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Herb profile

Name

Yarrow, also known as Achilles, centaury, God’s herb, sheep’s tongue, haemostatic herb, women’s herb, panacea, and many other, often regional names.

Latin name

Achilleam, Achillea millefolium (common yarrow)

Traditional uses

Yarrow is used in traditional medicine as a remedy for rheumatism, toothache, headaches, migraines, haemorrhages, flu, inflammation and fever. Helps with gastrointestinal problems such as flatulence or diarrhoea, as well as liver and kidney problems, eczema, and insulin resistance. Increases the production of saliva and gastric juice and increases bile secretion. It is said to have an antiseptic effect, especially against fungal infections.

Scientifically proven effect(s)

Has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, haemostatic, wound-healing, appetite-enhancing, antispasmodic (especially on the intestines and uterus), hepatoprotective, vasodilating, broncho dilating, metabolism-stimulating and against some parasites and some types of cancer. It has also been shown to have a positive effect on stomach ulcers and an oestrogenic effect on menstrual problems in humans. Contains over 20 different active ingredients, including achillein, essential oils (azulene, cineole and chamazulene), sesquiterpenoids, hydrocarbon monoterpenes, oygenated monoterpenes, proazulenes, phenols, flavonoids and other bitter and tannins.

Contraindications

Allergies to composite plants are known in humans, but not yet in animals.

When it is collected

The whole herb can be harvested before the flowering period (June to September) but is often only eaten by horses in winter. During the flowering period, the herb is cut about a hand’s breadth above the ground, bundled and hung up to dry with the flowers facing downwards.

Which parts of the plant are used

The whole herb can be used.

How is it prepared?

The whole plant or just the leaves can be fed dry or infused as a tea. Crushed, the fresh herb can be applied externally to burns or wounds for quick relief.

Trivia

The genus “Achillea” comprises over 130 different species, with the “common yarrow” being the most common. It grows everywhere in the northern hemisphere on meadows, field margins and roadsides as well as on pastures up to the Alpine regions and can be found practically everywhere in Europe. Young leaves can be used as a culinary spice; they have a bitter, slightly peppery flavour. Butterflies, bees, and bumblebees are particularly attracted to the small flowers. One of the oldest known medicinal plants, mentioned as a therapeutic agent over 3,000 years ago. In popular belief, amulets made from yarrow were used as a defence against the devil. Twigs or bunches were also placed under the pillow to relieve anxiety and nightmares. As an essence, yarrow is used as “Yarrow” or “Pink Yarrow” for potent protection against negative energy. Its name is derived from the Greek hero Achilles, who is said to have used it to treat his wounds or the wounds of his soldiers.

Historical Context and Curiosities

Yarrow has been used as a medicinal plant since ancient times. According to legend, the centaur Chiron revealed the healing properties of the plant to the Greek hero Achilles. According to another legend, it was Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, who placed the plant on Achilles’ wound.

It owes its Latin name Achillea millefolium to the Greek hero Achilles, the hero of Troy, who was almost invulnerable. His heel was his only vulnerable spot, into which a poisoned arrow was shot, causing his death – thus we are all familiar with Achilles’ heel.

In Europe, the plant has always been used in folk medicine due to its wound-healing effect, which was also described by Hildegard von Bingen. It was not only in Europe that its use was widespread early on. There are records of its use as far away as the Orient, India, and China, and it is also said to have been a tried and tested medicinal plant on the North American continent long before the arrival of Europeans.

Until the Middle Ages, yarrow was also known as “soldier’s herb” due to its haemostatic properties. Crushed leaves can be applied to minor injuries, burns and other wounds to provide quick relief. The essential oils it contains have a disinfectant effect and the bitter and tannins have an astringent effect.

The second part of the name Achillea millefolium is due to the finely pinnate leaves, as millefolium means thousand-leaved. It used to be known only as millefolium in some areas.

General Information on Yarrow

Yarrow is a member of the Asteraceae family. It is native to the subtropical to temperate zone of the northern hemisphere up to the Arctic Circle. The plant is easy to establish and prefers a dry, lean location, but is otherwise undemanding. It can therefore be found almost anywhere where nature is left in peace, including field edges and pastures.

Yarrow contains many bitter and tannic substances, which anyone can test for themselves by chewing just a small piece of the leaves in their mouth. Due to its bitter ingredients, the plant is traditionally used to treat gastrointestinal problems. This is because bitter substances stimulate the flow of saliva and bile. In addition, yarrow has an antispasmodic effect on the intestines and has an antiparasitic effect against some unwanted intestinal subtenants, which can also cause diarrhoea or colic if they multiply too much.

The effect of Yarrow

Like many traditional medicinal plants, yarrow is the subject of intensive scientific research. With over 20 different – and now well-studied – active ingredients, it is widely used to treat a wide range of health problems. Its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects have been proven, which makes it ideal not only for external use, but also for the treatment of stomach ulcers and other inflammatory diseases of the digestive tract. It has a proven antibacterial and antifungal effect and combats various intestinal parasites, which also makes it an important aid for horses with digestive problems.

In addition, it has a proven antispasmodic effect, especially on the smooth muscles of the intestines and uterus. Together with its haemostatic and oestrogenic effect, this explains why it is often successful in women with menstrual cramps. The wound-healing effect of external application has also been scientifically confirmed.

