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Category: Medicines - plant based



Introduction and description


Yarrow’s botanical name is Achillea millefolium, it is a flowering plant in the family Asteraceae.

Yarrow was once regarded as a sacred plant for its healing ability and its ‘magical’ properties.

In the Hebrides a leaf held against the eyes was believed to give second sight.  The Zuni people used Yarrow before fire-walking or fire-eating.  Chinese proverbs claim that Yarrow ‘brightens the eyes and promotes intelligence’. Both Yarrow and tortoiseshell are considered to be lucky in Chinese tradition.  Yarrow was used in traditional Native American herbal medicine by tribes across the continent.  It was considered to be a "life medicine".

Its gradual fall from favour outside these cultures may have much to do with our changing approach to War.  Yarrow was used a great deal at one time on the battlefield, as it can staunch the blood of wounds and induce clotting.  In antiquity, yarrow was even known as herbal militaris.  In classical Greece, Homer tells of the centaur Chiron, who conveyed herbal secrets to his human pupils, and taught Achilles to use yarrow on the battle grounds of Troy.  The genus name Achillea is derived from the name of the Greek god, Achilles. This medicinal action is also reflected in some of its common names such as staunchweed, soldier's woundwort, nosebleed plant, sanguinary, bloodwort, carpenter's weed [presumably because carpenter’s often cut themselves from saws], death flower, stanchweed, and woundwort.

When it is used in gardens its names tend to reflect its appearance when it is known as Milfoil, thousand-leaf, and thousand-seal, milefoil, milefolium, millefoil, and noble yarrow.  


The medicinal and culinary uses of Yarrow are explored below but Yarrow has other uses besides medicinal and culinary ones:

  • Feed and medicine for livestock - Yarrow is considered by some these days as a weed, but it was not so long ago that farmers used it extensively to feed live stock.  In some places this is still done, where it is grown as a crop  - common yarrow can produce an average yield of 43,000 plants per acre, with a total dry weight of 10,500 lbs.
  • Medicine for animals - According to Mrs Grieve, Yarrow is able to keep sheep scab and other parasites at bay.  Part of this may be due to its ability to attract predatory insects, but it is also clear that it can deter parasites too.  Several cavity-nesting birds, including the common starling, use yarrow to line their nests and experiments have shown that birds use yarrow to inhibit the growth of parasites.  Its essential oil kills the larvae of the mosquito Aedes albopictus.  We have really only just begun to explore the possibilities of this area and much exciting work needs to be done to see which parasites can be repelled.
  • Companion planting - Yarrow's ability to attract insects, has made it a popular plant for use in companion planting, where it repels some ‘pest’ insects while attracting good, predatory ones. It attracts predatory wasps, for example, which drink the nectar and then use insect pests as food for their larvae. Similarly, it attracts ladybirds and hoverflies.
  • Combat soil erosion -   Achillea millefolium can be planted to combat soil erosion due to the plant's resistance to drought. Before the arrival of monocultures of ryegrass, both grass leys and permanent pasture always contained A. millefolium at a rate of about 0.3 kg/ha. At least one of the reasons for its inclusion in grass mixtures was its deep roots, with leaves rich in minerals. Thus its inclusion helped to prevent mineral deficiencies in the ruminants to which it was fed.
  • Bee-keeping – apart from the copious nectar obtained from the plant, it contains a number of chemicals that repel the varroa mite that attacks bees.
  • Termite control - Yarrow contains a number of chemicals that repel termites.
  • Aid to correct climate change - limonene containing plants in general scavenge ozone, but yarrow appears to be particularly good at it.  The limonene entry in the science section lists the other plants containing limonene.



Achillea millefolium is an erect herbaceous perennial plant that produces one to several stems 0.2–1 metre (0.66–3.28 ft) in height, and has a ‘spreading rhizomatous growth form’. The leaves have varying degrees of hairiness and are from 5–20 cm long, feathery, and arranged spirally on the stems. The flower head [inflorescence] has a number of smaller flowers of varying colours ranging from white to pink. Some cultivated varieties are deeper colours and can even be a very dark pink.

The plant has a strong, sweet scent, similar to chrysanthemum and it very popular with insects of all kinds. 


