Saturday, 18 September 2010

Herbs for Resilience - Yarrow

Note 6th July 2013: I'm excited to be contributing a plant medicine/herbs for resilience walk this August at the final Uncivilisation festival organised by The Dark Mountain Project in Hampshire. Maybe I'll see you there!

On the way to the Greenpeace Celebration Gig, I was struck by all the yarrow plants growing along the roadsides. There seem to be more than ever this year.

Although you could mistake this handsome, sturdy plant for an umbellifer (carrot family) at first glance, it is in fact a bold member of the sunflower tribe, which springs up again and again when it's been cut down.

The very first plant tincture I made was of Yarrow back in 1999 at Midsummer, from plants growing outside Christchurch College in Oxford. I still have one of the bottles.

Making that first tincture was really exciting. I immersed myself in everything about it. From finding the plants and choosing the best time and place to pick them to tasting the leaves and smelling the flowers. Should I use vodka or brandy? Vodka. It's stronger with a cleaner taste. Okay. Now remember to shake the jar every other day. Two weeks later I proudly decanted my yarrow tincture into several brown medicine bottles.

Throughout the ages Yarrow has been used to staunch wounds (its Latin name, Achillea millefolium, refers to the great warrior Achilles), stop nosebleeds, and in China to make divination sticks for the I-Ching. These days it also fights allergies, colds and flu and strengthens the immune system. It can also help with stress.

Several years ago I went to the Indian Embassy in London to get a visa for what would turn out to be my last plane journey. After hours of driving at dawn, tubes, queuing and waiting in the packed and chaotic visa office I got back to Suffolk totally exhausted around ten at night.

Those were pre-Transition days when I had less fossil-fuel awareness and more money and took more baths. I also had a bottle of Yarrow essential oil (not a fossil fuel but very expensive). Just one drop in the hot water got the azulenes going! Both Yarrow and Chamomile contain these compounds which turn their oils an extraordinary blue. The effect was immediate. All the stress left my body. I was restored.

In these downshifted, downsized days of infrequent bathing Yarrow is still one of the main stalwarts of my herbal medicine cupboard, mostly the dried herb for tea (the azulenes are activated by hot water in infusions so you don't need the expensive oil!).

Recently I discovered a patch of ground at the back of the local community centre, full of pink and white yarrow. Joan told me no one had ever put any chemicals down there, so I collected some, dried it in a brown paper bag in the airing cupboard for three days, then chopped up the flowers, leaves and stalks and had my first cup. It was fresh and fragrant in a way you don't find even in the best teas bought from shops. I felt I was being strengthened from the inside out.

For a resilient winter tea
Add equal amounts of dried elderflowers and yarrow to a pot with a pinch of peppermint. Infuse for at least five minutes. Drink. And be bold.

Pics: pink yarrow flowers 2010; Midsummer yarrow tincture 1999 and dried yarrow herb 2010; picking yarrow 2010

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