Yarrow: The Healer's Plant

It’s a beautiful February day, blue sky, melting snow and no hat on my head. I know it’s foolish, but I just can’t shake the feeling of spring. My mind keeps turning a greener time when flowers bloom, and I lay on the earth, listening deeply to Gaia’s many songs. Last summer, I listened to Yarrow’s song, I share it with you.


Yarrow is in bloom. It is growing tall in the meadows nearby. Its white umbrella of closely knit flowers hovers above the grass. In the mountains, yarrow grows stout amongst the wild sage and pearly everlasting. Down in the badlands it rises boldly from dry cracked earth, its grey white flowers enhancing the Monarda’s fuchsia.  In all these places, yarrow’s odour is pungent like that of a wild animal.

In my garden, Yarrow grows long. The umbrella of flowers is lacy, not the tightly compact economy of beauty of her wild sisters. The stems lack strength and lean into the St. John’s Wort. It has no scent. It is in the scent of Yarrow that one finds the medicine.

Native people feel harsh growing conditions make the medicine. This belief has now been confirmed by science. The medicine the plant yields to relieve the ills of humans, is the medicine it makes for itself. In the dry badlands I find the strongest yarrow. Yarrow’s pungent bitterness fills my body with warmth and carries with it the timelessness of the badlands. I feel strong. I am disappointed by the yarrow in my garden. Useless but for its beauty.
Matthew Wood, an American herbalist, says yarrow is the herb for the wounded healer. Yarrow’s history of healing wounds goes back to ancient Greece where it was carried into battle to staunch the bleeding of war. It is considered a warrior’s herb. When I read Matthew’s musings on yarrow, I was puzzled by the inherent contradiction between the healer and the warrior.  So I sought Yarrows story from the plant itself.

Clearly, Yarrow prefers wild places. The healer can not be too domestic or polite. The healer must be ready to discuss unpleasant sides of life openly with out embarrassment or judgement. The healer must be able to speak with kindness and confidence that which needs to be spoken and has been left unsaid. This makes the healer a little unpredictable and beyond societal norms. Or perhaps a better word, wild.

A healer must wake to her own life. If she has some wisdom she will accept the guidance of others but she knows that is not the same as waking to her life. She accepts her life with its dreams and disappointments, joys and sorrows, looses and blessings, scars and beauty. The healer’s medicine comes from her challenges. If she is raised in a garden she will have no scent.

Medicinally, one of yarrow’s properties is to bring blood to the periphery of the body. It in this way yarrow nourishes the whole body. In many ways this is the healer’s role: to
nourish the whole; to bring wholesomeness.

In these four ways: its ability to close up wounds, its fearlessness in the wild, making medicine in harsh conditions, and its ability to nourish the whole, Yarrow is the healer’s herb.
One more thing, Yarrows flowers reach directly for the sun. Yarrow’s flowers do not form a hierarchy like a spike or grow off to one side, like roses. They spread themselves open so each petal receives an equal amount of light. This is a humble way to grow. A healer, as she moves through life is humbled by the light she finds in so many. She knows a person who appears ordinary on the outside, is extraordinary on the inside. She is deeply moved by the light that shines through on the most difficult days at the most challenging times.
A healer cannot be a rose. She would get lost in her own beauty. She cannot be a timid violet or a towering valerian. St John’s is too soft and mellow. It is yarrow with her sturdy stem, understated flowers and pungent scent of the wild that is the healer’s plant.
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