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10 Yarrow Uses & Benefits (Tea, Tincture, Essential Oil)

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

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Yarrow

According to Greek mythology, the legendary hero Achilles used yarrow to heal his battle wounds. In folk medicine, yarrow is considered a remedy for digestive issues, fever, bleeding disorders, and inflammation. Read on to learn more about the benefits of yarrow and how to use it as a tea, tincture, or essential oil.

What Is Yarrow?

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a plant with small, normally white flowers and hairy, feather-shaped leaves. It is also known as nosebleed plant, old man’s pepper, and military herb. The plant belongs to the same family as sunflowers, dandelions, daisies, and marigolds (Asteraceae) [1+, 2+].

Achillea in its name derives from the legendary Trojan War hero Achilles, who supposedly applied yarrow on his battle wounds to heal them. The genus Achillea includes over 100 species, but the name millefolium refers only to yarrow. It translates to “thousand leaves” from Latin, alluding to its exquisitely divided leaves [1+].

Yarrow is native to Europe and western Asia but is widespread in most mild to warm regions of the world. The plant is extremely adaptable: it grows from sea level to high altitudes (3,500 m), from grasslands to open forests [2+, 3+].

Yarrow has been used for centuries as a folk remedy for [4+, 5, 6+, 7+, 8+, 2+]:

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

Today, 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 [9+, 10].

Snapshot

Proponents

  • Rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds
  • May kill infectious microbes and parasites
  • May improve skin health
  • May promote wound healing
  • May improve digestive issues
  • May improve cramps, multiple sclerosis, and anxiety
  • May prevent liver damage and heart disease

Skeptics

  • Insufficient evidence for most benefits
  • May cause skin allergies
  • Possibly unsafe during pregnancy

Uses & Health Benefits of Yarrow

Yarrow has been investigated for several health conditions (such as wounds, infections, and skin disorders) and is commercially available as a supplement.

However, the extract is not approved by the FDA due to the lack of solid clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for supplements but don’t guarantee that they are safe or effective. Talk to your doctor before using yarrow for any conditions to avoid unexpected interactions.

Insufficient Evidence for:

1) Infectious Diseases

Yarrow has been researched for its ability to fight an array of infections – from parasites to viral and bacterial diseases.

Tonsil inflammation is a common cause of sore throat and is usually due to viral infections. In a clinical trial on almost 250 children with this condition, a multi-herbal extract with 0.4% yarrow (15-25 drops 3x-6x/day) added to conventional therapy improved the symptoms, reduced the use of painkillers, and accelerated recovery [11].

Leishmaniasis is a parasitic infection that damages the skin. Yarrow extract improved this condition in mice. However, a topical gel with 5% yarrow (2x/day) was ineffective in a clinical trial on 60 people with a severe form of the disease [12, 13].

Additionally, yarrow extract killed various parasites that cause malaria, chagas disease, toxoplasmosis, and hydatid disease in test tubes (Leishmania amazonensis, Trypanosoma cruzi, Toxoplasma gondii, Echinococcus granulosus) [14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19].

In test tubes, yarrow extracts and essential oils inhibited the yeast that causes thrush (Candida albicans) and different bacteria that cause [20+]:

  • Food poisoning and skin infections (such as E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella enteritidis, and Listeria monocytogenes) [21+, 20+, 22+, 23]
  • Cavities (Streptococcus mutans, Actinomyces viscosus) [24]
  • Pneumonia (Streptococcus pneumoniae, Klebsiella pneumoniae) [20+, 25+]
  • Stomach ulcers (Helicobacter pylori) [26, 27]

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

2) Skin Soothing

To add to its effects on infections, yarrow may also aid skin regeneration. Its skin health benefits are unfairly underestimated. You’ll rarely see it mentioned among the top herbs or essential oils for skin care, although this effect has been researched as widely as other potential benefits.

In two clinical trials on 83 women, a topical cream with 2% yarrow extract (2x/day) improved the appearance of the skin. It enhanced skin renewal and reduced wrinkles and pores. Since it increased the growth of the cells that also make hair follicles (keratinocytes), yarrow may also boost hair growth [28].

Have you spotted yarrow essential oil in health stores? It 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 [29]!