Yarrow is a very tolerant plant.  It prefers well-drained soil in full sun, but can be grown in less ideal conditions.  It will grow from sea level to 3,500 metres (11,500 ft) in elevation. The plant commonly flowers from May through June. Common yarrow is frequently found in the mildly disturbed soil of grasslands and open forests. Active growth occurs in the spring.

For propagation, seeds require light for germination, so optimal germination occurs when planted no deeper than one-quarter inch (6 mm). Seeds also require a germination temperature of 18-24° (64-75 °F). It has a relatively short life in some situations, but may be prolonged by division in the spring every other year, and planting 12 to 18 in (30–46 cm) apart.


Where Achillea millefolium’s ornamental value has been recognised it is often cultivated as an ornamental plant in ‘natural landscape gardens’.  It is also used in wildlife gardens, and especially butterfly gardens.

Wild yarrow has been superceded in many gardens by cultivars with specific 'improved' qualities. The ‘improvement’ is normally based on appearance not medicinal value.  The many different ornamental cultivars include: 'Paprika', 'Cerise Queen', 'Red Beauty', 'Red Velvet', 'Saucy Seduction', 'Strawberry Seduction' (red), 'Island Pink' (pink), and 'Calistoga' (white), and 'Sonoma Coast' (white).

Most of the studies done on its healing potential have been done on the original plant and it is possible that the cultivars are not as medicinally active as the original plant.

Yarrow makes a beautiful drought tolerant lawn replacement.


Yarrow is native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere in Asia, Europe, and North America. In New Mexico and southern Colorado, it is called plumajillo (Spanish for 'little feather') from its leaf shape and texture.

In North America, both native and introduced genotypes, and both diploid and polyploid plants are found. It is found in every habitat throughout California except the Colorado and Mojave Deserts.

It was introduced into New Zealand and especially Australia as drought-tolerant pasture – feed for livestock.

 Medicinal uses

Yarrow has a long history as a powerful 'healing herb' used topically for wounds, cuts and abrasions. The leaves encourage clotting, so it can also be used fresh for nosebleeds. Yarrow also intensifies the medicinal action of other herbs taken with it.

Yarrow was used in traditional Native American herbal medicine by tribes across the continent.  The Navajo chewed it for toothaches, and poured an infusion into ears for earaches. The Miwok in California used the plant as an analgesic and head cold remedy.

Several tribes of the Plains Indians used common yarrow. The Pawnee used the stalk for pain relief. The Chippewa used the leaves for headaches by inhaling it in a steam. They also chewed the roots and applied the saliva to their appendages as a stimulant. The Cherokee drank a tea of common yarrow to reduce fever and aid in restful sleep.

The Zuni people use the occidentalis variety medicinally. A poultice of the pulverized plant is mixed with water and applied to burns.

Chemical constituents and medicinal activity


 The following extract from Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases, lists the Chemicals and their Biological Activities in: Achillea millefolium L. (Asteraceae) -- Milfoil, Yarrow.

Where no activity has been reported, the chemical is excluded.  The full list with all chemicals is available on Dr Duke’s site for those who are interested.  We have concentrated on only the activities related to pathogens – viruses, toxins such as heavy metals, bacteria, fungi, and parasites.  The other activity listed has a tendency to be a further benefit from the basic activity against the pathogens eg anti-dementia means the plant has the ability to fight whatever is causing the dementia.

The minerals and vitamins as well as essential amino acids are also highlighted, but their activity is not listed as it repeats what is in other sections of this site.  A link is provided to these pages.

There are numerous chemicals in Yarrow which anaesthetise, relax, sedate, tranquillise and calm.  At the same time there are also a small number of chemicals that stimulate, so the overall effect is unknown – perhaps an alert state of bliss!

Along with its sedating activity there is also pain relieving, analgesic activity, yarrow contains salycyclic acid – the basis of aspirin.

Yarrow has blood thinning and vasodilatory properties, which is somewhat intriguing given its use as a vulnerary and as a clotting agent for wounds, it is also an antiarrhythmic agent and diuretic.

Some of the more intriguing uses are in helping with halitosis and mouth plaque and its use as a dentifrice.  It helps with gingivitis and with inflammation of the tongue and lips.


There are chemicals that help with catarrh, coughs, bronchitis, laryngitis, sinusitis, congestion and rhinitis which hints at more antiviral activity than may be obvious at first sight.

