Why “Yarrow is a Hit”: My Intuitive Hunch
I used to keep it quiet that I get intuitive hunches when working with clients. I thought it was commonplace to receive a picture in one’s mind of a specific formulation, supplement, essential oil, or herb when speaking with an individual. I later learned that it wasn’t necessarily something to discuss in mechanistic, conventional science circles. So, to prevent coming off as “woo-woo,” I had decided to keep it under wraps and “stick to the science” when I first started my wellness clinic.
Now, I have embraced these images that appear within my mind. I have learned to effortlessly incorporate them with my medical knowledge to help guide me to select what is best for my clients. It appears I’m not alone. Literature reveals that other physicians have reported that “non-analytic reasoning,” combined with clinical experience, is beneficial to how they practice.
What tends to happen to me now is that I will receive an image of a remedy, jot it down, and then research to explore the reason why the intervention may work. If the scientific mechanisms and clinical studies match, I move forward with the suggestion to my client. The results usually humble me, as I’ve come to believe that healing is more than just biochemical pathways and mechanistic manipulation of body organs.
What’s this have to do with yarrow?
Just recently, I got a nudge to explore yarrow oil for someone struggling with a dermatological issue.
I knew that the herb had healing properties for the skin, but yarrow? Really? I never used it…
Did the volatile compounds isolated from this plant by the steam distillation process contain something that could aid this person?
I’ve learned a lot from these messages that come “out of the blue” during a client consult.
So, I got really into “the weeds” on the details of yarrow (the herb) and yarrow essential oil.
I was pleasantly surprised to find out that yarrow (Achillea millefolium) oil did, in fact, possess soothing properties that could benefit skin health. It also had other characteristics that could be helpful for some other issues my client had.
This article is a summary of the research that I reviewed on yarrow and its essential oil. I desire to share it with you, so that you may also benefit.
Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium) Essential Oil’s Unique Makeup: At a glance
Yarrow is another “blend in a single oil,” which I tend to befriend frequently.
Remarkably, it contains many of the beneficial components found in chamomile, eucalyptus, copaiba, pine, frankincense, and citrus oils.
Below are the topics covered in the rest of the article regarding yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and its essential oil:
- Botanical information
- History and traditional uses for yarrow and yarrow essential oil
- Chemical makeup and other main constituents found in the herb and essential oil
- The mechanisms of action of yarrow oil’s compounds
- Applications for yarrow essential oil
- Potential uses of the oil
- Safety information
Yarrow Oils’ “Roots” (Yarrow’s Botanical Classification)
- Family: Asteracea (daisy)
- Genus: Achillea
- Species: Achillea millefolium
- Common Names: Yarrow, Devil’s nettle, Dog Daisy, Dog Fennel, Old Man’s Pepper, Yarroway, Woundwort, Thousandleaf, Western Yarrow, Milfoil, Angel flower
Achillea millefolium is a perennial plant that was said to be introduced to America from Europe in colonial times. Native to Europe, it has happily found a home in many temperate zones of the world.
Within the genus Achillea there are about 120–140 native herbs (species and subspecies) to the Northern hemisphere. Achillea lanulosa is a common species to North America, and is said to be practically identical to Achillea millefolium.
Traditional Uses of Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium)
- Digestive problems (relating to inflammation and spasms)
- Liver and gallbladder conditions
- Menstrual irregularities and bleeding issues
- Wound healing (externally, dried or powdered leaves)
- Appetite enhancer
- Varicose veins
- Respiratory issues (pneumonia)
The dark blue essential oil, extracted by steam distillation of the flowers, was historically used as an anti-inflammatory for chest colds and respiratory issues.
The Commission E is a scientific advisory board in Germany that analyzes, reviews, and standardizes traditional herbs. It is the oversight for proper approval of the use of herbals medicinally. The Commission E reports the following applications for yarrow:
- internal use for loss of appetite and digestive ailments
- externally, in the form of sitz bath or as a compress, against skin inflammation, slow healing wounds, and bacterial or fungal infections
The fragrance of yarrow essential oil is relaxing, calming, and uplifts mood.
It has been said to be a remedy for the “wounded warrior” and “wounded healer.”
Yarrow Herb’s Active Constituents
Variations in compounds have been found among the species and subspecies of yarrow. It’s secondary metabolites include flavonoids, phenolic acids, coumarins, terpenoids (monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, diterpenes, triterpenes), and sterols. Different parts of the plant are used for specific conditions based on the main active components within them.
