Common names: Milfoil, Nose Bleed, Devil's Plaything, Soldier's Woundwort
History: The fine, feathery leaves of yarrow were undoubtedly the inspiration behind defining this plant’s species name since "milfoil" means “many leaves.” Some herbalists have connected the plants generic name of Achillea with the alleged use of yarrow by Achilles to treat wounded soldiers of the Trojan War. We’ll probably never know if this theory has merit, especially since the person officially credited with “discovering” the plant was aptly named Achilles as well and this fact only confuses the matter of the name even further.
Medicinally, yarrow has been used extensively by the Shakers and Native Americans to relieve everything from burns to toothache. In fact, 46 Native American tribes used yarrow to successfully treat 28 different maladies. Dioscorides, the 1st century A.D. Greek physician, recommended crushed yarrow on skin ulcers to reduce inflammation. The treatment was likely quite effective since yarrow produces a volatile oil with anti-inflammatory action, known as azulene, as well as salicylic acid (aspirin) derivatives.
But, the most popular and entertaining testament to this curative power comes from the 16th century British herbalist, John Gerard, who recorded his findings after treating a friend in needed relief of “swelling of those secret parts.” Much to his friend’s chagrin, Gerard published his findings for all of Europe to heed. Following Gerard’s course of treatment, his friend “...lightly bruised the leaves of common yarrow with Hog’s grease, and applied it warm unto the privie parts, and thereby did divers times help himself and others of his fellows, when he was a student and a single man living in Cambridge.”
Yarrow was also a popular Medieval remedy for nosebleeds. In fact, the plant earned the nickname of “nosebleed” during this period. The leaves would either be crushed or rolled, and packed into the nostrils. Oddly, the plant was also supposed to induce a nosebleed as well. It was well known that in order to be sure of a lover’s intentions, you had to twirl a yarrow leaf in your nostril while chanting, “Yarroway, Yarroway, bear a white blow; if my love love me, my nose will bleed now." Fortunately, certain customs, however endearing they may be, do fade in popularity with time!
Constituents: achillein, achilleic acid, azulene, terpineol, eugenol, coumarins, saponins, sterols, salicylic acid. camphor, thujone (trace), lactones, flavonoids, borneol, cineole