Foraging Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) Asteraceae

Discover how foraging yarrow connects us with the Neanderthals. Foraging yarrow connects us with our Neanderthal ancestors more than 50,000 years ago

How foraging yarrow today continues an intriguing plant-people relationship stretching back more than 50,000 years!

People have been foraging yarrow for ever! This is unsurprising to us today, given what we know about its many uses, and in a globally connected world we nearly all have access to information on the remarkable powers yarrow shows as a medicine.  As an edible, if somewhat a bitter and aromatic plant, yarrow has been used around the world wherever it has been found. But we have forgotten much about the importance and magic of this ubiquitous herb.

Its too easy to overlook and ignore some of the really common plants when out hunting and gathering wild food. Its easier still not to enquire or ponder about the significance of a common plant that is found in almost all temperate zones around the world.

We repeatedly see a few common plants everywhere we go, and they can immediately just become part of the fabric of the ‘green wall’ because of their seemingly omnipresence . Unless that is we choose to explore, and then their important role in human evolution starts to become apparent.

Yarrow is a herb heavily steeped in myth and legend; and a plant that many cultures of the world have widely used and revered. Achillea millefolium was named in honour of the Greek god Achilles; who according to legend, had course to widely employ this wound staunching herb on the battlefield.

Many tens of thousands of years before, the Neanderthals were foraging yarrow for use as food and for its medicinal properties. This was revealed by the presence of a number of common wild plants found in the plaque on the teeth of Neanderthals excavated from graves in the Mediterranean basin!

We know enough about zoopharmacology, the study of how wild animals use wild medicinal plants, to confidently imagine our more recent Homind ancestors having a reasonably extensive knowledge of the wild plants they lived with and had to utilise to survive.

I think its both lazy and insulting to not recognise that our hunter-gather-foraging ancestors would easily have known hundreds of plants. It is likely that far more of our vast natural larder and medicine cabinet would have been familiar to them, than to the majority of people alive today in the Western world.

Today, as you will soon see, yarrow remains a sovereign remedy of both Western and Eastern herbal medicine traditions, and rightly persists as a favourite of many practitioners working with plant medicines. Alongside dandelions and plantains, yarrow can be considered another of our globally available, herbal first aid plants!

But its not just practical uses of Yarrow that stand this plant out from the crowd. This happens to be the only plant used for the ritual purposes of divination in the Chinese oracle – the ‘I Ching’. This 5,000 year old oracle, still much in use the world over, is traditionally consulted after preparing and throwing 50 Yarrow stalks into the air and then interpreting how and where they landed.

Quite why the ancient Chinese decided upon this herb is unclear.  But its not the only plant  to have has almost reverential status conferred on to it by ancient civilisations in the Orient. A common relative of yarrow, also found here in Britain – mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), is almost exclusively known as ‘Moxa ‘in Chinese and is the only herb used in the application of moxabustion, where a bundle of the dried herb is burnt and the glowing tips placed just above the skin, to stimulate the movement of chi (energy).

Botanical description to help I/D when foraging yarrow

Yarrow has wispy, feathery foliage, which can superficially resemble the wild carrot. Yarrow’s leaves are repeatedly divided, also known as bi-pinnatifid leaves.

We an use all parts of yarrow as medicine, so foraging yarrow is almost an all year round affair
The feathery foliage of yarrow is noticeable in the summer when it retains its green colour even in drought.

The leaflets are small with thin lobes, which gave rise to its other common names; ‘milfoil’ and ‘thousand leaf’.

The basal leaves are sometimes quite large and sprawling, always on long petioles, and initially grow in a rosette. Leaves are typically around 20-25 cm long. The stem leaves become shorter, sessile, and alternately spaced.

In mild climates you will see the plant happily overwintering. New growth will re-emerge from its creeping and steadily spreading rhizomes in early Spring. This network of roots will mean that we regularly find the plant growing as dense mats and carpets.

Although mostly a white flowering plant, pink flowering forms are not an uncommon sight when foraging yarrow
Pink forms are not an uncommon sight when foraging yarrow in summer

Yarrow can be found in full bloom from June. It has hairy and furrowed flowering stems, typically reaching heights of 60-70 cm. Yarrows inflorescence is often referred to as ‘umbel-like’ in books, and this is because untrained eyes could initially mistake yarrow’s flowering structure for an umbel, and then place yarrow in the carrot family.

However, look closely from below, and you will observe the numerous flower stalks condensed together high up the stem, and you will see how they do not all originate from a central point on the stem, as per umbelliferous plants. The type of inflorescence that yarrow displays is also known as a corymb.

