Half a Hundred Herbs – Week 46 Yarrow
Yarrow is a tough herb which grows in hedgerows, fields, lawns, rocky hillsides, and frankly anywhere it can get the chance. It is not remotely particular in any way, flowering almost constantly ad holding its green feathery leaves through all but the most severe weather. In the wild it is a dull off-white – not particularly attractive – but there are garden varieties in bright pinks reds and yellows, and if you dry them they will keep their bright colours through the winter. Obdurate is the word. It has a dusty dark bitter scent, that is not unpleasant, and adds a good base note to herbal tea.
It lends its toughness to its healing properties too. It is most famous for stopping bleeding, so is used for cuts, nosebleeds and bruises, and as it has anti-viral and anti-microbial properties, it is good for fevers too. I’ve used it in combination with elderflower and peppermint to make a tea for colds and flu – its part in the process is to repair inflamed and damaged tissues, so it’s great for aching sinuses.
Famously, dried yarrow stems were used for divination in I Ching, but even in this country yarrow was used by girls trying to see their true loves. There are references to it in pagan celebrations, and it was sometimes linked to witchcraft. It comes up in poetry sometimes as a symbol of resistance, independence and survival, particularly in Gerry Loose’s magnificent Fault Lines which was published by Vagabond Poets last year.
Autumn is drawing on, but the summer was so late, and recent weather has been so mild and still that many flowers are still in bloom – roses, marigolds, welsh poppies, jasmine, cyclamen, mullein – even the violets are showing colour. But the wind has got up this week, and rain is forecast over the weekend. Birds are coming to the feeder, including tree sparrows and goldfinches, and the cormorant is back on the river. People have already started talking about potential for cold weather and storms – I think we might be in for a wild winter!