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Yarrow

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Yarrow - Background and History

Yarrow, also known as yarroway or common yarrow is a relatively small to moderately-sized flowering perennial shrub that is found in various temperate, sub-tropical and semi-tropical areas throughout the world. An ancient plant with long-standing usage, it belongs to the family Asteraceae, and grows wild throughout much of the Americas, some parts of Europe, and a large part of Asia. It is known for its distinctive foliage which consists of tiny leaves, measuring between five to twenty centimetres in length (somewhat resembling rosemary) which are spread evenly from the base of the stem to the very tips, and is notable for the slight tapering of its leaves, which appear somewhat larger in the middle than in its topmost parts, making the plant appear almost spear-like. The leaves themselves are known for their notable pubescence (hairiness) or a slightly feathery texture which makes it easily identifiable even to the untrained eye. Because of the profuse number of leaves on its foliage, it was often referred to in ancient herbals as 'thousand-seal' or 'hundred-seal'. Yarrow's inflorescence is characterised by some four to nine phyllaries, often containing a mixed cluster of ray or disc-shaped flowers and flowerettes of various numbers, generally prolific especially during the summertime. The plant is also highly noticeable due to a strong, highly distinct aroma redolent of chrysanthemums that it exudes, and is strongest most especially when its flowers are in full bloom. [1]



Wild specimens of yarrow often prefer very high altitudes whereupon to take root and flourish, with specimens having found in areas that are some 3,500 metres about sea level. This does not necessitate that the plant is only grows in mountainous regions or in highly elevated areas, as it is a hardy and adaptable plant that can thrive in almost any tropical or sub-tropical setting, preferring soils of a slightly sandy, to loamy quality that is well-drained. Other than wild species that are found in mountainous areas, yarrow was also prevalently found in waste areas such as untended and abandoned lots, although with the advent of modernisation, such instances are now rare. If left to its own devices, yarrow can be a strongly invasive plant that can take over lots or fields with relative ease, more so in its ideal environment. [2]

Being a common plant throughout much of the world, it has been used by a number of different cultures for medicinal, esoteric, and sometimes even culinary purposes. Yarrow is a considerably ancient plant, with a number of different cultivars and distinct species, both of the natural and hybridized variants, chiefly due to its cross-continental introduction, and due to the eventual cultivation of the plant by various civilisations, whether for general or chiefly ornamental purposes. Nowadays, yarrow is cultivated largely for ornamental purposes, although wild-crafted yarrow continues to be employed by traditional herbalists and a few remnants of tribal healers for various medicinal uses. [3]

Yarrow - Common / Popular Uses

One of the most common (and perhaps the most popular) use of yarrow in the present time is as an ornamental plant, grown and bred chiefly for its inflorescence. Yarrow is also indispensable as a companion plant, as it is known to drive away most insect pests that are considered harmful to plants. It is usually planted alongside fruit-bearing plants, medicinal shrubs, and ornamental plants as a natural means to drive away predatory insects such as aphids and caterpillars. [4] It can be useful for horticulture, although the efficiency varies, as it usually attracts wasps more than honeybees; its unique aroma also encourages the presence of ladybugs and hoverflies, helping in the pollination of plants and in keeping pests at bay, although because of its propensity to attract wasps, it is only rarely employed by amateur horticulturists because of the possible dangers that such insects may pose to humans and animals.

Gardeners often find the plant extremely useful for improving the overall quality of poor soil, and, in the days prior to synthetic fertiliser, the leaves were often incorporated into compost or otherwise made into mulch and mixed with soil to increase its nutritive content, making it useful for vegetable, herbal, and fruit plots. [5] In spite of this, employing yarrow for garden improvement is a difficult thing, especially since its benefits aren't all that dependable while the plants are still flourishing. Because of its invasive qualities, it may also have detrimental qualities for the garden as a whole, especially if it is left unchecked. With the presence of modern fertilisers, even the practice of employing yarrow as fodder for mulch and compost is fast becoming (if not already in itself) obsolete, as the processing of the plant matter itself and its conversion into natural fertiliser is a tedious process, and which may not be viable for all plants or all soil conditions, although it is believed that the nutrient-dense plant helps to drastically enhance the overall health of sickly plants in even the worst of soil conditions.



