Legend has it that yarrow (Achillea millefolium) was named after Achilles, the Greek mythical hero who used it to stop the bleeding wounds of his soldiers. Popular in European folk medicine, yarrow contains flavonoids, plant-based chemicals that increase saliva and stomach acid, helping to improve digestion. Yarrow may also relax smooth muscle in the intestine and uterus, which can relieve stomach and menstrual cramps.
Few scientific studies have looked at yarrow as an herbal medicine. Traditionally, it was used for three types of problems
- Applied to the skin for wounds and minor bleeding
- Taken by mouth to reduce inflammation, especially in the digestive tract
- To relieve anxiety or insomnia, as a sedative
Today, yarrow is sometimes suggested for the following uses, although there is a lack of scientific evidence:
- Loss of appetite
- Indigestion or heartburn
- As a diuretic, to increase urine flow
- Amenorrhea (irregular menstrual cycle)
- Menstrual cramps and pain
- Muscle spasms
- To fight infection
- Fever (brings temperature down through sweating)
- To reduce bleeding
- Wound healing
Yarrow, a member of the aster family, is closely related to chrysanthemums and chamomile. It flourishes in a sunny and warm habitat, and is frequently found in meadows and along roadsides, as well as on dry, sunny slopes. It grows as a simple, upright, and hairy stem, usually under 3 feet. Yarrow blooms between June and September. The flowers are typically white, but either pink or pale purple flowers are common in mountain areas. The petals are densely arranged in flattened clusters, and the leaves look like feathers. The plant spreads rapidly.
The flowers, leaves, and stems of the yarrow plant are used as medicine. Yarrow is collected while in bloom.
Yarrow is available in the following forms:
- Dried or fresh herb
- Capsules or tablets
- Liquid extracts
There have been no studies to see whether yarrow is safe for children, so it is not recommended for pediatric use. Talk to your child's health care provider before giving yarrow to a child.
Ask your health care provider to help you determine a dose.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider.
If you are allergic to plants in the aster family (chrysanthemums, daisies, and ragweed), you may be allergic to yarrow, either taken by mouth or applied to the skin.
Yarrow may make your skin more sensitive to sunlight.
Pregnant women should not take yarrow, because its ability to relax the smooth muscle of the uterus could cause miscarriage. At least one study found that yarrow was associated with reduced fetal weight in rats. Other studies have shown an increase in the percentage of abnormal sperm among male rats treated with yarrow extract.
No studies have been done to know whether yarrow is safe in breastfeeding women. If you are nursing, talk to your health care provider before taking yarrow.
Because of the potential for side effects and interactions with medications, dietary supplements should be taken only under the supervision of a knowledgeable health care provider.
Yarrow may interact with the following medications:
Blood-thinning medications -- High doses of yarrow may slow down blood clotting. If taken with medications that thin the blood, such as aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix), and warfarin (Coumadin), it may raise the risk of bleeding.
Lithium -- Yarrow may increase the amount of lithium in the body, leading to dangerous levels.
Medications to reduce stomach acid -- Because yarrow may increase the production of stomach acid, it can interfere with both over-the-counter and prescription drugs, including:
- Cimetidine (Tagamet)
- Famotidine (Pepcid)
- Ranitidine (Zantac)
- Esomeprazole (Nexium)
- Omeprazole (Prilosec)
- Lansoprazole (Prevacid)
Medications for high blood pressure -- Yarrow may lower blood pressure slightly, and could make the effects of prescription drugs taken to lower blood pressure stronger.
Drugs that cause sleepiness -- Because yarrow is a mild sedative, it can increase the effects of other drugs you take for anxiety or sleepiness. These include:
- Anticonvulsants, such as phenytoin (Dilantin)
- Benzodiazepines, such as alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium)
- Drugs for insomnia, such as zolpidem (Ambien), zaleplon (Sonata), eszopiclone (Lunesta), ramelteon (Rozerem)
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