The individual flower heads are composite, and consist of tiny flowers (florets) grouped together on a ‘capitulum’.  Each composite head is singular and terminal. These plant family patterns will be seen on all daisy family plant flower heads, and is easiest to study on a sunflower. Typically a singular yarrow flower head will have 5 or 6 individual florets. Read more on the easy-to-remember plant family patterns method of Plant I/D.

The flowers have a characteristic medicinal-savoury odour. They will taste bitter. Usually, yarrow has creamy white ray-florets, delicately framing the orange-tinted, central disk-florets. But pink flowering strains of yarrow will also frequently be seen.

Habitats to look in when foraging yarrow

Yarrow grows in a range of habitats, throughout Britain and Ireland, except for areas which are permanently waterlogged, or on soils that are strongly acidic (pH < 5.5).

It happily colonises waysides, pastures, grassy places, hedgerows, and waste-ground, in town or country, throughout the land. A lover of temperate climates, you can almost always easily find yarrow in Britain, even at altitudes of up to around 1100 metres. On the coast, look in fields by the dunes and on stabilised shingle. This map from the online flora of Britain and Ireland shows just how much of the country has yarrow.

Yarrow thrives in harsh conditions without losing its fresh look of vitality. This becomes especially noticeable during droughts, when its dark green foliage stands out from brown and withered neighbouring plants, especially in grasslands.

Yarrow loves numerous types of grasslands and flowers from June


Parts used: Leaves / flowering tops.

Harvest: Leaves: Spring – when young. Flowers: From July – September, just when opening.

Key medicinal constituents Volatile oil (including cineol, eugenol, thujone, camphor, azulene); bitter principles; tannins; salicylic acid, isovalerianic acid. (Learn more about the common medicinal plant constituents here)

Actions: Anti-inflammatory, anti-septic, diuretic, diaphoretic, astringent, expectorant, vulnerary.

Pharmacology and uses: As an edible, yarrow should be embraced in the kitchen of the adventurous, and by folk looking for foods that double as preventative medicines. So by foraging yarrow you get to kill two birds with one stone!

During spring and early summer, the younger leaves give a lovely, crunchy texture in a mixed salad, while offering slightly bitter, yet subtle and savoury medicinal tones. A strong and intoxicating beer can reportedly be made with yarrow,  for which a number of recipes can be used (watch this space)!

As medicine, yarrow has chiefly been used as a wound herb. The tannins exhibit an astringent effect, on both exterior and interior surfaces of the body.

The volatile oil constituents, such as cineole, have anti septic qualities, while azulene, responsible for the blue colour of the essential oil, not only reduces inflammation, but stimulates the formulation of tissue for wound healing.

When to go foraging yarrow for peak essential oil content

For more information on harvesting wild plants, simply click here.

Couple this with the general astringency, and yarrow can swiftly, and effectively, help seal and heal all manner of cuts and wounds!

Regularly eating or drinking yarrow helps prevent and treat dyspepsia and ulceration – two conditions that alcohol or caffeine, coupled with a rich diet, can help manifest.

Yarrow promotes a sedative activity on the nervous system, and is often employed as an anti-spasmodic for nervous dyspepsia. Yarrow is acclaimed for helping heal and tone the mucus membranes throughout the gastro-intestinal-tract.

Nature’s abundant anti-inflammatory phenol, salicylic acid (aka salicin), can be found in yarrow, just as with meadowsweet (Filipendula sp) or willow (Salix sp). So try foraging yarrow, which is much more abundant than its relative, chamomile.

As a diaphoretic, yarrow will regularly be used for fevers, and also helps with palpitations, painful menstrual periods, and convulsions; as well as being of use as a peripheral vasodilator, diuretic, and mild expectorant.

As with any member of the Asteraceae family, there comes slight risk of possible sensitivity for some individuals, especially those with dermatological problems. As ever, always seek professional advice before using wild plants as medicines.


You can read more about UK edible wild plants and fungi that are available to harvest now, in these seasonal wild food guides and the new monthly foraging guides, that started with foraging in January. As well as the edible and medicinal plants, foragers also need to learn the poisonous and toxic plants, which I have briefly summarised here.

If you would like more plant identification help then check out these waterproof, field-guide style, pocket-sized I/D cards. And you need never miss a foraging trick again, with this set of helpful, season-by-season harvest charts, available as a download.

For a deeper understanding of the arts ond crafts of the forager, then take a look through my fun and affordable wild food foraging courses for a course near you. Book a place today!

Happy foraging!

Reclaim Health Autonomy!

Forage for cardio-vascular herbs and reclaim your health.

An occasional series of foraging for health autonomy begins with herbs that benefit your cardio-vascular system.

In case you were wondering…I’m no Medicinal Herbalist, but I am qualified in medicinal horticulture, including plant chemistry, plant constituents, and their actions. 

