Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Yarrow Oil, Salve and Tincture: How To Make and Uses

Achillea millefolium: Yarrow

This is the season for Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) in Minnesota and probably many parts of the country. It's blooming on the prairies, in the ditches, in vacant unmown lots and everywhere. The wild yarrow has white, sometimes even pinkish, flowers. You can grow yarrow in your garden, and the colors range from yellow to orange to red to pink and white. It's a beautiful wild prairie plant, with lacy green leaves all up and down the rather woody stems.

Here's a photo of cultivated yarrow that I planted in my boulevard:
And here's a closer-up photo where you can really see the lacy leaves (well, sort of, if I had a better camera):

The leaves point to one of Yarrow's signature uses in that they look a bit like saw blades. Yarrow has various nicknames including "carpenter's weed" and "knight's milfoil" and is useful for the type of wound one might get from a saw or sword, a deep cut "down to the bone" with gushing blood. Yarrow can stop the bleeding and heal the wound quickly. You can use the fresh plant for this--if you happen to be injured in a place where yarrow is growing, you can stuff the cut with yarrow leaves. More conveniently at home, you can also use the oil or salve of yarrow and a compress pad of gauze or fabric.

My Yarrow Oil steeping for six weeks in the sunny window of my porch. I used cold-pressed olive oil and dried the yarrow for a day or so before cutting it into one inch pieces, packing it tightly into the jar and then filling the jar with oil.

Another name for yarrow is "Nosebleed" because it can both stop the gushing blood of a nosebleed as well as bring on a nosebleed in a person who may need to bleed (an old-fashioned medical concept). You can stop the nosebleed with yarrow oil or salve on a piece of tissue or a handkerchief inserted into the nostril, being careful not too stick it in too far for all the usual reasons. A friend's son who was having frequent nosebleeds used yarrow oil with great success. It stopped the bleed right away and helped in healing the spot that kept opening up.

In the same vein, yarrow is good for fevers and headaches with fevers. Once when my son was sick with a high fever and a headache with bright red cheeks, suggesting heat and excess blood in his facial capillaries, I gave him a couple drops of yarrow tincture. Not much later his nose began to bleed. This took some pressure off his forehead and he felt relieved. Yarrow tea would work well in this situation, as does the tincture.

Since yarrow is a blood remedy (both starts and stops bleeding) it is also good for bruises, varicose veins, hemorrhoids and other "stagnant blood" situations. Yarrow is a local version of Arnica for us. Arnica is used widely and is much praised by many for its wound-healing properties. Put Arnica on a bump or lump with a bruise and it immediately brings the swelling down. Yarrow does the same thing. I use Yarrow over Arnica always, because I can make the yarrow salves and tinctures myself. It, like Arnica, helps the wounded person with the feelings of shock and trauma as well.

Yarrow salve or oil can be rubbed on varicose veins to provide relief and hopefully healing of these stagnant, protruding blood vessels. An infusion of yarrow can be poured into a bath to soak the legs and/or bottom for either varicose veins or hemorrhoids, respectively. One could also soak just the feet in a yarrow infusion poured into a basin of water for bruised and swollen feet. I know of someone trying this now; we'll see if it works for her.

If you have a dirty wound, however, like a sidewalk scrape or wood sliver, the herb you want is not yarrow but plantain. Yarrow will bind up a wound too quickly and will leave the sliver or infectious dirt, etc. in there. Not good!

I highly encourage you to read what my teacher Matthew Wood writes about Yarrow, An Indispensable Herb on the linked web page; a quote:

In order to effectively treat disease we have to be able to decongest blood
associated with inflammation, thin stagnant, congealed blood, tone the veins,
stimulant the capillaries and arteries, and move the blood to or from the
surface. Yarrow, the great ‘normalizer’ of the blood does all these

The classic work, Maud Grieve's A Modern Herbal, has a page on Yarrow here. And if you want to read the old Master himself, Nicolas Culpeper, has his page on yarrow here. And here's an excellent page on using yarrow flower essences: Developing Positive Sympathy by Kyra Mesich. Those are all excellent resources online. If you can get the original sources, Culpeper's Complete Herbal, Grieve's A Modern Herbal, and Matthew Wood's The Book of Herbal Wisdom, I encourage you to do so. All are filled with wonderful herbal information.

