Yes girl, even when we don't feel strong.’”
–Tori Amos, The Dark Side of the Sun
A perennial herb that grows wild in most areas of North America, Yarrow can be recognized in the spring by its delicate, fern-like leaves. In the summer, these give way to tall stalks with a tabletop of flowers that are usually white, but can also be pink. Its medicine is multifaceted; lowering fever, balancing the menstrual cycle, and healing varicose veins are among its internal uses. Also called Woundwort, Yarrow is one of the best herbs to keep on hand for treating injuries, especially deep and bleeding ones. It is also helpful for bruising, and can be used both internally and topically for this purpose.
The Great Blood Stauncher
|Yarrow Leaf Poultice|
Even more amazing are some of the Yarrow stories told by Matthew Wood in The Book of Herbal Healing. According to him, Yarrow is suitable even for wounds that cut to the bone, as in chainsaw or carpentry accidents. Historically, it has been called “Soldier’s Woundwort” and “Carpenter’s Weed,” and was used during World War I and the American Civil War. Yarrow is especially suited for injuries that are of a quick, violent, or accidental nature.
Yarrow has a strong association with Chiron, the wise centaur of Greek mythology. A mentor for many great heroes, such as the physician Aesculapius and the warrior Achilles (from which Yarrow gets its Latin name, Achillea millefolium), Chiron taught others to heal with herbs and with the hands. During a fight between the more brutal centaurs and Hercules, Chiron was accidentally wounded, though he had not taken part in the brawl. This wound, dealt by Hercules, turned out to be incurable; it never healed.
As such, Yarrow embodies the archetypes of the wounded warrior and wounded healer. These archetypes are similar, because spiritual warriors can be peaceful healers, and healers must sometimes harness warrior energy. As humans, we are all subject to wounding—emotional, physical, and spiritual. And yet, it is through our own wounds that we gain the capacity to empathize with others. By experiencing pain for ourselves, we gain the desire to relieve the suffering of fellow humans. This is a beautiful truth that lends a sense of purpose to what can seem like the senseless wounds of a harsh world.
It is interesting that my introduction to using Yarrow for bleeding involved treating a cut I had received while making medicine. That day, I embodied the wounded healer archetype quite literally!
One of the lessons of Yarrow is to maintain our boundaries with other people. The flower essence is used to balance sensitive individuals with porous energy fields, who are able to pick up the "vibes" of others easily. In many ways, this is the gift of natural healers and clairvoyants who can benefit humanity.
However, sensitive people are often subject to extreme levels of empathy and merging with others, so they may have difficulty deciphering which feelings are their own. Yarrow people are prone to quick energy depletion in social situations and are also sensitive to harsh environments. The plant reminds us that even as healers, we must remember to care for ourselves or risk suffering Chiron’s incurable wound. While healing work is a noble pursuit, nobody needs to become a martyr. The world is a very wounded place, so taking it upon yourself to save everybody is a recipe for disaster in your own life.
|Flower Essences- Pink Yarrow is on the far left.|
A Practical Plant
|Yarrow at Niagara Falls|
In my book, everyone would benefit from keeping Yarrow handy, or at least knowing where the nearest patch resides. I can think of some practical, everyday uses for a plant that stops bleeding so easily—how about nicks from shaving, for example? Instead of tearing off little pieces of toilet paper while waiting for the bleeding to stop (and meanwhile becoming late for work), just chew up a bit of Yarrow and watch it stop instantly.
This article hasn’t touched too deeply on the internal uses for Yarrow, but there are quite a few. It is good as a simple cold and flu remedy, especially when a fever is present. Because Yarrow deals with blood in all forms, this plant has an affinity for women, natural care-givers who literally give their own blood as a monthly sacrifice for the procreation of the species. This aspect of femininity is beautiful, but can also be painful, as in the case of PMS and childbirth. Yarrow can help stimulate and moderate the menstrual cycle, ease cramping during PMS, and stop hemorrhaging during childbirth. It is generally recommended that all women, young or old, drink a cup of Yarrow tea from time to time to restore balance to the reproductive system.
No matter how strong and determined, every spiritual warrior has an Achilles heel—an area vulnerable to wounding. We are all susceptible to occasional suffering and illness. Yet with Yarrow as an ally, we know that our suffering is not in vain. With the help of this Woundwort, we can remain sensitive healers, protected enough to soldier on with our healing path, driven by true compassion.