Yarrow: What It Is, How We Use It

You can find it in the grocery store and on the shelves of your local healthfood store too. But did you know you can probably find it in your backyard as well? Yarrow is a “weed” that grows well across the entire northern hemisphere! In the Okanagan, it is common to see its white or pale yellow flower heads in the late Spring/early Summer, but it’s feathery leaves can be harvested almost year-round depending on growing conditions. Those leaves are classified as ever-green, so even if it snows and you know where to look, you can harvest them even in wintertime.

Several of the links I will share at the end of today’s article mention usage of Yarrow leaves in salad, soups, and sauces. Personal experience says that the young leaves that grow early in the Spring are the best for this type of culinary use. Small young leaves are great additions to Caesar salads. Larger young leaves taste amazing in salsa, adding a very nice zing to the overall flavour. However, by the time the plant is flowering, those leaves have a VERY bitter flavour that neither Caesar salad dressing nor medium-heat salsa will tone down. However, Yarrow leaves can still be dried and used in place of Taragon or Dill for pickling, or even in cooking if you add it near the end of your cooking time. This makes two “weeds” in our kitchen that can be used in cooking and baking, nettle seeds which taste and behave nutritionally just like Fennel (especially for women), and Yarrow which can be used in place of Taragon.

yarrowAt Ashtree Wildcrafting, we use the Yarrow leaves in our teas. This is a departure from what you’ll see on grocery store shelves where ingredient lists for Yarrow tea typically only mention the flower-head. The nutrition available in Yarrow flowers is also available in the stem and leaves of the plant, and as the leaves are far more plentiful than the flowers and the flowers are needed to propagate more plants, we focus our 5% rule on the leaves instead.

We lay the leaves out to dry for awhile, then slide the “feathers” off the leaf stem. That is the extent of our processing for this particular “weed”. Some people wait till the leaf is entirely brown and crackly before they use it, but we leave it green and find it far more useful while the chlorophyll remains present.

Due to some of the compounds present in Yarrow, it shouldn’t be ingested by everyone. Anyone taking heart medication, blood-thinning medication, sedatives, mental health medication, or who may be pregnant or breastfeeding, should avoid Yarrow tea in any variety while on those meds or in those conditions. This is because Yarrow, similar to Hawthorn, is a cardiovascular regulator. If your blood is prone to clotting, it will thin it out for you just like Cinnamon does. If your blood is flowing too freely, it will help it clot such as in the case of cuts, nose bleeds, etc. Its astringent properties are great for post-birth recovery for women as it aids the uterus in toning up again, but if a mother is nursing, it is advised to avoid Yarrow during the nursing months. Yarrow can also cause drowsiness or retinal behaviour in the skin cells if taken in significant enough quantities on a persistent basis. A person who has ever taken drugs with a retinal warning on them will know they must limit sun exposure while on that medication. If a person gets drowsy easily, Yarrow tea might not be the best gift for them, particularly if they drive a lot or do activities requiring safety and precision.

We do not have the equipment to distill essential oils from plants, however, those who do have uncovered two compounds that explain why Yarrow tea is so helpful to asthmatics and allergy sufferers. One compound is Eucalyptol, more commonly found in the Eucalyptus plant, and the other is Camphor. Both of these have anti-inflammatory as well as decongestant properties that quickly rise to the fore when Yarrow is distilled into an essential oil. Needless to say, these compounds exist in the flowers, leaves and stems of the plant in lighter, less-concentrated amounts.

The links below include a couple doctors as well as an author who has written a few books. As usual, we are not making medicinal grade tea available for sale, however it is possible to steep our teas to medicinal strength, but only under the guidance of someone with experience in these matters. What we share here cannot be construed as medical advice or recommendation, so if a person is in doubt about something we’ve shared, it is best to visit the local holistic or naturopathic doctor for clarification and usage safety for that person’s particular situation.

Matthew Wood’s information: http://www.woodherbs.com/Yarrow.html

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