Updated: May 9
Yarrow the wonder herb that could save your life!
Let us face it; Flint knapping is a blood sport. If you play enough with sharp things, it's not so much ‘if ‘ you will get cut, but when, and how badly.
When that happens, most of us will have a first aid kit to hand, but sometimes a modern plaster needs a bit of extra help. My Go-to is a very common little plant called Yarrow. It grows in sunny, usually well-drained places in amongst the grass. loves lawns, verges and village greens. Its Feathery leaves have been synonymous with powerful healing properties for thousands of years, and for evidence of that you need only look at its Latin name; Achillea Millefolium. ( Achilles Thousand leaf’)
"Historians agree that the herb described as the one Achilles uses to treat his men is this one, and so it was named after him."
It is one of the first medicinal plants I dabbled with... tentatively treating the cuts from my first attempts at flint knapping and even one or two more serious injuries. It really and truly is amazing. As a test, when a cut from a sharp bracken stem sliced across two fingers I dressed both, but only put yarrow on one. By the next day, the Yarrow cut had healed down and fused back together so securely I had to look closely to spot where it had been. The other cut took about 4 days to reach a similar level of healing and therein lies one of its key uses;
It has been shown (in proper lab tests) to speed up ‘ the granulation of tissue’ by an impressive amount- something I can attest to from my own use of this plant. But that’s not all.
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Yarrow has another property; it stops bleeding and helps to clot. So if a cut is bleeding a lot (even small flint cuts bleed disproportionately heavily, and are a nuisance) an application of fresh or dried yarrow will stop it more quickly. And help for a strong artificial scab that protects the wound in the early stages when the healing tissue is delicate. Now.. you might say “ OK small cuts are one thing, but what about really serious stuff” Leaving aside that this has been a woundwort at least since battles were fought by big blokes hacking each other to death with Bronze swords…. I once use this to treat a traumatic amputation, and it saved a life. (A quail, but still!)
I went out to feed the quails one morning and noticed immediately that something was wrong, there was blood everywhere, the birds seemed unusually fearful and twitchy, all except for one who was standing in the middle, eyes half-closed, rocking unsteadily… With his entire wing… Gone.
Something had managed to spook them, the wing must’ve got stuck between the bars of the cage, and had been bitten off leaving a ragged stump, and a nub of bone. I was pretty convinced he was a goner but decided to try anyway. I grabbed him from the cage and ran into the house. There was nothing I could bandage.. the stump of the wing was sitting in a dip so it was hard to get pressure on it, His feet had turned white ( from shock ) but he still wouldn’t let me bandage him- (with a wad of bandage to apply pressure over the injury) Because it would have disabled his legs and remaining wing. In the end I dug out the tiny pot of dried ground yarrow that always lives in my first aid kit and dropped a pinch onto the still-bleeding ‘shoulder’.
It stopped, within seconds. ...We are talking about an arterial injury.
Despite the fact that he had a bone sticking out of his body (I tried to trim it down, with a file, but unsurprisingly he really didn’t like that) it healed with no complications, no infection and within 6 days, I was able to put him back with his ladies. And therein lies another great property of yarrow, it helps wounds heal quick AND CLEAN. A word of caution though; it is SO EFFECTIVE, that if there is a foreign body in the wound, the Yarrow will cause the wound to heal SO fast, the object ( a shard of flint, a hair, anything) to become trapped inside- It is then likely to cause an abscess or a deep grumbling infection- annoying and potentially dangerous. So make sure the cut is clean. And DO NOT use on dirty cuts such as saw injuries, or splinters.
I ended up having to Reopen a week-old cut on my face- I realised too late that the cut, caused by a flying shard of flint, actually still had a 7mm shard of flint in it! The initial swelling had disguised it, and the shard had spun in like a boomerang and travelled a cm or so from the entry would… ( thankfully that is a very uncommon occurrence- but common enough to persuade you to wear goggles)
If you want to Use make use of this wonder herb, the easiest way is dried. A little goes a long way. Pick the long feathery leaves in amongst long grass- the leaves will be longer, more efficient to pick. Dry them slowly, in the dark to preserve as much good stuff as possible then powder it and put it in some sort of small pot in your first aid kid or rucksack. Do be aware it can look a bit suspect, particularly to the averagely bored ( and idiotic ) airport security person, so be careful, or you may find yourself in a small room answering tricky questions! You can also make a general purpose cure-all all salve for minor injuries- classic ingredients are comfrey ( for sprains, strains and bruises), Plantain for bites, stings and infections, and marigold petals ( also for infection).
Together these 4 make a brilliant pocket panacea. If you get caught out, you can also just pick the plant, chop or mash it (or chew it!) and throw it straight on the wound then apply pressure and dress it as usual. In the wild, where a small cut can lead to a potentially life threatening infection, Yarrows abilities to help a would heal quick and clean are real potential lifesavers.
Other uses for this amazing herb!!
Yarrow is occasionally mentioned as a potherb, and I have seen people including it in salads. Personally, I am a bit uneasy about eating something that is so powerfully medicinal, and its tough texture and spicy taste don’t really appeal to me. I can’t find anything that suggests it's dangerous to do so, but it's just not worth it- there are many far tastier greens. The only contraindication I can find is that it MAY cause miscarriage or be dangerous in pregnancy. This is because of another property, which we can use to our advantage;
Yarrow has ‘antispasmodic’ properties. It acts on ‘smooth muscle’ a type of muscle present in the gut, the uterus ( hence the concerns about taking it during pregnancy). I have used it, (sparingly ) in teas to help with bad stomach upsets including those caused by food intolerances and period cramps ( even hangovers).
Because I’ve always used it with other herbs it's hard to say how much of an effect it had, but the combined action of the herbs has always made a noticeable difference. Now we are getting towards the best time of year to collect this plant- look in among long grass where the leaves will be much longer and more efficcient to pick.