Due to the purportedly nutritional nature of yarrow, it has even been used largely as a prime component in grass mixtures for organic feeds. The practice, which came to its zenith during the pre-industrial era, may have had its roots in the Late to High Middle Ages, where the need for a nutritionally dense, mineral-laden feed was necessary, considering the heft of labour that was expected of animals at the time. Come the zenith of the Victorian era, the practice was still implemented in choice country areas for both the bovines and equestrians (with perhaps an equal number of porcine beneficiaries of the practice) as it was reputed to keep the animals healthy and supply them with much needed nutrients, [5] the dearth thereof would have meant leaner meat or inadequate performance and a sickly nature - both aspects which are the bane of livestock raisers.

Outside of its employment in gardens and its incorporation into feeds for livestock and other farm animals, yarrow has also been used as a foodstuff, although this practice seemed to reach its zenith during the Mediaeval periods, with employment gradually declining well into the High Middle English and Renaissance periods, until only mention of it, or the occasional culinary usage of the plant in the countries remained until well into the early epoch of the Victorian Era. When employed fresh, it was said to be an excellent accompanying herb to soups or stews, and imparted unto the foodstuff a flavour not unlike that of pepper or peppermint. [6]

Prior to the modern day, yarrow was regularly employed where available as a natural astringent and diaphoretic, often brewed into a tisane or otherwise incorporated into foodstuffs and consumed for its therapeutic benefits. It was believed to be a very powerful antiseptic, and it is now known that the leaves of the plant contain very significant amounts of tannins, as well salicylic and isovaleric acids, which are potent disinfectant compounds in their own right. [7] Yarrow was employed in the country as a remedy for colds and fever, generally when brewed as a tisane. Herbals dating from the Victorian period relate how yarrow, when mixed with cayenne pepper and steeped into a light or moderately strong tisane was an excellent remedy for colds, fever, and even minor skin eruptions such as measles or the pox. [8] Being highly bitter, it was more often sweetened with honey, sugar, treacle, or molasses (the latter practice being employed more in the Americas than in Europe). Stronger infusions of the dried plant matter, or even more potent decoctions of fresh leaves may have even been employed as an analgesic, although it played a more integral role as an early disinfectant and haemostatic substance. The use of yarrow to facilitate blood clotting or to encourage blood-flow is an ancient one, the practice being attributed to the early Greeks, and later on the Romans (who referred to it as 'herba militaris', who used yarrow extensively in the battlefield for the treatment of wounds and other injuries. The name 'knight's foil' and 'bloodwort' stems from its use as a haemostatic agent, although the employment is in itself curious in that yarrow is said to both stop and encourage bleeding. When bruised and applied to open wounds, it is said to effectively staunch bleeding and help allay infection, but, if applied to mucosa such as the nasal cavities, it is reported to cause nosebleeds. The latter practice was employed during the Mediaeval and pre-Industrial periods as a quick (albeit messy) remedy for headaches. [9] It is a cause for wonder how the haemostatic properties of yarrow leaves can be relied upon if it causes and allays bleeding similarly, although it can be assumed that its ability to cause bleeding may only be restricted to certain areas of the body (i. e. the mucous membranes). Traditionally bruised and rubbed unto the temples, it was reputed to help provide relief for nagging migraines and recurring headaches, partly due to its often pungent aroma.

When brewed into an infusion or a decoction, the leaves can be used as a remedy for trifling diseases such as colds, flu, and indigestion. Mild to moderately strong decoctions of the leaves and the aerial parts of the plant can be employed as an expectorant, as a potent analgesic, and as an antipyretic. Due to the presence of salicylic acid, it may have even been employed as an anthelmintic, and, if infused mildly, as a digestif. More potent decoctions have even been employed as a remedy for high blood pressure, or otherwise taken as a general cardio-tonic. [10] Because of its tannic nature, the plant also possesses powerful emmenagogue properties, which has made it extremely useful for the treatment of irregular menstrual periods, and may have, at one time, even been employed as an abortifacient. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the leaves of yarrow are often made into a tisane or otherwise dried, ground, and made into pills to be prescribed for ocular ailments, as it is believed that it helped to improve failing eyesight, and is even reputed to be a brain tonic. [11]