There appear to be a number of chemicals which help with problems of the reproductive system.  Yarrow is also an Emmenagogue - a herb which stimulates blood flow in the pelvic area and uterus; some stimulate menstruation.  And there is a chemical which is a ‘Testosterone-Inducer’ as well as one that is ‘antiPMS’.

There are chemicals to help with skin problems like acne, alopecia and dermatitis, and even one that helps with skin cancers – melanoma.


1,8-CINEOLE Leaf 24 - 960 ppm   Acaricide [a substance poisonous to mites or ticks],  Anthelmintic [An agent that destroys or causes the expulsion of parasitic intestinal worms]; Antibacterial; Antistaphylococcic; Antiulcer; Candidicide; Fungicide; Gram(+)icide; Gram(-)icide; Insectifuge; Nematicide; Pesticide; Trichomonicide [Trichomonas: A single-celled protozoan parasite best known in medicine because one species causes vaginitis (vaginal inflammation)].
ACHILLIN Plant: Pesticide
ALPHA-PINENE Leaf 25 - 1,000 ppm   Antibacterial; Antiflu; Antipneumonic; Antistaphylococcic; Antiviral; Insecticide; Insectifuge; Insectiphile; Pesticide;
ALPHA-TERPINENE Leaf 3 - 130 ppm   Acaricide; Insecticide; Insectifuge; Pesticide;
ALPHA-THUJONE Plant:   Antibacterial; Insecticide; Larvicide; Pesticide
ALUMINUM Plant 34 ppm;   Antivaginitic; Candidicide; Pesticide
APIGENIN Plant: Antiaflatoxin Antibacterial; Antiherpetic ; AntiHIV; Antileukemic; Antiviral; Pesticide;


ASCORBIC-ACID Leaf 580 - 3,100 ppm
AZULENE Leaf 7,140 ppm;   Antibacterial 500 ppm; Antiulcer; Pesticide
BETA-PINENE Leaf 18 - 720 ppm Candidicide; Insectifuge; Pesticide;
BETA-SITOSTEROL Plant:  Antibacterial; Antileukemic; Antilymphomic; Antiviral; Artemicide; Candidicide; Pesticide;
BETAINE Plant: Pesticide
BORNEOL Leaf 6 - 275 ppm Antibacterial; Antiescherichic [aerobic gram-negative rod-shaped bacteria ]; Antisalmonella; Antistaphylococcic MIC=250 ug/ml; Antiyeast; Candidicide; Fungicide; Insect-Repellent; Insectifuge; Nematicide Pesticide
BORNYL-ACETATE Plant: Antibacterial; Antiviral; Insectifuge; Pesticide;
BUTYRIC-ACID Plant: Nematistat; Pesticide
CAFFEIC-ACID Plant: Antiadenoviral; Antibacterial; Antiescherichic; Antiflu; Antiherpetic; AntiHIV; AntiLegionella; Antileukemic; Antistaphylococcic; Antivaccinia; Antiviral; Fungicide; Insectifuge; Metal-Chelator; Pesticide;
CALCIUM Plant 8,670 ppm;
CAMPHENE Leaf 15 - 600 ppm   Insectifuge; Pesticide;
CAMPHOR Leaf 45 - 1,780 ppm Antiacne; Antidysenteric; Fungicide; Insect-Repellent; Insectifuge; Nematicide; Pesticide; Vibriocide [destructive to bacteria of the genus Vibrio]
CARYOPHYLLENE Leaf 4 - 160 ppm   Antiacne; Antibacterial; Antileishmanic; Antistaphylococcic; Antistreptococcic; Candidicide; Fungicide; Insectifuge; Larvicide; Mosquitocide; Pesticide; Termitifuge [Termitifuge, expelling termites]
CASTICIN Plant: Antimalarial (Synergic w artemisinin); Parasiticide; Pesticide; Plasmodicide [an agent used to kill malaria parasites]; Protisticide [Kills any member of the kingdom Protista]
CHAMAZULENE Plant 50 - 2,800 ppm Pesticide
CHROMIUM Plant 25 ppm;
COBALT Plant 31 ppm;
CUMINALDEHYDE Leaf 0.3 - 11 ppm  Antibacterial; Fungicide; Larvicide; Pesticide;
DELTA-CADINENE Leaf 0.2 - 8 ppm  Antiacne; Antibacterial; Antistreptococcic; Pesticide;
EUGENOL Plant: Acaricide [a substance poisonous to mites or ticks];  AntibacterialAntiherpetic; Antikeratotic [warts]; Antimitotic; AntisalmonellaAntistaphylococcic; Antiviral; Candidicide; Fungicide; Insecticide; Insectifuge; Larvicide; Nematicide; Pesticide; Termiticide; Trichomonicide [A single-celled protozoan parasite that can cause vaginitis ]; Trichomonistat; Varroacide [mite that attacks bees]; Vermifuge [an agent that destroys or expels parasitic worms]
FARNESENE Plant:  Pesticide;


