Scientific name: Achillea millefolium
Native American names: Chipmunk Tail (Kootenai) or Squirrel tail because of leaf appearance.
Plant family: Asteraceae (Sunflower family)
Description: Yarrow is a perennial herb, often rhizomatous, 1-3’ tall. Theleaves are 3-4” long, fern/feather-like (see sketch on page 2). Theflowers are ray flowers of white to pale pink, usually 5 petals, disc flowers 10-30, and bloom in a flat-topped inflorescence. There is a series of bracts below each flower. The fruit is a one-seeded dry fruit, called an achene, that does not open.
Habitat and Range: Achillea millefolium grows in dry to moist, well-drained sites. It commonly grows in open areas, from roadsides to meadows and forests. It is widespread across many habitats, and occurs not only across North America, but many species occur around the world.
Historical and Contemporary Uses: Because of yarrow’s widespread distribution and perennial nature, it has been used over millennia, not just by Native Americans but by many people around the world. It may be used fresh or dried, so it may be used year-round. Yarrow is noted to have many bioactive compounds; according to Yaniv and Bachrach, yarrow is “richly endowed with chemicals”, which accounts for its ability to treat many different ailments and for its main use as a medicinal product. The chemical achilleine, present in yarrow, will stop bleeding. On the other hand, it also contains coumarin, which will facilitate bleeding, so yarrow may be used to stop bleeding or encourage it. One of the most common uses noted is for treating wounds, having healing and pain relieving properties. Many references cite the use as a poultice of chewed leaves, or fresh leaves mashed with water, applied directly to an open wounds, cuts, bruises, burns or boils. Another frequent treatment is composed of a decoction made from the roots to treat colds, or the young leaves may be chewed and the juice swallowed for colds and sore throats. An infusion of the roots, flowers or whole plant may also treat colds. The Nuu-chah-nulth (Vancouver Island) and Klallam (coastal Washington) use it for cold medicines. Yarrow has also been used to treat digestive system complaints. Everything from nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal upset are treated with many different preparations of yarrow. It may also be used as a laxative. Pojar notes that the Squaxin use it as a “stomachtonic.” Contemporary uses of yarrow include the use of the flowers for fragrance and in floral design.
This detailed drawing shows every aspect of this plant. This fine detail is difficult to show in a photo. Once you can identify these leaves and flowers, it is easy to find it almost anywhere, including cultivated gardens in towns and cities. The white flowers are very aromatic and have a wonderful scent in a bouquet.
The Doctrine of Signatures is shown in the yarrow plant. The fine leaves resemble a weaving together, or perhaps the teeth of a saw; so this would suggest the use of yarrow to treat a wound.
Photo on following page by permission of Kurt Steuber, http://www.biolib.de/ Pojar, Jim, Andrew MacKinnon, and Paul B. Alaback. Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Alaska. Lone Pine Pub, 1994.