A physician is one who pours drugs of which he knows little, into a body of which he knows less” ~ Francois Voltaire

I’m aware that the majority of our pharmaceutical medicines are plant based, that approximately 80% of the world still uses plants as their primary health care medicine, and after all, I’m just a curious thinking animal like you, exploring a vast medicine cabinet growing all around me, and with access to institutions such as the British Library, where I’ve chosen to dive into and devour the knowledge and information that is freely available to all of us. 

When discussing a herbal approach to the cardiovascular system, we are well served by firstly looking at its different aspects. For example, for purposes of treatment, the circulatory system can be split into the central and peripheral circulatory system. Some biologists also link the lymphatic system with the rest of the circulatory system, because the waste products and toxins stored in lymph glands are transported for elimination by the blood. Organs of elimination include skin, lungs, urinary system, and bowels.

Overview of the system

The cardiovascular system consists of the heart, veins, arteries, and capillaries. This complex network of vessels ensures that oxygen rich blood and nutrients can reach every cell of the body. It also enables metabolic waste products, including CO2 and water to be transferred into the blood, before being eliminated from the body. 

The heart muscle weighs approximately 300 grams and is roughly the same size as a clenched fist. It is protected from the rest of the body by the pericardium membrane. The right hand side of the heart receives de-oxygenated blood from veins then pumps the blood to the lungs, where it receives oxygen into the haemoglobin of the blood cells.

Blood returns to the left hand side of the heart which then pumps it out via the arteries to the rest of the body. The left hand side of the heart is bigger than the right because it has to pump blood much further around the body.

Blood itself is comprised of four major components; plasma, red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Plasma is the fluid component, amounting to 55% of blood. The bone marrow produces red blood cells, of which there are millions in every drop.

White blood cells, otherwise known as leukocytes, are one of our body’s natural immune system components, and help protect against infection and foreign material. Platelets are small bodies in blood with sticky surfaces. Following blood loss from the body, they aggregate together, to form clots. Calcium, vitamin K and the protein fibrinogen are all vital components of platelets.

Common disorders of the cardiovascular system, with herbs to help

A few herbs come to our attention again and again when treating the cardiovascular system. Of great importance, and dealt with previously, are the powerful cardiac glycosides. Plants containing them include foxglove and lilly-of-the valley.

The important cardiac glycoside drug first found in foxglove – digoxin, will be found in every hospital in the country. However, cardiac glycosides are drugs with a narrow therapeutic window and can be extremely poisonous if consumed in relatively small quantities. They are ill-advised to be experimenting with.

Before exploring other plant medicines that can help, it’s prudent to remind anyone currently on cardio-vascular prescription medicines, and thinking of self-medicating with herbs, to consult with a doctor before embarking. Many herbs can potentially adversely interact with pharmaceutical cardio-vascular drugs. Aside fom the fact that you may be allergic to it, or simply intolerant of that particular plant species.

That said (and presuming correct lifestyle adaptations are being undertaken to the diet and other personal health issues), a number of the commonly occurring conditions of the cardio-vascular system are self-treatable.

These include: High blood pressure (hypertension), low blood pressure (hypotension), anaemia, atherosclerosis, angina, thrombosis, varicose veins and poor circulation.

High blood pressure (Hypertension)

The blood carrying oxygen and nutrients around your body is under pressure as a result of the heart’s pump action and due to the size and flexibility of the veins and arteries. This blood pressure is essential to how the body works.

Blood pressure is expressed by two numbers, for example: 120/80mm hg (120 mm over 80 mm mercury). The first number represents the systolic pressure of the contracted pumping heart. This is the maximum pressure in your blood vessels. The second number is the diastolic pressure of your heart between beats, when it is at rest and filling with blood. This is the minimum pressure in your vessels.

A rule of thumb suggests that the lower your blood pressure, the better health you are in. Although, saying this, very low blood pressure is not beneficial, leading to dizziness and feeling faint.

Currently, ‘normal’ blood pressure is accepted to be 120/80 mm hg, whilst scores up to 139/89 mm hg are classed as ‘pre-hypertension’ and figures above 140/90 referred to as hypertension.

Hypertension is often characterised by a narrowing and decline in the elasticity of peripheral arteries. Where this occurs, a reduction of blood flow and likely increase in blood pressure can result. Diseases of the kidney can also lead to hypertension.

If the artery that delivers blood to the kidneys (renal artery) becomes blocked. or if it narrows, either through plaque deposits or by a thickening of the arterial muscular wall, then this can lead to hypertension through an increase in the production of certain hormones – renin and angiotensin. This in turn causes peripheral arteries to constrict and stiffen, creating hypertension.

It has been documented that males under 45 are more prone to hypertension than females, though after 65 both sexes are as likely to suffer. Well known causal factors include: smoking, high-fat diets, diabetes, high-alcohol consumption, high-salt intake, obesity and ageing.