A 2011 review article on yarrow states:
…a wide range of chemical compounds have been isolated, mainlyisovaleric acid, salicylic acid, asparagin, sterols, flavonoids, bitters, tannins, and coumarins.
Different parts of the plant have been used in traditional medicine…
The aerial parts of the plant are used for phlegm conditions, as a bitter digestive tonic to encourage bile flow, and as a diuretic.
The alkaloids extracted from the leaves of yarrow (Achillea millefolium) are reported to have anti-inflammatory and analgesic activity.
Achillea Millefolium (Yarrow) Essential Oil Compounds
The variability in yarrow essential oils’ composition is also widely recognized. In one analysis of 40 samples of A. millefolium, only 50% of them met the criteria for the European Pharmacopoeia (which regulates standards for drugs in Europe). These differences are likely related to the many species within Achillea, distillation methods, geographic location, and substitutions made in manufacturing.
Overall, the volatile oils of Achillea species contain plentiful monoterpenes; however, there are also reports on high levels of sesquiterpenes. It has been reported over 95–100 compounds have been found on its steam distillation. A 2004 research article comparing the compounds in different species of Achillea stated:
Among them, the largest number of components (149 compounds) were found in the oils of A. millefolium, A. pannonica and A. collina.
- Oxides: 1,8-cineole
- Esters: neryl acetate, benzyl benzoate, bornyl acetate
- Ketones: camphor, artemisia ketone
- Alcohols: borneol, geraniol, farnesol, linalol
- Monoterpenes: alpha and beta pinenes, limonene, sabinene
- Sesquiterpenes: chamazulene, beta-caryophyllene, germacrene D, terpin-4-ol, y-terpinene
- Lactone: artemisia lactone
One 2008 review states, “According to the literature the pharmacological effects are mainly due to the essential oil, proazulenes* and other sesquiterpene lactones, dicaffeoylquinic acids and flavonoids. Synergistic actions of these and other compounds are also supposed.”
Actions of Yarrow Essential Oils Compounds
As a class of compounds, sesquiterpenes possess calming properties. They may promote our health by protecting us from harmful microbes, acting as antioxidants, and assisting in cellular repair. There is also some evidence that these compounds can contribute to neurological health due to their ability to cross the blood-brain barrier.
Monoterpenes are within the terpene class. They are the main constituents of all the essential oils. They are attributed to many of the “anti-“actions of essential oils.
The diverse benefits of monoterpenes and their pharmacological actions can be summarized in the abstract below (bold emphasis and parenthesis mine):
Monoterpenes, the major components of essential oils, belong to the group of isoprenoids containing ten carbon atoms. Being widely distributed in the plant kingdom they are extensively used in cuisine and human health care products. Studies have shown that both natural monoterpenes and their synthetic derivatives are endowed with various pharmacological properties including:
antifungal, antibacterial, antioxidant, anticancer, antiarrhythmic (heart rhythm balancer), anti-aggregating, local anesthetic, antinociceptive (pain relieving), anti-inflammatory, antihistaminic and anti-spasmodic activities.
Monoterpenes act also as regulators of growth, heat, transpiration, tumor inhibitors, inhibitors of oxidative phosphorylation (a cellular metabolism pathway), insect repellants, feline and canine attractants and antidiabetics.
(Read more about terpenes here)
Distinct Actions of Specific Compounds in Yarrow Oil (Achillea Milliform)
limonene (a cyclic monoterpene) has evidence for its role in cellular repair, anti-proliferation of certain cell lines, metabolism, cholesterol balance, breast health, and wellness support.
a-and b-pinene (monoterpenes) have clinical data for supporting our defense and repair system and possess stress relieving effects.
Limonene and the pinenes are both phytoncides (aromatic molecules derived from trees). They play a role in reducing stress and improving health, as demonstrated in several studies regarding the benefits of “forest bathing.” Results indicated improvements in measurements of immune markers (white blood cells) and the stress hormone, cortisol.
1-8 cineol (oxide) is a constituent that dominants the makeup of many eucalyptus oils and is found in rosemary oil. It is known to be supportive for respiratory and lung health and is linked to cognitive function and memory.
chamazulene (a sesquiterpene) is a compound in chamomile species and has been found in vitro to be anti-inflammatory. It was also reported to decrease the production of oxidative stressors (via suppressing iNOS) that can cause cellular and biological havoc in the body. These actions may produce its reported pain-relieving properties. Chamazulene is the compound that is credited for promoting skin health. (It is also the component that tends to give certain essential oils their blue hue.)
beta-caryophyllene is a terpene (sesquiterpene) that is a dietary cannabinoid, most often associated with copaiba and black pepper. This compound interacts with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), an underappreciated regulator of a variety of biochemical processes and major functions of the body. One small study found that inhalation of beta-caryophyllene increased alpha and theta waves on a brain EEG. This helped to demonstrate its relaxing, antidepressant, and anti-anxiety effects.