It also has positive effects on the cardiovascular system, as it not only has an anti-inflammatory effect, but also has a vasodilating effect, i.e. it helps to dilate the blood vessels. This makes it an important therapeutic component, especially for horses with laminitis.

Haflinger with a long mane grazing amidst yarrow and other meadow flowers
Horses also benefit from the many possible uses of yarrow. ©️AdobeStock / Grubärin

Horses with asthmatic complaints benefit not only from its anti-inflammatory effect, but also from its broncho dilating effect, which has been shown in studies. Yarrow can therefore help such horses to breathe better again, especially as there are no known allergies to cruciferous plants in horses.

Due to its inhibitory effect on ulcers and some types of cancer, it can also be used in horses with melanomas or sarcoids on a trial basis, but there is as yet no scientific proof as to whether yarrow has the same effect on horses as it does on some types of cancer in model organisms or in humans.

Yarrow has long been used in cosmetics, both for its anti-inflammatory effect and as a pleasant natural fragrance.

Use in horses

When fed to horses, yarrow generally has an antispasmodic, appetite-enhancing and digestive stimulating effect and increases bile secretion. It is particularly suitable for horses with digestive problems such as flatulence or diarrhoea as well as for horses with liver problems and mares that are particularly “irritable” when in season, due to menstrual cramps. The herb is often contained in ready-made mixtures of bitter herbs and can therefore be used to great effect in colon restoration, among other things.

Negative effects are practically unknown, as they have to be extremely overdosed (well over 50g / kg body weight per day, which would correspond to about 25kg of yarrow per day for a 500kg horse) before negative effects on health can be observed – studies were carried on rates. There are no known negative effects of yarrow in horses, other animal species or humans, provided that the normal therapeutic dosage is adhered to.

Giving up to 25-50 g of yarrow herb daily over a period of four to six weeks (ponies get about half) has proven to be effective. If you collect the plant in summer, bundle it up and dry it upside down in an airy place, you can hang these bundles in the stable in autumn and winter for those horses that can make good use of its medicinal effects.

Sources

  • https://www.gaissmayer.de/web/welt/gartenmagazin/wie-achilles-wunden-heilte/ (zuletzt aufgerufen am 31.08.2023).
  • https://www.digitalefolien.de/biologie/pflanzen/heilk/schafg.html (zuletzt aufgerufen am 31.08.2023).
  • Khan, A. U., & Gilani, A. H. (2011). Blood pressure lowering, cardiovascular inhibitory and bronchodilatory actions of Achillea millefolium. Phytotherapy Research, 25(4), 577-583.
  • Applequist, W. L., & Moerman, D. E. (2011). Yarrow (Achillea millefolium L.): a neglected panacea? A review of ethnobotany, bioactivity, and biomedical research. Economic Botany, 65, 209-225. Georgieva, L., Gadjalova, A., Mihaylova, D., & Pavlov, A. (2015). Achillea millefolium L.-phytochemical profile and in vitro antioxidant activity. International Food Research Journal, 22(4).
  • Innocenti, G., Vegeto, E., Dall’Acqua, S., Ciana, P., Giorgetti, M., Agradi, E., … & Tomè, F. (2007). In vitro estrogenic activity of Achillea millefolium L. Phytomedicine, 14(2-3), 147-152.
  • Fierascu, I., Ungureanu, C., Avramescu, S. M., Fierascu, R. C., Ortan, A., Soare, L. C., & Paunescu, A. (2015). In vitro antioxidant and antifungal properties of Achillea millefolium L. Romanium Biotechnological Letters, 20(4), 10626-10636.
  • Sedighi, M., Nasri, H., Rafieian-kopaei, M., & Mortazaei, S. (2013). Reversal effect of Achillea millefolium extract on ileum contractions. Journal of HerbMed Pharmacology, 2(1), 5-8.
  • Zakeri, S., Gorji, N., & Moeini, R. (2019). Therapeutic application of Achillea millefolium L. in female reproductive diseases from the viewpoint of Persian medicine and current medicine. Journal of Medicinal Plants, 18(72), 107-121.
  • Strzępek-Gomółka, M., Gaweł-Bęben, K., & Kukula-Koch, W. (2021). Achillea species as sources of active phytochemicals for dermatological and cosmetic applications. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2021.
  • Dalili, A., Ebrahimnia Milani, S., Kamali, N., Mohammadi, S., Pakbaz, M., Jamalnia, S., & Sadeghi, M. (2022). Beneficial effects of Achillea millefolium on skin injuries; a literature review. Journal of Essential Oil Research, 34(6), 479-489.
  • Setzer, W. N. (2018). The phytochemistry of Cherokee aromatic medicinal plants. Medicines, 5(4), 121.
  • Tyagi, R., Sharma, G., Jasuja, N. D., & Menghani, E. (2016). Indian medicinal plants as an effective antimicrobial agent. J Crit Rev, 3(2), 69-71.
  • Bashir, S., Noor, A., Zargar, M. I., & Siddiqui, N. A. (2022). Ethnopharmacology, phytochemistry, and biological activities of achillea millefolium: a comprehensive review. Edible plants in health and diseases: volume II: phytochemical and pharmacological properties, 457-481.

Further herbal advice can be found here: Sanoanimal herbal advice for horse feeding

Team Sanoanimal