Prior to the arrival of the colonists to the New World, yarrow has long seen use in traditional Native American medicine, where it was employed (in its whole unprocessed, or dried and processed forms) as an all-around analgesic. Common yarrow was chewed by the Navajo for the relief of toothaches, or otherwise decocted, cooled, and poured into the ears as a remedy for earaches and earwigs. The stalks and flowers of the plant were indispensable for the Zuni tribes, who often chewed it as a sort of anaesthetic, often applying it to extremities prior to fire-walking or fire-eating rituals. Its analgesic and disinfectant properties were even employed as a burn-remedy by the Zunis, whereby pulverised plant matter was soaked in water, and the ensuing infusion regularly applied to burns to hasten healing (and may even be employed in like manner for the remedy of chilblains). [12] The Pawnee and the Chippewa employed the whole leaves and stalks of the plant for general pain relief, while the roots and flowers of the plant were applied to extremities as a stimulant against rheumatic or arthritic pains. The leaves would even be burnt in a fire or in the glowing embers of charred wood, and the subsequent steam inhaled for the relief of headaches and bronchitis, or as a natural insect repellant. [13]

The flowers of the plant, as well as the essential oil which is obtained from it through steam distillation has long been employed as an anti-inflammatory. The flowers, if dried and thrown into a pot of boiling water, can be used as a natural nebuliser, as it may provide relief chest pains and shortness of breath, as well as help to facilitate in the decongestion of lungs. [14] The essential oil of yarrow itself (which is notable for its pale blue hue) can, if mixed with a base oil and one's choice of other essential oils, be employed as an ointment for pain relief, or as a chest rub to help allay the discomforts of emphysema or asthma. [15]

Outside of its medicinal uses, yarrow has (and continues to be) employed in the brewing process. Before the eventual introduction and widespread adoption of hops as a bittering agent for the production beers, the leaves, roots, and even the flowers of the plant have been employed for the creation of beer and sundry other alcoholic beverages. The employment of yarrow as a bittering agent somewhat declined after the introduction of hops, although at present, there is a slow resurgence of the practice in the craft-brewing world, as well as in specialty liquor distilleries and breweries. The leaves, along with other bitter herbs, are often incorporated in the making of liqueurs and medicinal bitters, or otherwise used to flavour alcoholic drinks.

Yarrow - Esoteric / Magickal Uses

The history of yarrow is nearly inextricably linked with esoteric practices and attributions, often twinned to its own therapeutic properties. Prior to the dawn of recorded history, yarrow flowers and yarrow pollen have been used as offertory items in Neanderthal burials, and may even have played a role in early shamanic systems of magick. In Ancient and Imperial China, the leaves of the yarrow were considered amulets that provided good luck, and were often carried alongside tortoise-shell objects - another equally auspicious item, in the belief that it would protect the bearer from all form of harm, especially dangers associated with wild-beast attacks. It was said that no poisonous animals or dangerous beasts were found where yarrow grew. Aside from its luck-promoting properties, yarrow stalks were also employed as items of divination in Chinese occult practices, particularly as a randomising agent, if not one of the earliest methods of performing and conducting I Ching divinatory rites. [16]

In Western lore, yarrow was initially a warrior's herb, introduced to humanity by the mythological agent of the centaur healer Chiron. It was believed to have been given by Chiron to the great warrior Achilles as detailed in the Iliad, while other sources suggest that it was a student of the centaur medic who went by the same name who first employed it in the field of battle [17] (some versions of the story even claim that it was the Achilles, son of Peleus, who was an avid learner of the healing arts). As with Chinese esoteric practices, yarrow was employed by the ancients as a divinatory herb, often using the dried form of the herb as an incense. While the inhaled smoke of the plant possesses no known hallucinogenic properties (and the plant itself not considered an entheogen) its use for divination remained strong, until well into (and even during) the rise of Christianity.

The most prolific lore attributed to the plant actually arose well into the Christian Era, when the now dominant religion slowly displaced or otherwise adopted the symbols of the deposed pagan faiths. Christian folklore divides its opinion on the esoteric usage of yarrow, with some legends and associations often ascribing malign properties to the herb. Early lore suggested that the herb was among the few plants which were considered 'holy' unto the Devil, perhaps stemming from its prolific usage in pagan faiths. It was even said that burning yarrow as incense summoned the Devil. However, some Christian lore praised yarrow and valued it as an herb of healing and protection, and was even mentioned (albeit in apocryphal legends) as having been the herb that Jesus gave to Joseph after the latter was wounded while doing carpentry work. [18] In stark contrast to the former claim, yarrow was also employed as an incense used for exorcism rites, as it was said to cast away the Devil (this may perhaps be related to yarrow's healing properties, in that it both allays and facilitates bleeding).