In a small trial on 23 people with skin irritation, yarrow essential oil applied on the irritated site (2x/day for 7 days) moisturized the skin, restored its normal pH, and reduced redness [30].

In contrast, an oral herbal mix with yarrow (3 capsules/day for 2 weeks) wasn’t more effective than placebo in another trial on 44 people with eczema. Thus, yarrow essential oil applied directly on the affected area probably works better than oral yarrow for skin redness and irritation [31].

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 may help prevent or reduce skin hyperpigmentation [32].

All in all, the evidence is promising but insufficient to claim that yarrow soothes the skin. These results should be validated in larger, more robust clinical trials.

3) Wound Healing

Yarrow’s potential effects are more than just skin deep. It may also aid the healing of wounds, connective tissue, and mucous membranes.

In a clinical trial on over 100 women recovering from an episiotomy (a surgical cut that facilitates childbirth), an ointment with 5% yarrow improved wound healing. Used twice a day for 10 days, it reduced pain, redness, swelling, and bruising [33].

It might also help with oral mucositis or the painful mouth inflammation that commonly results from chemotherapy. In a clinical trial on 56 people, a mouthwash (15 mL, 4x/day for 2 weeks) improved mouth injuries, especially when more concentrated (50% yarrow extract) [34].

Topical creams with yarrow extract accelerated wound healing in rabbits, possibly by increasing collagen production and skin cell growth. The extracts of two close yarrow relatives (A. asiatica and A. kellalensis) also enhanced wound healing when applied on the skin of rats [35+, 36, 37+].

In test tubes, yarrow extract caused skin connective cells (fibroblasts) to increasingly grow, divide, and move into the wound closing – speeding up the healing process [38].

Although the results are promising, the evidence to support yarrow’s benefits on wound healing is still insufficient. Further clinical research is needed.

4) Cramps

Yarrow abounds in flavonoids, plant antioxidants with proven effects on preventing cramps and relaxing the muscles [39+, 40+].

In a clinical trial on almost 100 women with frequent menstrual cramps, a tea made from 4 g yarrow flowers reduced pain better than placebo. The women drank 3 bags/day during the first 3 days over 2 consecutive menstrual cycles [41].

Bowel contractions help mix food with digestive enzymes and move stools. But uncontrolled, they can cause diarrhea, bloating, and pain. Yarrow extract reduced contractions in a study on animal bowel tissue [42, 43, 44].

In the airways, excessive contractions may cause lung blockage and various diseases, including asthma, bronchitis, and COPD. Yarrow extract relaxed airway muscles from Guinea pigs, suggesting its potential to improve lung diseases [45, 46, 47].

Additional clinical studies should confirm these preliminary results.

5) Supporting Digestion

In a clinical trial on 60 people with IBS, an herbal mix of yarrow, ginger, and Boswellia (3x/day for 1 month) reduced stomach pain and bloating [48].

One of the most common causes of indigestion is reduced stomach motility, which delays stomach emptying. Yarrow extract increased stomach motility and emptying in mice. It also activated stomach muscles in tissue studies [9, 49].

Yarrow probably aids digestion thanks to its choline content. The body uses choline to make acetylcholine, the main neurotransmitter of the “rest-and-digest” or “feed-and-breed” (parasympathetic) nervous system. This drives cholinergic activity in the body, relaxing blood vessels and helping the gut soak up nutrients [49].

Additionally, yarrow extract protected the inner lining of the stomach from ulcers caused by irritant substances in rats [50, 51].

Bile is crucial for the digestion of fat and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins in the gut. It’s produced in the liver and may be low in people with gallbladder or liver problems. Yarrow extract increased bile flow in rat livers [52, 53].

However, a single clinical trial and a few animal studies cannot be considered sufficient evidence that yarrow supports digestion. Larger, more robust clinical studies are required.

6) Preventing Heart Disease

The extract of a close yarrow relative (A. wilhelmsii) lowered blood pressure and blood fat levels in a clinical trial on over 100 people (15-20 drops 2x/day). In rats, yarrow extract lowered blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels and acting as a diuretic [54, 55, 56, 57].

