When I was a little girl there was a magical plant that grew in my back yard. I called it a fern because its leaves reminded me of pictures I had seen of the delicate fronds of ferns. When I crushed a leaf gently between my fingers it had a strong, somewhat minty smell that I found strangely attractive. One year when I was seven I gathered the leaves of the plant and laid it out in baskets to dry for the winter. It was as if some long forgotten memory from my ancestors came alive in me for a little while.
When I was a teenager I came across some information on yarrow. When I went out in the fields to identify it, it only took a sniff to confirm it was my childhood friend! The book I read said yarrow could be helpful for people suffering from athlete's foot. The timing was perfect for me because I had just contracted athlete's foot from the showers at a health center. For the first but not the last time, I was excited to have a health problem! What better way to learn than to experiment on myself? I made a strong infusion of yarrow and soaked my foot in it. I only did this twice but the fungus went away and didn't return. I was so intrigued I began to read everything I could find about herbs.
Yarrow is still one of my favorite herbs. I'm not fond of questions like, "What herb would you choose if you could only pick one?" There are so many herbs I love but yarrow would probably be my answer to that question if I had to answer it.
A few years ago my husband injured his ankle and couldn't put any weight on it. When we took him to the doctor we were told it was either a bad sprain or a minor fracture. Since we were still in the waiting period for our new insurance the doctor recommended we simply wrap it and keep it elevated. This helped but my husband was still in great pain. Something stirred in the back of my mind about yarrow being used for sprains so I went out and respectfully gathered some in the fields near our home. I made a very strong infusion and after cooling it soaked cloths in it to make a compress to wrap his foot. I also used arnica/willow salve. His relief was almost immediate but the pain would return if I didn't apply fresh compresses of yarrow every few hours for more than a week afterwards. Since then I have used yarrow in conjunction with comfrey for sprains on more than one occasion. I feel it not only helps with the pain but also speeds healing.
I carry yarrow tincture with me whenever I leave the house. I take it in a spray bottle and frequently use it as an insect repellant. I feel it is quite effective and while the smell is strong it is much more pleasant to me than chemical insect repellants. I have also found yarrow tincture to be invaluable for cleansing cuts and wounds and stopping bleeding. I simply spray the affected area thoroughly. I have also used it successfully to slow excessive menstrual bleeding.
Yarrow, along with peppermint, ginger and elderflower, is one of the ingredients in Rosemary Gladstar's wonderful recipe for cold care tea. Yarrow, peppermint and elderflower tea is said to be an old gypsy remedy for colds and the flu and they certainly must have known their stuff. My family and I have been very grateful for the relief it has given us.
There are many other uses for yarrow but these are the ones I have personal experience with. I have read yarrow may be used for diarrhea and other stomach problems and recently a Canadian herbalist told me that yarrow helps renew the marrow of the bones. I am excited by the almost limitless possibilities for using yarrow and also at the thought of herbalists around the world using and loving this special plant that grows wild right here in Oklahoma.