Yarrow tincture is a simple alcohol extract with a number of uses, both internally and externally.
I had the opportunity to test our yarrow’s renowned blood-stopping ability first hand, and it does indeed work quickly.
A few years ago I was at a primitive skills class at the Roots School here in Vermont, learning to make flint knapped arrowheads for primitive arrows. I was loving the class, and really getting into my creation when my tool slipped suddenly.
A sharp shard embedded itself into my wrist, and immediately started gushing blood.
Before I could even react the person sitting next to me pulled out a spray bottle of yarrow tincture from the homemade buckskin bag at her feet. (That’s one of the awesome things about ancestral skills classes, someone always has a homemade tool/salve/etc right at hand with them just in case.)
I pulled the shard out, and she sprayed the cut. We both watched as the wound puckered up instantly and the bleeding stopped even before she applied pressure.
That, my friends, was like watching magic first hand. No wonder they call yarrow “herba militaris” in the ancient world! I can imagine how life-changing a patch of this would be during wartime.
From then on, yarrow tincture has been in my medicine cabinet, though through years of good luck I haven’t needed it often, besides the occasional skinned knee on my rambunctious children.
In the meantime, I’ve also learned that yarrow tincture has wonderful internal benefits, so now there’s both a spray bottle and an amber dropper bottle in my medicine cabinet.
Benefits of Yarrow Tincture
For many, many thousands of years, the medicinal benefits of yarrow have been used to treat an array of ailments.
In fact, I was just reading about how, in 2012, an archaeological team analyzed the dental tartar on 50,000-year-old teeth found in a cave in Northern Spain and found traces of plant material. As it turns out, yarrow was ingested by Neanderthals and, because of its bitter taste, may have even been used medicinally.
Yarrow makes frequent appearances throughout history. There’re references to yarrow in classical Greek mythology (its genus name, Achillea, comes from the story of Achilles, who carried yarrow with him in order to treat his soldier’s wounds).
There’s also plenty of recorded evidence to show that yarrow was used medicinally as well as in beer-making throughout the Middle Ages. The fact that yarrow has so many benefits and is, for the most part, so easy to find, makes it such a valuable addition to any first-aid kit.
As my flint-shard story above demonstrated, yarrow is an extremely effective styptic (a styptic is any type of astringent herb that stops bleeding). Not only does yarrow stop the bleeding, but it also works in several different ways to speed up the wound-healing process as a whole.
Yarrow helps prevent infection, is a natural analgesic, and reduces inflammation (Source).
For all of these same reasons, yarrow tincture is perfect when used externally to treat minor burns, cuts, bruises, and insect bites.
Yarrow tincture may also be taken internally for a variety of issues.
Yarrow contains bitter flavonoids, which are appetite-stimulating aromatic compounds that encourage saliva and bile production for healthy digestion. Its anti-inflammatory properties also help soothe gut inflammation, which can cause upset stomach or heartburn.
A tincture made from yarrow flowers provides rapid relief from congestion or cough from a cold or the flu when rubbed into the chest. When taken internally, yarrow facilitates sweating and acts an immune-booster, both actions that help your body get better, faster.
Taken as a tincture or a tea, yarrow is a powerful anti-spasmodic that can be used to alleviate painful menstrual cramping and any intestinal distress that goes with it.
Avoid taking yarrow while pregnant; by causing the smooth muscle lining of the uterus to contract, it could cause an accidental miscarriage.
Yarrow should be avoided if you have an allergy to plants in the Asteraceae family (like daisies, ragweed, marigolds, or sunflowers).
If you have a bleeding disorder, check with a health practitioner before using yarrow — in some cases it can prevent blood from clotting.
Harvesting Yarrow for Tincture
The best possible time to harvest wild yarrow is on a warm and sunny day, around mid-morning when the dew has evaporated off the leaves and flowers, but before the plant begins to droop under the hot sun. As with any foraging expedition, make sure you have permission to gather yarrow and that the plants haven’t been sprayed.
To harvest yarrow, cut the stems about halfway down the stem. The flowers should be open and healthy-looking, avoid plants with brown, sad-looking blooms. At this point, you can dry the yarrow or, as I like to do for tinctures, use it after being freshly picked.
If you don’t have any wild yarrow close by, you can also purchase dried yarrow flowers to use for making tinctures. Dried plant material has a maximum shelf life of two years, so if you already have dried yarrow at home make sure it’s relatively fresh.
Once you have yarrow, there are so many things you can do with it, both food and medicine. This list of 50+ ways to use yarrow only barely scratches the surface. Once you start using yarrow, I bet yarrow tincture won’t be the only way you put yarrow to use!
How to Make Yarrow Tincture
Making a tincture at home requires very little in the way of equipment and ingredients. Essentially, all you’ll need is a jar with a tight-fitting lid, a funnel, cheesecloth, and vodka.