Yarrow extract also promoted the growth of new blood vessels in cells and reduced inflammation. Scientists think it may prevent the clogging of arteries or atherosclerosis [58].

Again, the evidence is based on a single clinical trial and a few studies in animals and cells. These preliminary results should be validated in more human studies.

7) Multiple Sclerosis

In a clinical trial on 75 people with multiple sclerosis, yarrow extract (250-500 mg/day for 1 year) slowed the progression of the disease and reduced its relapse. It halted the growth of brain lesions and improved daily movement and cognitive function [59].

In mice and rats with multiple sclerosis, both yarrow extract and its flavonoids apigenin and luteolin reduced the severity, progression, and relapse of the disease [60, 61, 62].

The results of these studies will need to be repeated in larger clinical trials to confirm the role of yarrow in slowing down the progression of multiple sclerosis.

8) Curbing Anxiety

In addition to improving IBS symptoms, an herbal mix with yarrow extract reduced anxiety in a clinical trial on 60 people [48].

Yarrow extract also reduced anxiety in mice and rats [63, 64].

As with most potential benefits, the existing evidence cannot be considered sufficient. Further clinical research should clarify the effects of yarrow on anxiety.

9) Protecting the Liver

In a clinical trial on 36 people with liver cirrhosis, an herbal medicine with 16 mg yarrow reduced liver damage and restored liver function. People took yarrow long-term: 3 tablets, 3x/day for 6 months, attesting to its safety [65].

In mice, yarrow extract (both alone and as part of a multi-herbal formulation) prevented liver damage caused by toxic chemicals. The extract of a close yarrow relative (A. biebersteinii) had the same protective effect in Guinea pigs [66, 67, 68].

A small clinical trial and a few studies in mice cannot be considered sufficient evidence to support the role of yarrow in protecting the liver. More studies in humans are required.

10) Bleeding

In people with chronic kidney disease, high blood levels of the inflammatory NO prevent platelets from clumping together and increase the risk of bleeding.

In a clinical trial on 31 people with this problem, yarrow flower powder (1.5 g, 3x/week for 2 months) slightly decreased the blood levels of NO and its byproducts. Yarrow may have a more powerful effect on excessive bleeding with higher doses and longer use, but this has yet to be researched [69].

This effect should be confirmed in more clinical trials on larger populations.

Animal and Cell Research (Lack of Evidence):

Yarrow is currently being researched for other potential health benefits. Because the studies have only been done in animals and cells, their results may not be the same in humans.

Anti-inflammatory Activity

Several of yarrow’s compounds have anti-inflammatory activity. Although it can be used orally, its essential oil or liquid extract is more commonly applied directly to the skin to relieve pain or reduce skin irritation.

A topical gel with yarrow extract was as effective as a conventional anti-inflammatory drug (diclofenac) at reducing paw swelling in rats. In another rat study, liposomes with yarrow and oregano extract relieved inflammatory pain [70, 71].

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

Antioxidant Activity

Yarrow contains multiple antioxidant compounds. The extract is rich in polyphenols such as luteolin, quercetin, apigenin, rutin, and chlorogenic and caffeic acid [76, 15+, 2+, 20, 74].

In turn, the essential oil is mainly composed of terpenoids such as chamazulene, thymol, carvacrol, limonene, alpha-pinene, camphor, and borneol [76, 15+, 2+, 20, 74].

Both yarrow extract and its essential oil showed antioxidant activity in test tubes and cells [80, 15, 20, 81, 74, 82].

These antioxidants can boost general wellness. They might also help prevent various chronic diseases marked by increased oxidative stress [83, 84].

Certain substances also increase oxidative stress. For example, nicotine reduces male fertility by worsening free radical damage in the testicles. The antioxidant compounds from yarrow extract protected male rats from testicle damage caused by nicotine [85, 86].

Diabetes

In diabetic mice, yarrow extract (alone or in multi-herbal extracts) reduced blood sugar levels and insulin resistance. It also increased insulin production and prevented damage and complications from free radicals. In diabetic rats, it protected the cells in the pancreas that release insulin by blocking inflammation [87, 88, 89, 90].