Perhaps the most curious esoteric lore attributed to yarrow originate from Europe, where it was employed for both major and minor spellwork. In some parts of England, it was said that one could predict whether one was to find a lover soon or if one's current lover is faithful by simply stuffing one's nostrils with yarrow leaves and reciting the following incantation: Yarroway, yarroway bear a while blow If my love, love me my nose will bleed nowÖ [19]

The leaves and flowers of yarrow were also often carried to help incur courage, while the leaves encased in a medicine pouch was said to bring about prophetic dreams. In pre-Christian Europe, yarrow was part of the sacred 'nine-herb' bundle that helped to bring about fortune, confer protection, and grant fecundity and health. With the advent of Christianity, the practice of creating nine-herb bundles was already too entrenched in the culture of Europe that the Church had no other choice but to permit (and even sanctify) the practice, associating it instead with the Virgin Mary's Ascension in lieu of its association with the older pagan Powers. This nine herb mixture was even said to be integral to the creation of a 'healing soup' served solely on Maundy Thursday - a practice which to this day survives, albeit only in selected areas of rural Europe. During the Victorian Era, to give a person a garland of yarrow either meant a declaration of war, or an invitation to peace.

Modern spellcraft employs yarrow for love and divination, often combing old lore with new 'inter-Faith' magickal practices. The leaves are often used as a smudge to clear chakra points, while the flowers are made into garlands and hung above a nuptial bed to ensure a fruitful relationship (albeit a not-so-enduring one, as the fixing spell only supposedly lasts for a maximum of seven years). Its protective and courage-incurring properties are still very much alive in modern spellcraft, as it is still employed as a de-hexing and protective herb.[20]

Yarrow - Safety Notes

Because yarrow contains many potent active chemical compounds, its usage as a daily supplementary herb, especially in large dosages is not advised. Yarrow is also known to have adverse reactions to synthetic medications such as lithium, valium, wafarin, anticoagulants, anticonvulsants, and antihistamines. Individuals who partake of yarrow for long periods may develop allergies, while cases of instant allergic reaction to natural remedies made of, or containing yarrow have not been unheard of. Because of its emmenagogue properties, the consumption of yarrow is ill-advised for pregnant and nursing mothers. Individuals who are under blood-thinning medications are advised to not partake of any medicinal remedy which contains yarrow, as it may either hamper proper blood-clotting, or result in severe bleeding. The medicinal use of yarrow must never be conducted without the aid of a healthcare practitioner or the advice and guidance of an expert herbalist, especially if given to the very young or the elderly.

Yarrow - Other Names, Past and Present

Chinese: shi cao
Japanese: nokogirisou
Korean: tobpul
Sanskrit: biranjasipha / biranjasipha / birangsifa
Hindi: rajmari / roga mari
Spanish: plumajillo
French: achilee / achillee boreale / achillee laineuse / herbe a la coupure / herbe a dindes herbe aux charpentiers / herbe militaire / milfoil millefeuille / sourcil de Venus
Italian: civan percemi / erba da cartentieri / milefolio / milenrama / erba da falegname / millegoglie
Old High German: garawa
German: katzenkrat / tausendaugbram / gemeine schafgarbe / bauchweh
Dutch: yerw / gerw
Old English (Saxon): gearwe
English: yarrow / thousand-leaf / wound wort / noble yarrow / sanguinary / nosebleed / old man's pepper / bloodwort / Devil's nettle / Devil's plaything / carpenter's weed / bad man's plaything / knight's milfoil / soldier's woundwort / yarroway / milfoil / herbe militaris (adapted) / staunchweed
Latin (esoteric): herba militaris / achillea / sanguinarius / millefolii herba
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Achillea millefolium / Achillea millefolium var. borealis / Achillea millefolium var. rubra (other nomenclatures exist, depending upon the varietals)

References:

[1] [2] [3] [4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Achillea_millefolium

[5 - 6] http://www.examiner.com/article/beneficial-uses-of-yarrow

[7] [8] [9] http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/natural-medicine/herbal-remedies/yarrow-herbal-remedies1.htm

[10 - 11] http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/y/yarrow02.html

[12] http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-151-YARROW.aspx?activeIngredientId=151&activeIngredientName=YARROW

[13] http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/yarrow

[14] http://whisperingearth.co.uk/2011/09/28/the-multiple-benefits-and-uses-of-yarrow/

[15] http://wellnessmama.com/7106/herb-profile-yarrow/

[16] http://wellnessmama.com/7106/herb-profile-yarrow/

[17 - 18]

[19 - 20]

Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt. © herbs-info.com 2014

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