Refer to the sidebar of my blog page where I have instructions for making herbal oils, salves, tinctures, teas and infusions. And let me know if Yarrow has helped you!


Matriarchy said...

Thanks for the instructions, Lisa! I have a pint of yarrow oil steeping away in the sun. I will let you know how it turns out.

Danielle said...

I enjoyed your post tremendously. Thank you for all the care and detail and links for further reading. I have yarrow in my gardens, but also plenty wild out in the pastures, as well as plenty of plantain! Yet we use prepared arnica all the time. I'll be making some yarrow oil this week!

Lisa Zahn said...

Use the wild yarrow if you can. I was taught that the wild versions make more potent medicine. However, cultivated is good too. Just make sure neither has seen any chemicals sprayed on it.

Thanks for your comments...


Cyndy said...

This information is so very helpful. Thanks for sharing it.
Steep learning curves for so many things but you have detailed it all beautifully.

Lewru said...

This is so fascinating! I look forward to reading more. Thanks so much!

margaretha said...

thanks for this -- i referenced your blog from my own fledgling blog. doing an A-Z compendium of herbs for a larger alphabet garden project leading up to's 10-10-10. today is A for Achillea. your insight was very helpful.

Anonymous said...

Nathelle said.....

How do I use yarrow to unblock fallopian tubes?Do I have to just rub it concentrated on my tummy or dilute and drink?

Anonymous said...

Hi, I have both plantain and yarrow (wild) steeping in oil at the mo. I want to make an ointment for my men (husband and son) (and me I guess) to help heal any wounds or scrapes. I am planning to mix both oils with some thyme and sage enfused oil to aid the antiseptic and healing process. However, by adding extra oils will I be lessening the healing property of the salve? Should I just stick to plantain and yarrow? Thanks (a newbie)

Lisa Zahn said...

Hi Anonymous, thanks for your comment. I learned that it does lessen the healing property of a particular herb when you mix it with other herbs. However, many herbalists do it with much success. I would experiment with single-herb remedies and combination remedies to see what works best for your situations. It can't hurt.

Brooke said...

Hello there - I was wondering if you could lead me towards any references that talk about using Yarrow in the place of Arnica - I LOVE this idea, because we use arnica oil in my home quite frequently, but have no way to make it ourselves, since it does not grow around here, and does not want to be cultivated. I have been searching around the internet for more information about this substitution, but haven't been able to find any. Any help would be greatly appreciated!!
Cheers - Brooke

Brooke said...

Hello there - I LOVE the idea of using yarrow oil in the place of arnica! Can you lead me towards any other places that reference this substitution? I've been looking around the internet for more information but haven't been able to locate any. We use arnica oil all the time and cannot make it ourselves because arnica will not grow here (wild or cultivated) and it is very expensive to buy!! Any help would be appreciated.

Cheers - Brooke

Lisa Zahn said...

Hi Brooke! My teachers are Lise Wolff and Matthew Wood. Matt Wood has many books available and he would discuss yarrow's properties very well, including its abilities to act just like arnica does. His book, The Book of Herbal Wisdom, is my favorite and there is a whole chapter on yarrow in there. You can also read his website. I'd google, Matt Wood herbalist.

Brooke said...

Thanks so much - I've got two jars of yarrow oil brewing right now :)

Mary said...

Hi and thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. On your right side bar you explained how to infuse the oils. I have read about and done them with putting a coffee filter or cloth on the jar to facilitate the escape of moisture that can cause mold on the oil. And that if you had any on it that you might as well throw it away. But you say to seal it up and just scrape off the mold should it occur. Should I really not be as fussy as I have been? That would be nice.

Lisa Zahn said...

Hi Mary,

I like the coffee filter idea and would like to try it.

I was taught that if the mold on an oil is just on the top you can scrape it off and put the oil back in the sun to continue steeping. However, if you see evidence that mold is present throughout the oil you should compost it and not use it. It's really quite arbitrary and your call either way.

Once you have decanted your oil, store it in the refrigerator to discourage any more molding.

Good luck and thanks for commenting!

Anonymous said...

So did anybody try it on vericose veins and did it work