The extracts of two close yarrow relatives (A. wilhelmsii and A. santolina) also improved diabetes in mice by lowering blood sugar levels and protecting pancreatic cells from oxidative stress [91, 92].

Anticancer Activity

Below, we will discuss some preliminary research on yarrow’s anticancer activity. It’s still in the animal and cell stage and further clinical studies have yet to determine if its compounds are useful in cancer therapies.

Do not under any circumstances attempt to replace conventional cancer therapies with yarrow or any other supplements. If you want to use it as a supportive measure, talk to your doctor to avoid any unexpected interactions.

In cancer cells and animals with tumors, yarrow extract and its components were active against the following cancer types:

In these studies, yarrow killed cancer cells, reduced tumor growth, and increased the effect of anticancer drugs.

Yarrow extract also reduced DNA damage caused by an anticancer drug (cyclophosphamide) in bone marrow cells and X-rays in white blood cells (lymphocytes). Altogether, this suggests it may help prevent some adverse effects of chemo and radiotherapy [103, 104].

Yarrow Side Effects & Safety

Yarrow may cause allergic reactions when repeatedly applied on the skin. The symptoms most commonly reported are [13, 105+, 106+]:

  • Redness
  • Itching
  • Eczema

Because yarrow has the same allergy-causing components as other Asteraceae herbs, people allergic to plants of the daisy family should avoid using it [106+, 105+, 107].

When taken by mouth, the side effects were less common and mainly consisted of [48, 69+]:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Skin reactions

A woman working with decorative dried flower arrangements developed allergic asthma in response to yarrow [108+].

In male mice and rats, megadoses of yarrow extract (200 – 1,200 mg/kg per day) reduced sperm quality but only temporarily [109, 110, 111].

In pregnant rats, yarrow extract reduced fetus weight. Although the amount used was 56x the normal human dose, yarrow shouldn’t be used during pregnancy until further research is carried out [112].

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 [113, 114+].

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 [115, 116].

Yarrow increased liver damage caused by Tylenol in mice. Oral yarrow extracts should not be combined with this drug. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking yarrow extract if you are on OTC or prescription medication [117].

Limitations and Caveats

The effects of yarrow on skin renewal and irritation, bleeding, and cirrhosis have only been tested in clinical trials with small populations (below 50 people). Studies on skin hyperpigmentation, ulcers, inflammation, cancer, and most infectious diseases have only been investigated in animals and cells. More trials on larger populations are needed.

Some studies used yarrow as part of multi-herbal remedies, which makes its contribution to the effects observed difficult to evaluate [11, 48, 65, 67, 88, 89].

Three studies were funded by companies developing drugs and cosmetic products with yarrow (BASF, Bionorica, and Raphael Natural Products) [28+, 11+, 31+].

How to Use Yarrow

Yarrow can be taken by mouth as:

  • Tea
  • Powder
  • Tablets and capsules
  • Tincture (diluted in water)
  • Essential oil

While some of these forms can also be applied on the skin for wounds and rashes, the following skincare remedies with yarrow are more common:

  • Ointments, salves, and gels with yarrow extract
  • Poultices with a paste of ground yarrow
  • Compresses dipped in yarrow tea or tincture
  • Fresh yarrow leaves

The part of the plant mainly used is the dried flowering shoot, either whole or chopped.

Yarrow extracts can be standardized to the contents of their active compounds (e.g., flavonoids), but there are no official requirements. In turn, the shoots must contain at least 2 mL/kg of essential oil with 0.02% chamazulene according to the European Pharmacopoeia [1+].

The fresh leaves can also be used in recipes. They have a delicate, sweet taste that goes well with salads, seafood, soups, egg dishes, and desserts. If you find the taste too strong, you can dilute yarrow with other soft herbs like parsley.

It’s important to add yarrow leaves by the end of the cooking process because it will give an overly bitter taste if overcooked.

Dosage

Because yarrow is not approved by the FDA for any conditions, there is no official dose. Users and supplement manufacturers have established unofficial doses based on their experience.

