Friday, July 17, 2015

July 17, 2015 - Yarrow

It is time to begin harvesting the yarrow, and the roadsides are peppered with it as far as the eye can see.  To most people, this is just a weed, as are most plants on the side of the road.  To me, it’s a medicine chest.  Usually, the more “weedy” a plant is, the more useful I find it.  While perennial flowers are beautiful to the eye, it’s the weeds that are heavenly for the body.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a common and prolific weed.  There are some cultivars of various colors you can buy for your garden, but it’s the common white yarrow on the roadsides and in the fields that I’m interested in.  Yarrow can stop bleeding, promote healing of wounds, prevent infections, and reduce pain and inflammation.  It is an effective treatment against strep and staph, and some herbalists believe it works better than over-the-counter antibiotic ointments.  The tincture can be used as a spray on wounds or even on the back of the throat for sore throats and infections.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium).

The fresh stalks of yarrow can be pounded into a pulp and applied to bruises, sprains, swelling, and skin rashes.  Used this way, it can also help to check the flow of blood.  It can be made into an ointment for dressing wounds, and I particularly like this and have found it helpful with all sorts of skin problems, rashes, sores, bug bites, etc.  When taken internally either as a tea or in tincture form, it can help to promote sweating in order to break fevers and colds.  Taken internally, it can relieve menorrhagia and even help with indigestion.

Interestingly, when the tincture is used as a spray, it acts as a highly-effective insect repellant.  It can be just as effective as DEET, although it must be reapplied often, say every 30 minutes in a heavily-infested area.  Still, it’s a natural repellant and does not contain the dangers that DEET does.  It might seem odd that you can use the same plant for teas and tinctures that you would use as an insect repellant, but yarrow is a multifaceted plant with many, many uses.

If you’ve never used a wild plant to make your own teas or infusions, yarrow is a good plant to start with.  It’s prolific and highly beneficial with many uses.  It’s an easy plant to find and harvest, and it smells nice, too.  Below are some instructions on how to make various herbal treatments.  These can be used for all kinds of plants, not just yarrow.  I hope you’ll be curious and try some.

To make an infusion (tea):  Add one cup of yarrow flowers and leaves (top 1/4 of the plant) to a quart jar and then fill with boiling water.  Cover and steep for four to eight hours, strain, and drink.  Refrigerate any unused tea for up to two days.

To make a poultice:  Pound fresh leaves, stalks, and flowers in a mortar and pestle.  A small amount of water can be added to help mash.  Apply to skin areas as needed.  Place a bandage over the herbs to hold them in place.

To make a tincture:  Pack a jar fairly tight with yarrow flowers and leaves (top 1/4 of the plant).  Add vodka (100 proof if you can get it, otherwise 80 proof) to the jar up to the very top.  Cover and let sit in a cupboard for eight weeks, shaking now and then.  Strain through cheesecloth, squeezing herbs well, and then store in a cupboard.

To make an herbal oil:  Pack a very clean, very dry jar fairly tight with yarrow flowers and leaves (top 1/4 of the plant) up to the shoulder of the jar (about 1 inch from the top).  Make sure you collect them on a very sunny and dry day with absolutely NO moisture.  Add olive oil to the top of the jar.  Poke through with a chopstick to make sure air is dispelled.  Cover and place over a cloth.  This will foam up and leak a bit and have a strange odor.  As long as it doesn’t mold, it’s fine.  Any moisture mixed in will cause mold.  Strain after six weeks and store.

To make an ointment or salve:  Place half a cup of an herbal oil in a pan and add one ounce of beeswax.  Heat over a low flame until the wax is melted.  Pour into small containers.  The salve will solidify as it cools.  If you like a harder salve, use more beeswax.  If you like a softer salve, use more oil.

(Yes, I have to put a disclaimer in.  This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose, treat, or cure any ailment.  If you need medical advice, seek a physician.)

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