A number of plants are useful to alleviate some of the various ways that hypertension can manifest.

These include my personally experienced favourite for hypertension, hawthorn,covered in my Monday morning monograph series, with renowned powers to relax arteries as well as acting on the heart muscle itself. Other species include garlic, lime flowers, nettles and yarrow.

The latter herb increases peripheral blood vessels, improving blood flow. Nettles and garlic can help remove the fur from arteries, making them more elastic. Where tension is a factor, lime flowers and cramp bark can be of benefit.

If the mind needs addressing in order to help shift mental focus or where mental or emotional stresses are a factor, then oat straw, lemon balm, and chamomile can be useful alongside the herbs just mentioned.

Low blood pressure (Hypotension)

This condition is characterised by blood pressure so low that the patient displays signs or symptoms which may lead to insufficient oxygen reaching the vital organs. As a result these organs may then not function properly and can suffer temporary or permanent damage.

Unlike hypertension, this condition is deduced by symptoms rather than a specific number. This is because some patients may consistently display pressure of 90/50 mm hg, yet do not show any signs of low blood pressure, whereas other patients who normally have higher blood pressures may develop signs of low blood pressure when recording a pressure of 100/60 mm hg.

Once again, hawthorn flowers and berries will be helpful, as will garlic, as was discussed in the garlic monograph. If of a nervous origin, drinking oat straw tea and eating the grain (especially if physically debilitated) can help restore correct nervous function. Rosemary is a classic circulatory herb prescribed for hypotension and the super-food alfalfa has had a history of use here too.

Atherosclerosis, arteriosclerosis, and angina.


This is a process where hardening of the arteries occurs due to the build up of cholesterol containing plaque. It is this condition that is responsible for many of the fatal heart attacks and strokes, and can strike seemingly out the blue (hence the name ‘silent killer’). It is well documented that many people with significant atherosclerosis have a history of elevated cholesterol levels.

Often, the initial stages of this disease include damage by free radicals to the arterial wall. It can also manifest through imbalances in levels of LDL and HDL (Readers of my foragers monograph on oats will be aware of the importance of these lipo-proteins.).

Subsequently, the site of injury attracts large white blood cells and platelets. These will then adhere to the damaged area, creating an atheroma, and over time this releases substances that stimulate accumulation of plaque as well as deposits of fats and cholesterol.

The major risk factors are:

  • Smoking

  • Elevated cholesterol levels

  • High blood pressure

  • Diabetes

  • Physical inactivity

  • Obesity

Garlic is the prime remedy here. Others include hawthorn berries, yarrow and lime flowers.


This usually develops as a result of atherosclerosis. In this condition, the artery walls become thickened and hardened, becoming less flexible and narrower, inhibiting sufficient blood flow. Oats, lime flowers, garlic, hawthorn (flowers or berries), meadowsweet, hearts-ease, and horsetail are all helpful here.

Angina pectoris

This painful condition will often result from atherosclerosis, although is classed as a syndrome rather than a disease. The term literally means ‘a strangling feeling in the chest’ and is due to a lack of blood and thus oxygen reaching the heart muscle. Hawthorn, lime flowers, oats, and hops have all been used to treat this often distressing disorder.


Sometimes a blood clot may get dislodged from a damaged arterial wall and enter the blood stream. This can block smaller vessels and cause oxygen deficiency downstream.

Where this takes place in the body dictates how serious it is. When it occurs in the legs it is called phlebitis. Treatment is similar as for atherosclerosis. Inflammations are common.

Comfrey, hawthorn berries and St. Johns wort can be used externally here in a lotion, compress or poultice. Garlic contains compounds that prevent clots forming. Buckwheat and other rutin-rich herbs can strengthen vein walls. Nettle tea improves circulation as previously mentioned elsewhere, as will yarrow.

Varicose veins

Anything that reduces the circulation can cause varicose veins – the name given to veins that are twisted, enlarged and swollen. Most are usually found on the legs, often due to a weak heart unable to return the venous blood from the lower body without the leg muscles pumping. They can also appear anywhere in the body.

Horse-chestnut specifically strengthens capillaries and can successfully be used here. Diuretics such as dandelion and yarrow may be needed and have been traditionally used for this condition.

Poor circulation

Plants containing high concentrations of flavonoids are well known for their beneficial effects on the circulation system.

Hawthorn berries will help to maintain circulation to the extremities, relieving cold hands and feet. Horseradish, bilberry and rosemary are all noted peripheral circulatory stimulants. Ginger and cayenne pepper (Capsicum spp) are other more exotic specifics for this condition. Horse-chestnut’s action generally strengthens the capillaries, improving circulation. 

Rubefacient remedies increase local blood flow and are applied topically. Horseradish, garlic, and peppermint are all examples of rubefacient herbs.