers you can turn them into a soothing hot & moist tea for cold and flu.

Benefits of Yarrow Salve

The healing and medicinal benefits of yarrow have been known for thousands of years. Over 2,500 years ago Asian yarrow was first used by Chinese doctors to relieve inflammation, bleeding, and animal bites. Yarrow also makes an appearance in Greek mythology; the warrior Achilles is said to have used the herb for its blood-clotting effects on the battlefield!
While the flowers of the yarrow plant are typically used to relieve internal issues such as fever, stomach upset, and menstrual cramping, yarrow leaves are more likely to be used as a topical remedy. Specifically, yarrow leaves have powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-itching, anti-bacterial, wound healing, and blood coagulating properties when applied to the skin.
Scientists have actually been able to replicate these findings in a lab setting. A randomized controlled study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology examining the use of yarrow as a topical inflammatory found that, after seven days of continuous reapplication, “The application of tested oil extracts on artificially irritated skin in vivo demonstrated the ability to re-establish their optimal pH and hydration of skin to the values measured prior to the irritation.”
According to Herb Rally, yarrow’s “antiseptic and anodyne properties coupled with its ability to coagulate blood and stop bleeding make it the perfect ally in this case. These properties also make it useful in cases of hemorrhoids, post-partum care, bruises, and mouth sores, as well as internal bleeding.”
Yarrow leaves are one of the best herbs to bring on a camping or hiking trip (or, if you’re comfortable ID-ing yarrow, you can forage it directly from the site). You can make a basic poultice by chewing the leaves and placing them directly onto a burn, mosquito bite, or minor cut for near-instant relief.
Yarrow leaves

Supplies & Equipment for Making Yarrow Salve

One of the best parts about making homemade herbal salves is the fact that no special equipment is required.

All you need is a simple double broiler, such as this store-bought double boiler, or you can make your own DIY-version using a heatproof bowl and a small pot (which is what I usually do).

The herbs are infused into a neutral oil; I like to use olive oil but you can also try grapeseed, coconut or jojoba oil — each of these options have well-known soothing properties when applied to the skin.

Beeswax thickens the salve and helps it set, you can weigh out pieces from a large block of beeswax or pour and measure out beeswax pellets (which I find is a lot easier).

A small kitchen scale is an indispensable, inexpensive kitchen tool for measuring the beeswax (unless you happen to find beeswax in convenient 1 oz bars, like these).

Finally, you’ll need to have containers on hand for the finished salve.  I typically like to use 2-ounce salve tins which screw shut and make great gifts.  If you prefer the look of glass, you can also use any small jar with a tight-fitting lid, such as quarter pint mason jars.

How to Make Yarrow Salve

Making your own yarrow salve is easier than you might think, the active prep time is only 30 minutes and the rest of the time is hands-off. If you’ve ever made any other healing salves you’ll know the main requirements are patience and consistency (and in fact, because we’re going to use the warm rapid infusion method to make this yarrow salve, the actual patience required for this recipe isn’t all that much).

When it comes to infusing oil with herbs, there are two main methods: rapid infusion and slow infusion.

Fresh herbs, like the yarrow used in this recipe, should always be infused using the warm rapid infusion method. When fresh herbs are stored in oil for several weeks they’ll eventually spoil, releasing water into the oil and causing it to go rancid (which, you’ll know if you’ve ever accidentally smelled or ingested rancid oil, is an unpleasant experience).

The slow infusion method, on the other hand, can be used when dried herbs are added to the oil instead of fresh. This process involves storing the jars in a cool, dry location out of direct sunlight for 3 to 6 weeks.

Begin the salve-making process by filling a pint mason jar with yarrow leaves — they should be fairly densely packed.

Since yarrow grows wild all around my land, and the surrounding areas, I actually just bring a mason jar out foraging and pack the leaves right into the jar.  It’s a convenient way to measure.

Chopping yarrow leaves for salve

Next, you’ll want to finely chop the yarrow leaves into small pieces using a pair of garden shears or sharp kitchen scissors.

I’ll bring the jar filled with yarrow back to my porch and get to chopping.

Making Yarrow Infused Oil

Pour enough olive oil (or other neutral oil of your choice) into the mason jar to cover the chopped leaves.

In this case, I’m just using olive oil from my kitchen, since it’s a nice neutral choice and great for gifts.  Almond oil has natural skin-soothing properties, but be sure it’s not used by anyone with nut allergies.

I’ve also used jojoba oil, which mimics your skin’s natural lubricants and is especially nourishing.

Infusing oils with fresh herbs takes a bit of care, and usually involves a double boiler so the herbs infuse before they spoil. It’s a quicker process, infusing over 1-2 days instead of 3-6 weeks.

Leaving the jar open, place the jar into a double boiler that’s been filled with about an inch of water on the bottom. If you don’t have a double boiler, you can use also use a saucepan or slow cooker, in which case you’ll need to place the jar on a trivet (I use a canning lid or an old cotton dish towel).

Very slowly, warm the water up to 110 to 120 degrees. Resist the urge to crank the heat during this step, the goal is to gently infuse the oil with yarrow, not to cook the herbs. Overheating the oil will result in the yarrow losing some of the healing properties and medicinal potency.

Allow the yarrow to infuse into the oil for between 24 and 48 hours, keeping the temperature between 110 and 120 degrees. This can be achieved by periodically bringing the water back up to temperature and then turning it off again. Before I go to bed I heat the water up, turn it off, and then place a towel over the pot to keep its contents warm.

Once the oil is infused to your liking, it can be made into the finished salve. Carefully strain out the yarrow leaves from the oil and pour into a heatproof bowl (we’re going to make another double boiler). Place the bowl over simmering water in a small pot, adding the beeswax and stirring until the mixture is completely incorporated and smooth.

(If you don’t have a kitchen scale to weigh the beeswax, 1 ounce of solid beeswax is roughly equivalent to 1 heaping tablespoon of beeswax pistils).

Pour the liquid yarrow salve into small tins or jars and let it set for at least 30 minutes.

As a general rule, herbal salves should be used within 1 year of being made.

Apply yarrow salve to bee stings, minor cuts, rashes (including diaper rash), and burns. It’s something I always like to keep on hand, and these small tins are perfect to bring on camping and hiking trips as well as for stashing in a purse or backpack…

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