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Yarrow

Botanical name: Achillea millefolium

Photo

© Steven Foster

Parts used and where grown

This prolific plant grows in Europe, North America, and Asia. A number of species are used as garden ornamentals. The flowering tops of yarrow are used in herbal medicine.

Yarrow has been used in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual health concern for complete information):

Science Ratings Health Concerns
1Star

Amenorrhea

Colic

Common cold/sore throat

Crohn’s disease

Indigestion and heartburn

Inflammation

Pap smear (abnormal)

Premenstrual syndrome

Ulcerative colitis

3Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.

Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)

Traditional herbal medicine has used yarrow in three broad categories.1 First, it was used to help stop minor bleeding and to treat wounds. Second, it was used to treat inflammation in a number of conditions, especially in the intestinal and female reproductive tracts. Third, it was utilized as a mild sedative. Some or all of these historical uses occurred in Europe, China, and India. The ancient Chinese fortune-telling system known as the I Ching first used dried yarrow stems, then later replaced them with coins.2

Active constituents

A number of chemicals may contribute to yarrow’s actions. The volatile oil, which is rich in sesquiterpene lactones, and alkamides has been found to have anti-inflammatory properties in test tube studies.3 4 Animal studies have shown this herb can reduce smooth muscle spasms, which might further explain its usefulness in gastrointestinal conditions.5 The alkaloid obtained from yarrow, known as achilletin, reportedly stops bleeding in animals.6 No human clinical studies have confirmed the traditional uses of yarrow.

How much is usually taken?

The German Commission E monograph suggests approximately 1 teaspoon (4.5 grams) of yarrow daily or 3 teaspoons (15 ml) of the fresh pressed juice.7 A tea can be prepared by steeping 1–2 teaspoons (5–10 grams) of yarrow in 1 cup (250 ml) boiling water for ten to fifteen minutes. Three cups (750 ml) a day can be taken. A tincture, 1/2–3/4 teaspoon (3–4 ml) three times per day, can be taken. The tea, or cloths dipped in the tea, can be used topically as needed for minor skin injuries.

Are there any side effects or interactions?

People who take yarrow may occasionally develop an allergy or rash.8 Yarrow might increase sensitivity to sunlight. Yarrow should not be used to treat large, deep, or infected wounds, all of which require medical attention. Yarrow is not recommended during pregnancy or breast-feeding.9

At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with yarrow.

References:

1. Castleman M. The Healing Herbs. New York, Bantam Books, 1991, 550–4.

2. Castleman M. The Healing Herbs. New York, Bantam Books, 1991, 550–4.

3. Zitterl-Eglseer K, Jurenitsch J, Korhammer S, et al. Sesquiterpene lactones of Achillea setacea with antiphlogistic activity. Planta Med 1991;57:444–6.

4. Muller-Jakic B, Breu W, Probstle A, et al. In vitro inhibition of cyclooxygenase and 5-lipoxygenase by alkamides from Echinacea and Achillea species. Planta Med 1994;60:37–40.

5. Tewari JP, Srivastava MC, Bajpai JL. Pharmacologic studies of Achillea millefolium Linn. Indian J Med Sci 1994;28:331–6.

6. Duke JA. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1985, 10–1.

7. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 233–4.

8. McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, Goldberg A. American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997, 3.

9. McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, Goldberg A (eds). American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997, 3.

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