Wild in the City: Foraging Fridays

this week:

Achillea Millefolium: yarrow, soldier's woundwort, thousand-leaf, milfoil, old man's pepper, nosebleed plant

Achillea Millefolium
Common Yarrow

my morning got off to a rough start. i awoke feeling exhausted, on all levels, with an even deeper sense of depletion from the good work of the week and also the challenges of holding what is happening in the gulf of mexico. i can be blindsided by grief for the earth sometimes, and this morning was one of those times. an article about the continuing peril of the polar bears, how they are now turning to cannibalism as ice shrinks and they can’t reach food, was all it took to send me stumbling down the spiral staircase into despair. and all this within the first 15 minutes upon opening my eyes. as the emotional waves subsided, i tuned into the creations of the day, and wondered what foraged beauty was asking to be shared with you. i remembered my friend the yarrow, who is in fine bloom right now all over the city and surrounding hills, one plant of which is right next door in the garden. i thought of the way she can staunch wounds, and i felt my bleeding heart. i remembered her as a flower essence, and the way she strengthens boundaries, giving sustenance for spiritual depletion. and i thought of her feathery leaves and graceful presence, and knew she would be stepping forward to you today.

a quick disclaimer, longer than my usual “make your own choices”. yarrow has a deep and varied history as a powerful herbal medicine. she has many qualities and uses, too vast for me to cover in my little blog today. i also will be sharing the ways that i am using yarrow right now, but this is for sharing only, not a tutorial. also, yarrow looks very similar to several other highly poisonous plants in the water hemlock family, so please do not ingest yarrow unless you are sure that’s what it is!


the leaves of the yarrow are the best for identifying it. feathery, delicate and dissected, it is where it gets one of its names “milfoil” or “millefolium” meaning thousand leaf.

feathery and so lovely
you can see how the leaves are arranged spirally down the stem

the flower grows in a flat topped cluster…what appears to be one flower is made up of lots of little flowers.

i grew a bouquet for you

Where to find it:

yarrow is native to the northern hemisphere (hooray!) and here in SF i have found it in gardens, in empty lots, on dunes and on trails in the marin headlands. it’s common, thank goodness.

beach bum yarrow

Medicinal Parts and What does it taste like:

both the leaves and the flowers are used, with the most intense medicinal properties considered to be in the flowering tops. however, in my newly acquired book,

(that i am ever so excited about) chumash healer cecilia garcia says, “we take our medicine softly and neutrally. sucking on a yarrow leaf gives the proper dose that the body can absorb. suck on it until it loses it’s flavor. ”

which is what i am doing right now. at first it was a little icky since the leaves are feathery and i had to tell my overactive imagination that it was not, indeed, caterpillar feet. now i would say that the closest comparison i could give you is that it tastes a little bit like sage. try it yourself…the leaves are edible. i am taking it right now for headache and pain relief.

the flower tops are frequently used in a tincture. i decided to make one this morning.

clip the flower heads and a couple of leaves into a jar.
i snipped the bits into smaller...bits...so that they could snuggle better in the jar.
i covered the bits in alcohol (vodka) and will cap the jar and store for 6-8 weeks, at which time i will strain and voila! tincture.

this tincture i will use to fight off oncoming colds, since yarrow kills bacteria internally. you can also use the tincture externally as an insect repellant. i would mix tincture and water in at least a 1/2 and 1/2 ratio in a little spritzer bottle, and then apply to your skin. so the skeeters won’t eat yer.

yarrow has many many many more uses and properties. for an introduction, check out the wikipedia page.

also, susun weed has a great tutorial on making herbal tinctures, plus the uses of yarrow. also, if you’ve never made friends with susun weed’s wisdom, i invite you to do so. she’s the bees knees.

Uses and How to Harvest:

as with all native plants, harvest only if the plant is robust, the leaves and flowers are many, and you can take a little without leaving a trace.

i mentioned already that yarrow has multiple uses, including fighting colds, healing wounds and abrasions (topically), as a diuretic, pain reliever, fever reducer and nose-bleed inducer! it gets its latin name Achillea since Achilles was said to have been given it by Chiron, who encouraged him to use it to treat battle wounds.

you know, my headache is gone and i feel a lot less weary and world worn than i did when i awoke this morning. thank you, yarrow.

The Disclaimer:

think with your stomach! do not ingest wild plants unless you are sure you have identified them correctly and are willing to take responsibility for using yourself as a guinea pig. it is SO not my responsibility if you eat the wrong thing and get poopy pants, or die. you’re an adult. you can make your own choices.

have a great weekend and a magical new moon in gemini!


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