FOLACIN Plant: Antimyelotoxic; AntiSpina-Bifida;
FORMIC-ACID Plant: Acaricide; Fungistat; Fungitoxic; Pesticide;
FURFURAL Plant:  Fungicide; Insecticide; Pesticide
GALACTOSE Plant: Sweetener 0.32 x sucrose
GAMMA-TERPINENE Leaf 9 - 370 ppm Acaricide; Insectifuge; Pesticide
GUAIAZULENE Plant: Antileprotic [used to treat leprosy bacterial.]
HUMULENE Leaf 0.5 - 22 ppm  Antimalarial ; Antiplasmodial
INOSITOL Plant: Sweetener
INULIN Plant: Bifidogenic [snails];
IRON Plant:
ISORHAMNETIN Plant: Antibacterial; Pesticide;
LIMONENE Leaf 4 - 170 ppm Acaricide; Antibacterial; Antiflu; Antilymphomic; Antiviral; Candidistat; Detoxicant; Fungiphilic; Fungistat; Insecticide; Insectifuge; Nematicide; Pesticide;
LUTEOLIN Plant: Antibacterial; Antiherpetic; AntiHIV; Antileukemic; Antilymphomic; Antipolio; Antiviral; Aphidifuge; Pesticide;
LUTEOLIN-7-GLUCOSIDE Plant: Antiherpetic; Antiviral; Pesticide
MAGNESIUM Plant 1,920 ppm;
MANGANESE Plant 50 ppm;
MANNITOL Plant: Anthelmintic; Pesticide; Sweetener
MENTHOL Plant: Antibacillus; Antibacterial; Antiescherichic; Antilisteria; Antisalmonella; Antistaphylococcic; Antistreptococcic; Candidicide; Nematicide; Pesticide; Termiticide; Vibriocide [destructive to bacteria of the genus Vibrio, especially V. cholera]
MYRCENE Leaf 0.5 - 20 ppm Antibacterial; Fungicide; Insectifuge; Pesticide
MYRISTIC-ACID Plant: Nematicide
OLEIC-ACID Plant: Insectifuge;
P-CYMENE Leaf 9 - 370 ppm  Antibacillary; Antibacterial; Antiflu; Antiviral; Fungicide; Insectifuge; Pesticide; Trichomonicide