Synergism and Essential Oils
The sum is greater than the isolated parts regarding the compounds found in plants. In other words, botanicals tend to provide more benefits than their isolated components. This is because the constituents in herbs and essential oils are designed to provide balance to our biochemistry. Unlike medications, which are meant to fuel, or block, a specific chemical pathway, essential oils intelligently move to the receptors in our body that need attention and display an “inner” knowing of what direction our molecular processes need to shift.
This concept is referred to as synergism.
Studies with Yarrow Oil
The following is an overview of some rodent and mechanistic studies with yarrow oil.
Ulcerative colitis (UC) in rodents – one study found, “Yarrow oil mitigated UC symptoms and regulated the inflammatory cytokines secretion via regulation of NF-KB and PPAR-a pathways in the mice model…”
Humoral immunity – high percentages of sesquiterpenes and the presence of proazulene in A. millefolium, were believed to account for beneficial effects on humoral immunity in a rodent study.
A review from The School of Aromatic Studies reported additional actions of yarrow oil, including:
Antifungal (skin) and Anti-parasiticidal: yarrow oil exhibited strong activity against skin fungus and parasites in a few studies:
Other research indicates the essential oil of various Achillea millefolium ssp. to have strong activity against dermatophytes (Falconieri et al., 2011) and antiprotozoal activity against parasites found in the blood and lymph such as Leishmaniasis caused by Leishmania amazonensis (Santos et al., 2010) and inhibits parasite growth in American trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness known as Chaga’s disease) (Santoro et al., 2007)
Skin Supporting: yarrow oil was reported to downregulate melanin and was effective on melanoma (skin cancer) cells. (The scientific mechanism, for the cerebral type, is via “suppressing tyrosinases activity through the regulation of c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) and extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) signaling pathways in melanocyte stimulating hormone (a-MSH) treated melanoma cells…”)
Antimicrobial: yarrow oil “showed antimicrobial activity against Streptococcus pneumoniae, Clostridium perfringens, Candida albicans, Mycobacterium smegmatis, Acinetobacter lwoffii and Candida krusei (Candan et al, 2003).”
Potential Uses of Yarrow Essential Oil
Based on its constituents and activity in laboratory studies, yarrow essential oil may be beneficial for the following applications:
Breast health– due to the clinical data on limonene and breast health.
Skin health – due to its ability to remedy skin fungus and its interaction with the melanin pathway. Yarrow oil extracts were also found to decrease inflammation and have positive benefits on skin pH in vivo.
Respiratory, Musculoskeletal, Gastrointestinal, Genitourinary, Gynecological, Circulatory, and Wellness Support – due to its antimicrobial, antiparasitic, antifungal, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-spasmodic components.
Common Suggested Applications of Yarrow Oil
Diffuse several drops of yarrow oil in your diffuser or inhale it from the bottle for its stress-relieving and cellular health properties.
Apply yarrow oil diluted to the skin for enhancing beauty, as needed for aches and pains, and overall body system support.
Safety/ Toxicity of Yarrow Oil
The School for Aromatic Studies reported:*
- Cautions (dermal route): Tisserand and Young (2014) suggest a dermal maximum 4.5%, Canada 3% (Health Canada) (Tisserand and Young, 2014).
- Cautions (oral route): Oral maximum 2 mg/kg/day.
In my experience from reading the literature, most safety issues with oils usually relates from using oils with isolated, high doses of singular compounds, improper use, and overdosage.
*Note: This link brings you to a dilution chart. About 5ml = 1 tsp. A 5% dilution would be about 5-7 drops of oil/tsp depending on how thick the oil is.
Summary on Yarrow Oil
I feel yarrow and its essential oil would be welcome additions to many individuals’ natural medicine toolkits.
- Yarrow, the herb, has the most evidence for skin and digestive health, according to the Commission E.
- Yarrow oil possesses many beneficial compounds that support a wide range of body systems. It contains constituents that benefit cellular health, act as antioxidants, are antimicrobial, and have inflammatory modulating properties.
I tend to incorporate it more into my practice.
Have you used yarrow oil? What are your results?
Naturopathic Medicine and Holistic Resources for Hormonal and Mood Support
- Free resources and more education on essential oils and mind-body wellness are available to you here.
- My online essential oils database.
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Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
Thanks Pixabay and Canva.