Clinical trials used topical yarrow at the following doses:

  • Leishmaniasis: gel with 5% yarrow, 2x/day [13]
  • Skin appearance and irritation: extract with 2-20% yarrow, 2x/day for 1-8 weeks [28+, 30+]
  • Episiotomy healing: ointment with 5% yarrow, 2x/day for 10 days [33+]
  • Oral mucositis caused by chemotherapy: mouthwash with 50% yarrow extract, 15 mL 4x/day for 2 weeks [34+]

While the doses of oral formulations were:

  • Tonsil inflammation: tincture with 0.4% yarrow, 15-25 drops/day 3x-6x/day [11+]
  • Eczema: multi-herbal extract, 3x/day for 2 weeks [31+]
  • Menstrual cramps: tea with 4 g flowers, 3x/day for the first 3 days of 2 consecutive menstrual periods [41+]
  • IBS: multi-herbal capsules, 3x/day for 1 month [48]
  • Multiple sclerosis: 250-500 mg extract/day for 1 year [59]
  • Liver failure: multi-herbal capsules with 16 mg yarrow, 9x/day for 6 months [65+]
  • Chronic kidney disease: 1.5 g powder, 3x/week for 2 months [69]

The unofficial doses recommended by natural health blogs are 2-3 cups of homemade tea (with 1-2 teaspoonfuls of dried yarrow per cup) per day and 20 drops of homemade tincture diluted in water, 3x-5x/day.

Tea Recipe

You can use dried yarrow flowers and leaves to make tea following this recipe:

  • Add 1-2 teaspoonfuls of dried yarrow to 1 cup (about 240 mL) of boiling water
  • Let it infuse for 5-30 minutes
  • Strain and drink hot

Drinking yarrow tea is claimed to improve conditions such as digestive issues, fever, high blood pressure, and menstrual disorders. Alternatively, you can apply it on wounds and skin rashes to accelerate their improvement.

Essential Oil

The essential oil of yarrow dried flowers and leaves is normally extracted through steam distillation with water. You can take yarrow essential oil by mouth for digestive issues and blood flow. Yarrow essential oil, normally added to carrier oils (such as coconut oil), can also be applied on the skin to improve wounds and irritation.

DIY Tincture

You can make a yarrow tincture yourself by infusing fresh or dried yarrow flowers and leaves in alcohol as follows:

  • Mix 1 part of chopped fresh yarrow with 2 parts of high-proof alcohol (80º or higher) or 1 part of dried yarrow with 5 parts of liquor (e.g., vodka)
  • Cover and allow to infuse in the dark for 2-8 weeks shaking every few days
  • Strain and store in a dark glass bottle

Drinking water with a few drops of yarrow tincture is claimed to improve menstrual disorders, digestive issues, and blood flow.

Growing Yarrow

Yarrow is also a perfect addition to your garden due to its beautiful flower heads. You can plant it on borders, ground covers, and open meadows. Plant yarrow in late spring or early summer spacing the plants 1-2 feet apart. If you use seeds instead of plantlets, sow them a bit earlier during the year (early to mid-spring).

The plant is very hardy and requires little care. It grows well in dry, poor soils and only requires the addition of compost and mulch once a year. The soil should be loosened and well-drained because yarrow doesn’t tolerate flooding. Yarrow prefers full light and only needs watering if the rainfall is lower than 1 inch per week.

You can divide the plant every 2-3 years to propagate it and maintain its vitality.

Varieties

The different ornamental yarrow varieties can be distinguished by the color of their flowers. The most common ones include:

Red-Pink Yarrow

  • Cerise Queen
  • Red Beauty
  • New Vintage Red
  • Paprika
  • Kelwayi

Golden (Yellow) Yarrow

  • Coronation Gold
  • Little Moonshine
  • Anblo

White Yarrow

  • Calistoga
  • Sonoma Coast

Takeaway

Yarrow is a centuries-old traditional remedy. The dried herb, its extract, and essential oil all are proposed to carry health benefits, although the evidence supporting it is insufficient. Applied to the skin, yarrow essential oil may soothe eczema, reduce inflammation, fight bacteria, and heal wounds. The plant is rich in antioxidants and may help with diabetes, heart disease, anxiety, IBS, and cramps. More research on its potential health benefits is, however, required.

Ready-to-use yarrow products are widely available. And if you enjoy growing your own medicinal herbs, yarrow can be a great low-maintenance addition to your garden.

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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