PALMITIC-ACID Plant: Nematicide; Pesticide;
PHOSPHORUS Plant 2,950 ppm;
PONTICAEPOXIDE Plant: Aedifuge; Insecticide; Pesticide
POTASSIUM Plant 17,800 ppm;
QUERCETIN Plant: Antiaflatoxin; Antibacterial; Antiescherichic; Antiflu; Antihepatotoxic; Antiherpetic; AntiHIV; Antileishmanic; Antileukemic; Antimalarial; Antipolio; Antistreptococcic; Antitrypanosomic ; Antiviral; Bacteristat; Candidicide; Fungicide; HIV-RT-Inhibitor; Larvistat; Metal-Chelator (Copper);  Pesticide; Plasmodicide;
QUERCITRIN Plant: Antibacterial; Antiflu; Antiherpetic; Antistaphylococcic; Antiviral; Pesticide;
RIBOFLAVIN Plant 5 - 6 ppm
RUTIN Plant: Antibacterial; Antiherpetic; Antimalarial; Antiprotozoal; Antitrypanosomic; Antiviral; Insecticide; Insectiphile; Larvistat; Pesticide; Protisticide [Kills any member of the kingdom Protista];
SABINENE Leaf 30 - 1,225 ppm Antibacterial; Antihelicobacter;
SALICYLIC-ACID Plant: Antibacterial; Fungicide; Insectifuge; Keratolytic; Pesticide;
SODIUM Plant 82 ppm;
STACHYDRINE Plant: Insectifuge;
STIGMASTEROL Plant: Antihepatotoxic; Antiophidic; Antiviral; Artemicide
SUCCINIC-ACID Plant: Pesticide
TANNIN Plant 28,000 ppm; Anthelmintic; Antibacterial; Antidysenteric; Antihepatotoxic; AntiHIV; Antiophidic; Antiviral; Chelator; Pesticide;
TERPINEN-4-OL Leaf 10 - 430 ppm Antibacterial; Bacteriostatic; Fungicide; Insectifuge; Nematicide; Pesticide;
TERPINEOL Plant: Antibacterial; Culicide [an insecticide that destroys mosquitoes]; Insecticide; Insectifuge; Larvicide; Pesticide
THUJONE Plant: Anthelmintic; Antibacterial; Pesticide;
TIN Plant 26 ppm; Antiacne; Antibacterial; Pesticide; Taenicide
TRIGONELLINE Plant: Pesticide; Propecic
ZINC Plant:

It is worth noting that the plant has relatively little fungicidal activity and a great deal of pesticide activity, showing that it is a plant that prefers dry conditions, where insects thrive, but fungi doesn't.



Yarrow has been used as a food, and was very popular as a vegetable in the 17th century. The younger leaves are said to be a pleasant leaf vegetable when cooked like spinach, or in a soup. Yarrow is sweet with a slight bitter taste. The leaves can also be dried and used as a herb in cooking.

In the Middle Ages, yarrow was part of a herbal mixture known as gruit used in the flavouring of beer prior to the use of hops  field hops.  The flowers and leaves are used in making some liquors and bitters.

Monks and country folk would often use plants that had a limited season or were not used in cooking per se to brew beer or mead based drinks.  And thus beer and mead were medicines in olden days.  Better by far than popping a pill.

But, although benefits are to be gained by eating Yarrow or drinking yarrow beer, as can be seen from its activity, much of Yarrow's real value is as a preventative, keeping away mites, ticks, termites, parasites, mosquitoes and so on from us and the beneficial insects that we rely on such as bees, as well as the animals that rely on us too such as our cattle and sheep, horses and dogs.  The method in this case is to grow lots of it and not consider it a weed.

References and further reading


Books and papers

  • Blanchan, Neltje (2005). Wild Flowers Worth Knowing. Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation.
  • Wood, John (2006). Hardy Perennials and Old Fashioned Flowers. Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation.
  • Recio, M. C., Rios, J. L., and Villar, A., A review of some antimicrobial compounds isolated from medicinal plants reported in the literature 1978-1988, Phytotherapy Research, 3(4), 1989, 117-125.
  • Advance in Chinese Medicinal Materials Research. 1985. Eds. H. M. Chang, H. W. Yeung, W. -W. Tso and A. Koo.
  • Leung, A.Y., Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 1980.
  • Newall, C. A., Anderson, L. A. and Phillipson, J. D. 1996. Herbal Medicine - A Guide for Health-care Professionals. The Pharmaceutical Press, London. 296pp.
  • Davies, S., and Stewart, A. 1990. Nutritional Medicine.
  • Duke, James A. 1992. Handbook of phytochemical constituents of GRAS herbs and other economic plants.
  • Duke, James A. 1992. Handbook of biologically active phytochemicals and their activities.
  • Economic & Medicinal Plant Research.
  • Hansel, R., Keller, K., Rimpler, H., and Schneider, G. eds. 1992. Hager's Handbuch der Pharmazeutischen Praxis, Drogen (A-D), 1209.
  • Huang, K. C. 1993. The Pharmacology of Chinese Herbs.
  • Lawrence Review of Natural Products.
  • Pakistan Encyclopedia Planta Medica.
  • Planta Medica, 57.
  • Werbach, M. 1993. Healing with Food.
  • ANON. 1948-1976. The Wealth of India raw materials. Publications and Information Directorate, CSIR, New Delhi. 11 volumes.

Related observations