Practical Self Reliance: 50+ Ways to Use Yarrow

An earlier post on elderflower mentioned its use in combination with yarrow and mint to fight fevers. Yarrow grows prolifically in our garden, filling in the edges and between rows. In damp conditions, it makes for a pretty soft ground cover — enough so that the kids want a yarrow yard. In this post from Practical Self Reliance, Ashley Adamant discusses many more uses for yarrow – 50+ Ways to Use Yarrow.

Yarrow is a common wild herb that’s useful in both the kitchen and medicine cabinet.  This list of yarrow uses covers everything from biscuits and beer to salves, soaps, and tinctures.

Yarrow uses

Yarrow’s always seemed magical to me, and I remember lounging in my room as a teenager, reading through 16th-century herbals and dreaming of the day I’d spot it in real life.  (Yes really, that’s actually how I spent my free time as a teenager.  I know, I’m such a nerd.)

The problem is, while yarrow grows ALMOST everywhere, I happened to grow up in one of the very few places outside of yarrow’s range…the Mojave Desert.  Now on my homestead in Vermont, it grows in every untended nook and cranny.  We’ll see our first yarrow blooms in early summer, and it’ll keep right on producing through fall, meaning I have a virtually unlimited supply of yarrow (even leaving plenty for the bees).

Yarrow Identification

Though yarrow is incredibly common, so are its look-alikes.  Once you’ve actually spotted yarrow, you’ll agree that the look-alikes aren’t really all that close.  There are lots of low growing herbs with white flower clusters, but yarrow really stands out in a crowd.

Start with the flowers.  They’re white, but not really.  If you were looking at paint samples, they’d have the name “Victorian white” or some other fancy title, because in reality, they’re a muted off white color.

Yarrow leaves are also distinctive, and there’s a reason its species name is “millefolium” or thousands of leaves.  The leaves are feathery, as opposed to the more distinct leaves of Queen Anne’s Lace and other white flowering herbs.

Identifying Yarrow by the feathery leaves and distinct white flower clusters

Make sure you’re 100% certain on your identification, as there are white-flowering plants within its range that are deadly toxic (namely, Water Hemlock).  To my eye, they don’t look anything alike, but as an optimistic teenager desperate to find yarrow in some stray ditch…I may well have made that mistake.

Read this guide to Yarrow Identification for more information.

Benefits of Yarrow

So why is yarrow so magical?  Many reasons!

A wide geographic distribution means yarrow made it into the traditional pharmacopeias in Asia, Europe and the new world.  Yarrow is used in everything from food and drink, to salves and tinctures, to ritual divination and ceremony.

This quick list will give you some ideas, but is by no means comprehensive:

  • Stops Bleeding
  • Skin Toner & Astringent
  • Bitter Tonic
  • Treats Cold and Flu
  • Lowers Blood Pressure
  • Improves Circulation
  • Induces Sweating
  • Reduces Fever

Be aware that while it’s generally considered safe, individual reactions are always possible.  It’s also contraindicated for pregnant women, as it can induce menstrual flow and possibly increase the risk of miscarriage.

Recipes for Cooking with Yarrow

While yarrow is perhaps best known for its uses as a medicinal, both internally and externally, it’s also a tasty culinary herb.  It’s not the only one of course, and many culinary herbs (thyme, sage, rosemary, and more) are potent medicinals, taken in the right dosage at the right time.

These yarrow recipes incorporate a small amount of yarrow, just enough to flavor the dish without reaching a “medicinal” dosage.

Recipes for Yarrow Beverages

Believe it or not, hops are actually a relatively recent brewing ingredient.  Before hops became common in beer, herbal beers, or gruits, were all the rage.  Yarrow was one of the most common brewing ingredients, and it was known to create an extremely intoxicating brew.

While hops are a sedative, that dulls the senses and slows the sex drive, yarrow based brews do just the opposite.  There’s a reason yarrow beers (and meads) were popular historically because they lifted you up and sent you home ready to put a few buns in the oven (if you catch my drift).

Our own homemade yarrow beer

Our own homemade yarrow beer

If you’re interested in learning to brew with herbs, specifically yarrow, I’d highly recommend the book Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers, which takes you through literally thousands of years of herbal brewing tradition (with recipes for each herb discussed).

The Wildcrafting Brewer likewise includes recipes for yarrow brews and approaches the subject more from a foraging perspective (rather than a historical one).

While the traditions have but been forgotten, a few brewers keep the traditions alive.  Here are a few yarrow beverage recipes to wet your whistle, both alcoholic and non.

Harvesting Flowering Tops for Yarrow Tincture

Harvesting Flowering Tops

Yarrow Uses for First Aid

My most common use of yarrow is as a first-aid treatment for bleeding.  Yarrow tincture in a spray bottle is a powerful astringent, and I’ve watched it pucker closed wounds in seconds.

I always keep a small spray bottle on hand just in case, and it’s worked wonders on all manner of small (but persistent) topical injuries.  It’s also made into styptic powder and DIY quick clot, for similar purposes.

Homemade Yarrow Tincture (Alcohol extract of yarrow)

Over the longer term, something like a yarrow salve is wonderful for treating injuries and promoting healing.  It’s also commonly employed as an itch remedy topically.

Making a yarrow salve is no different than making any herbal healing salve, and it comes together quickly with just a few ingredients.

Yarrow has been used for millenia to stop bleeding and treat minor wounds. A healing salve helps preserve the herb, and ensures that it's on hand when needed.

Yarrow has been used for millennia to stop bleeding and treat minor wounds. A healing salve helps preserve the herb, and ensures that it’s on hand when needed.

More yarrow uses for first aid:

Yarrow Herbal Remedies

Beyond yarrows use as a topical first aid remedy, it’s also commonly used in preventative remedies and internal medicine…

 

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