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What is Yarrow Essential Oil & Does it Have Health Benefits?

Written by Carlos Tello, PhD (Molecular Biology) | Reviewed by Ana Aleksic, MSc (Pharmacy) | Last updated:
Jonathan Ritter
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Jonathan Ritter, PharmD, PhD (Pharmacology), Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Carlos Tello, PhD (Molecular Biology) | Reviewed by Ana Aleksic, MSc (Pharmacy) | Last updated:

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Yarrow essential oil

Yarrow is considered a remedy for digestive and skin issues, bleeding, and inflammation–but how is yarrow essential oil unique and who can use it? Read on to uncover little-known facts about this essential oil: how it’s made, what the science says about its health benefits, and what to look out for when deciding to purchase some.

What Is Yarrow Essential Oil?

Overview

Yarrow essential oil is made from common yarrow (Achillea millefolium), an aromatic plant with tiny, whitish flowers and hairy leaves. It is also known as “nosebleed plant” and belongs to the same family as dandelions and marigolds (Asteraceae) [1+, 2+].

People traditionally use yarrow for various health complaints, such as [3+, 4, 5+, 6+, 7+, 2+]:

  • Digestive issues
  • Wounds, bites, and nosebleeds
  • Inflammation
  • Infections
  • Menstrual problems
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Water retention and high blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Liver dysfunction

Herbalists suggest that yarrow essential oil can be used similar to the more famous tea tree oil. Unlike tea tree oil, yarrow’s scent is sweet and distinctly herbal. What makes it unique is its remarkable blue color, a result of its concentrated plant pigments [8]!

Composition

Yarrow essential oil is mainly composed of terpenoids such as chamazulene, thymol, carvacrol, limonene, alpha-pinene, camphor, and borneol [9, 10+, 2+, 11, 12].

A recent analysis of yarrow essential oil from France discovered 43 volatile compounds, including germacrene-D and E-nerolidol. The oil had strong antioxidant and antimicrobial activity in test tubes [13].

The exact composition of the essential oil can vary depending on where it was grown.

For example, an analysis of yarrow essential oil from Quebec identified over 60 compounds, 40 of which were reported for the first time. A team in India, meanwhile, found 86 components in essential oil from the flowering parts of common yarrow growing in the wild in Kashmir; its main major compounds were also different [14, 15].

It’s hard to draw any conclusions about the potential health benefits of yarrow essential oil in general. Yarrow grows in many parts of the world, where soil composition and climate are drastically different. Essential oil preparation methods may also differ. Therefore, the characteristics of the essential oil greatly vary from one preparation to another.

Better standardization of its main active compounds and more research should give us additional clues.

Yarrow essential oil contains a diverse array of volatile active compounds, but its constituents can greatly vary from one plant and preparation to another.

How Much Do We Know?

No clinical trials on yarrow essential oil have been carried out. Human research is needed to verify its effectiveness.

Also, essential oils are not approved by the FDA for medical use. Regulations set manufacturing standards for essential oils but don’t guarantee that they are safe or effective. Talk to your doctor before using yarrow essential oil.

Oral yarrow is approved by the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia and the German Commission E for fever, common cold, and digestive complaints. Based on FDA and the cosmetic industry data, experts concluded that topical yarrow is also safe at the doses commonly used [16+, 17].

Potential Health Benefits of Yarrow Essential Oil

INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE:

The following purported benefits are only supported by limited, low-quality clinical studies. There is insufficient evidence to support the use of yarrow essential oil for any of the below-listed uses.

Remember to speak with a doctor before taking yarrow essential oil. Essential oils and aromatherapy should never be used as a replacement for approved medical therapies.

1) Soothing Irritated Skin

Have you spotted yarrow essential oil in health stores? You’ll rarely see it mentioned among the top herbs or essential oils for skin care.

Yet, scientists think that yarrow essential oil may also support skin health and potentially soothe irritation, but research so far is inconclusive.

In a small trial on 23 people with skin irritation, yarrow extract dissolved in olive and sunflower oil applied on the irritated site (2x/day for 7 days) moisturized the skin, restored its normal pH, and reduced redness [18].

However, this study used oil made from yarrow extract not yarrow essential oil. We don’t know if yarrow essential oil also helps soothe the skin since its active compounds differ from the extract [19].

Yarrow might also help get rid of dark skin spots or hyperpigmentation. Although harmless, this condition can lead to large dark patches of skin, caused by a progressive buildup of the skin pigment melanin. Yarrow essential oil blocked melanin production in skin cells, suggesting it should be further researched for helping prevent or reduce skin hyperpigmentation [20].

All in all, the evidence is promising but more studies are needed to determine the effects of yarrow essential oil on various skin conditions.

LACKING EVIDENCE:

No clinical evidence supports the use of yarrow essential oil for any of the conditions listed in this section.

Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies listed below should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.

2) Infections

In test tubes, yarrow extracts and essential oils inhibited the yeast that causes thrush (Candida albicans) and different bacteria that cause [11+]:

  • Food poisoning and skin infections (such as E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella enteritidis, and Listeria monocytogenes) [21+, 11+, 22+, 23]
  • Cavities (Streptococcus mutans, Actinomyces viscosus) [24]
  • Pneumonia (Streptococcus pneumoniae, Klebsiella pneumoniae) [11+, 25+]
  • Stomach ulcers (Helicobacter pylori) [26, 27]

Further clinical research should determine if yarrow essential oil improves the diseases caused by these organisms in humans.

3) Inflammation

Several compounds found in yarrow essential oil have anti-inflammatory activity in the lab. Although it can be used orally, the essential oil is more commonly applied directly to the skin to relieve pain or reduce irritation.

In test tubes, both yarrow extract and essential oil lowered the production of inflammatory compounds and deactivated inflammation-related pathways:

These mechanisms have not been verified in humans.

4) Antioxidant Defense

Yarrow essential oil showed antioxidant activity in test tubes and cells [34, 10, 11, 13, 12, 35].

Antioxidants are thought to boost general wellness and fight free radicals, but research on the specific effects of yarrow essential oil and its compounds in humans is lacking [36, 37].

Yarrow Essential Oil Side Effects & Safety

Allergic Reactions & Side Effects

Yarrow may cause allergic reactions when repeatedly applied to the skin. The symptoms most commonly reported are [38, 39+, 40+]:

  • Redness
  • Itching
  • Eczema

Taken by mouth, side effects were less common and mainly consisted of [41, 42+]:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Skin irritation

Because yarrow has the same allergy-causing components as other Asteraceae herbs, people allergic to plants of the daisy family should avoid using it [40+, 39+, 43].

Thujone Content Concerns

Depending on the variety, the essential oil of yarrow may contain the terpenoid thujone in different amounts. Commercial yarrow preparations should be thujone-free because thujone may cause miscarriages in pregnant women [44, 45+].

Potential for Toxicity

The essential oil of yarrow increased the rate of mutations in a fungus; its extract enhanced the effect of a toxic chemical (mitomycin C) in white blood cells. These studies suggest the cautious use of yarrow to avoid conditions triggered by genetic mutations such as cancer [46, 47].

Research Limitations

The effects of yarrow extract diluted in oil on skin irritation have only been tested in a small clinical trial (below 50 people).

The essential oil was researched solely in animal and cell-based studies for its potential impact on skin hyperpigmentation, inflammation, infections, and antioxidant defense. Human studies are needed.

How to Use Yarrow Essential Oil

Tips

The essential oil of yarrow dried flowers and leaves is normally extracted through steam distillation with water.

Because yarrow essential oil is not approved by the FDA for any conditions, there is no official dose. Additionally, no clinical studies have tested yarrow essential oil.

In the only published clinical trial, people applied yarrow oil made from yarrow extract (not the essential oil) to the irritated skin area twice daily for 7 days. This product was made by dissolving dry yarrow

Thus, users and supplement manufacturers have established unofficial doses based on their experience. They tend to follow general aromatherapy advice.

For example, you can take yarrow essential oil by mouth for digestive issues and blood flow. The essential oil, normally added to carrier oils (such as coconut oil) or distilled water, can also be applied on the skin to care for minor wounds and irritation.

Since clinical data are lacking, the best way to use yarrow essential oil is still uncertain. People usually dilute it in a carrier oil or water and apply it to the skin. High-quality essential oil can also be taken by mouth, but caution is advised.

Takeaway

Yarrow is a traditional remedy with a long history of use, but little is known about its essential oil.

Yarrow essential oil has a distinctively sweet and flowery swell and is blue in color from its azulene content.

Animal and cell-based experiments suggests that the oil may contain compounds that help reduce inflammation, irritation, and free radical damage. However, human studies are needed before we can draw any conclusions about its health effects.

In the meantime, data suggest that yarrow essential oil can be used safely, as long as you purchase a purified product and follow general aromatherapy guidelines.

The essential oil should be diluted in a carrier oil or water and applied to the skin or taken by mouth with caution. Be sure to speak to your doctor before trying it out.

Further Reading

About the Author

Carlos Tello

Carlos Tello

PhD (Molecular Biology)
Carlos received his PhD and MS from the Universidad de Sevilla.
Carlos spent 9 years in the laboratory investigating mineral transport in plants. He then started working as a freelancer, mainly in science writing, editing, and consulting. Carlos is passionate about learning the mechanisms behind biological processes and communicating science to both academic and non-academic audiences. He strongly believes that scientific literacy is crucial to maintain a healthy lifestyle and avoid falling for scams.

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