Heliotrope San Francisco

In Greek myth, the sea nymph Thetis, had lost several baby sons. When the seventh son was born, she was determined to protect this child. She snuck out of the home she shared with King Pelias and journeyed to the underworld to the River Styx. She  dipped her baby son Achilles into the magical waters of the  River Styx to make him immortal. She didn’t want to completely let go of him in the fast flow and held onto him just above one of his heel. He became immortal, with one vulnerable spot - his heel.

To the relief of the King, she returned home with the baby. Late that night, she crept out of bed, gathered Achilles from his cradle and placed him on the fire. King Pelias jumped out of bed and pulled Achilles from the flames. Queen Thetis, explained that the baby had been dipped in the flow of the River Styx and was impervious to the flame. The fire was to have completed the process and made him immortal. She left her husband and child and returned to the sea.

Sick with grief because his wife had abandoned him and their infant son, King Pelias journeyed with the baby to Mount Pelion. The infant  was given over to the care of the centaur Chiron. Born of the union between the Titan Cronus and the nymph Philyra, Chiron was unlike other centaurs. Centaurs - torso, arms and head of a man and body and legs of a horse - were known to be lustful, wild and uncivilized creatures. Chiron was an educator, a skilled astronomer, a healer, and an oracle.

Achilles was like a son to him and under Chiron’s tutelage, he became an accomplished warrior, skilled at music and skilled with medicinal plants. Achilles had a special affinity for Yarrow. He is reputed to have used yarrow to heal soldiers on the battlefields fighting for dominance of Troy. There is no historical evidence that links Achilles to yarrow, but for unknown reasons the association between the two took hold and is reflected in the plant’s name Achilea Millefolium.

Common yarrow under a tree

Spanning across North America, Europe and Asia, Yarrow is a native plant throughout the northern hemisphere. The plant has been used medicinally in every area where it grows. Traces of yarrow have been discovered on the teeth of a 50,000 year old Neanderthal found in what is now Spain. Scientists conjecture that, as it is bitter, the plant was eaten as medicine. It is not known exactly why our ancestor ate yarrow. In the past, bitter flavors were appreciated more than they are currently, and bitters were incorporated more regularly into the diet.

Dried yarrow stems were used to cast the I Ching and across cultures the plant has long been associated with divination. In some places, it was said that if yarrow was placed under your pillow, you would dream of your new lover. When hung on the bridal bed it was thought to ensure that love would last for seven years. From place to place, the lore is often contradictory. In many places it was thought to protect against evil spirits and to bring good luck, but in other places around the Christian west, it is associated with the devil and considered bad luck to bring into a house.

During the middle ages, it was a popular ingredient used to brew beer. The young, new leaves were eaten in salad into the 17th century.

The leaf and flower and tender parts of the young stalk are used medicinally. The leaves are easily recognized as they have a feathery appearance. The flowers can range from ivory to yellow to pink and many daisy-like, small flowers form an umbrella shape at the top of the stalk.

Close-up Yarrow leaves depicting feathery appearance.                                      Botanic drawing of Yarrow plant

The Yarrow leaf staunches the flow of blood and has been used on battlefields and to treat skin wounds in North America and in Europe for thousands of years. It is also good for wounds because it has some antimicrobial properties. The herb improves most systems of the body, in different parts of the world, it has been used to treat earaches, colds, and to increase body temperature when sickness is coming on, headaches, for women’s reproductive issues - both to quash heavy bleeding and stimulate sparse periods. It stimulates digestion, and has the dual action of toning the blood vessels at the same time as it dilates the capillaries which causes the blood to flow. One of the plant’s common names is ‘nosebleed’ and this provides an excellent example of this effect on the blood vessels. It can cause a nosebleed or stop the blood from flowing when one has a nosebleed. The leaves can be chewed to relieve the pain of a toothache.

In modern gardens and wild landscapes, it is commonly considered a weed, but as you can see, Yarrow has been effectively used as a healing herb across many applications for thousands of years.

For the skin, Yarrow as a tea will help to soothe skin irritations such as rashes or insect bites, and has been used to treat and calm eczema.

Yarrow is an astringent and can be helpful with balancing oily skin and for acne. It has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties which help to heal the skin infections that contribute to acne.

Yarrow helps to calm inflamed skin. As it helps to improve circulation, it has the effect of bringing blood to all of the layers of the skin. Yarrow will improve the effectiveness of anti-oxidant encouraged toxin removal by using the flow of blood to pull out the toxins from the skin.  

The infusion of yarrow in our Aloe & Comfrey Shave Gel helps to calm the skin and prevent inflammation from developing. The styptic properties of yarrow will help to heal any nicks and cuts that might happen while shaving.

Written by Jen Bator — March 27, 2017

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