For the jar, I recommend using a mason jar made with amber glass. A regular mason jar will work fine, but amber glass helps to block out sunlight and preserve the potency of the tincture. It’s no problem at all if you end up using a clear glass mason jar, you’ll just need to make sure you keep it stored in a dark place.
When it’s time to decant the tincture, a basic funnel lined with a few layers of cheesecloth will work beautifully.
I like to use Smirnoff vodka as the menstruum when I make tinctures (a menstruum is the term for the liquid in a tincture). It isn’t expensive, it has a clean taste, and it always produces excellent results.
You can use any type of ethyl alcohol that’s at least 40 percent (or 80 proof ) alcohol such as brandy, gin, or rum. You don’t want to go any lower than this since you need the alcohol to act as an antibacterial agent, otherwise there’s more of a potential for spoilage.
Never use rubbing alcohol (also known as isopropyl alcohol) for making tinctures as it’s toxic to ingest.
If you don’t want to use alcohol, you can make another kind of herbal extract called a glycerite tincture with food-grade vegetable glycerin. The method is pretty much exactly the same, and I’ve included instructions in the notes section of the recipe card below.
Traditionally, tinctures made with yarrow leaves are used externally, think cuts, burns, and bug bites, whereas tinctures made with yarrow flowers are taken internally for cold and flu symptoms. I sometimes just combine the leaves and flowers to make a multi-use tincture in a single bottle.
While I’m on the subject of bottles, I always store finished tinctures in amber glass bottles that have a dropper. Tincture dosages are measured by the dropperful, which takes out all the guesswork, and the amber glass helps preserve and protect the contents of the bottle.
To make a tincture with fresh yarrow leaves and flowers, roughly chop or grind up the plant matter — the more surface area that’s exposed the more potent the finished tincture will be. Fill a clean mason jar about 3/4 of the way full with chopped yarrow, resisting the urge to pack the jar too tightly.
Completely cover the yarrow with vodka, or your choice of high-proof alcohol, and seal the jar with a lid.
If you’re using dried yarrow flowers, you’ll only need to fill the jar 1/2 way full. Dried plant material is very concentrated when compared to fresh material and it absorbs liquid efficiently, which results in expansion as the tincture sits.
Store developing tinctures in a cool, dry place away from light. Every couple of days, give the jar a gentle shake. If you notice the alcohol level lowering, add a bit more until the yarrow is completely covered again. The alcohol prevents mold growth from occurring, so keep a close eye on it throughout the process.
Tinctures need about 6 to 8 weeks to develop before they’re at full strength. Although it might be tempting to strain earlier, that extra time will ensure you’re rewarded with an effective, super-potent tincture.
When it’s time to strain your yarrow tincture, the process is easy.
Simply line a funnel with cheesecloth, or if you aren’t working with particularly fine yarrow particulates, you can just use a fine mesh strainer. If using a funnel, strain the tincture directly into a glass bottle, squeezing the remaining plant material to remove every single last drop of liquid.
Alternatives to Yarrow Tincture
You don’t have to wait 6 weeks to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of yarrow, if you have fresh yarrow available you can quickly make a poultice to use for external wounds.
Fresh yarrow leaves can be ground into a paste and applied directly to the skin in the event of cuts or burns. If you’re out on a hike or away from the campsite, you can even partially chew the leaves with your teeth until a rough paste is formed, although full disclosure: the leaves will be very bitter.
To keep the poultice in place, cover it with a length of gauze or muslin and secure with a loose knot.
Keep this powerful and easy-to-make yarrow tincture on hand for cuts, burns, cold symptoms, and menstrual cramps.
- Fresh or dried yarrow flowers and leaves, roughly chopped
- Vodka or other high-proof alcohol (*see notes for making a glycerite tincture)
- Pint mason jar (or any other jar with a tight-fitting lid)
- Dark amber dropper bottles
- Adhesive label or masking tape (for labelling tincture)
- Fill a clean, empty mason jar 3/4 full of fresh yarrow leaves and flowers or 1/2 full of dried yarrow flowers.
- Cover the fresh or dried yarrow with alcohol, making sure the contents of the jar are completely covered.
- Screw the lid on tightly and gently shake the contents of the jar. Place in a cool, dry location away from light, allowing the extraction to occur over the next 6 to 8 weeks.
- Give the contents of the jar a gentle shake every couple of days.
- Keep an eye on the alcohol level, adding more alcohol to cover the plant material if needed.
- Once the tincture is ready to be decanted, line a funnel with cheesecloth and place the tip of the funnel into the neck of a dark amber glass bottle. Pour the solvent and the yarrow leaves and flowers into the cheesecloth-lined funnel, pressing to make sure all of the liquid makes into the bottle.
- Label the tincture with its contents, date of production, recommended dosages, and suggested usages. Store in a cool, dry area away from light.
*To make a glycerite tincture: cover the plant material completely with a preparation of 3 parts glycerin to 1 part distilled water. As the glycerite tincture develops, it will need to be shaken every day.
Ways to Use Yarrow
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Homemade Herbal Remedies
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