Yarrow – A Journey Home
With legions of feather-like leaves and coherent clusters of small flowers which are somewhat reminiscent of the phenomenally organised nature of bees and their hives, I have been persistently guided by Yarrow to find my way home. And you may ask, where is your home? One of those simple questions that may be responded to with reflective questions before getting to the answers. Answers as in plural. So very often, what we would have been hoping for while formulating the right answer, just does not come down to a simplified easy-to-draw one single matter. In this run of attempts, I evoke the spirit of Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), who has been that Master healer plant accompanying my decades of journeys on lands, both newly found and re-discovered, to help me co-share our experiences together.
The article was originally written for and published in the issue 2021/4 of Aromatika Magazin, an online publication to support holistic living, the practice and professional education of aromatherapy, phytotherapy, naturopathy and related subjects. My special thanks and gratitude goes to Gergely Hollódi, editor-in-chief of this beautifully constructed aromatherapy periodical, and for his always encouraging support. Hope you would enjoy this post here. The original copy of the electronic magazine is available for download from the website of Aromatika Magazin.
When did I start searching for answers? I am not sure about that, but what I am certain by now is that our lives are intrinsically planted around the dynamics of questions and answers. Doubts, insecurities, fears, and pain may be blockers just as well as initiators to identify and address problems and come up with incredible solutions on our paths. We like it or not, we all go through a good deal of very uncomfortable feelings in life. It turns out that most of us remain unconscious of how these emotional elements play out as early as childhood and may lead to unresolved issues in our adult lives. In fairy tales and indigenous cultures, it is common for human beings to travel and seek advice from human elders, plant teachers and other guides from Earth and Sky. In ordinary life, people with high sensitivity tend to be more often than others called to engage in their personal quest. Bringing their knowledge back to fellow humans may become a mission of life that transforms a self-healing journey into an offering and profound personal contribution to society.
A bloody good story
The chronicle of Yarrow comes with a lot of blood. Coming from the Asteraceae family and being native to temperate climate regions, Yarrow grows wild across Europe, North America and Asia. The plant has been there since ancient times and is referred to by several names such as nosebleed plant, sanguinary, and soldier’s woundwort, to name but a few. According to Greek mythology, Yarrow’s ancestors were there out on the battlefields of the Trojan War to help the great warrior Achilles and his soldiers heal their wounds. And so, the genus was later named after him.
My personal story with Yarrow came with a lot of blood too. After having had lived through many chapters, I shifted and lifted the weight of its trauma and began to think of it as A bloody good story. It actually took me years of journeying through forests and jungles, mountains and meadows, deserts and sea, until I started to acknowledge the significance of my achievements, as well as the feeling that I am/this is part of something bigger. As big as the matrix itself, I can only o er you some highlights from my story in this aromatic assignment. I will try to organise my selections into an explorational tasting menu from the cookbook of the Goods.
Right from the beginning, excess menstrual bleeding started at the age of thirteen, and it was not until I became twenty-nine that the cause of my extreme pain and suffering was diagnosed. Endometriosis is most often than not a hugely painful and troublesome condition relative to the female reproductive system. It is characterised by travelling tissues that normally line the inside of the uterus (and called the endometrium). Yet, these tissues get invasive and grow into other areas, commonly on the ovaries, bowel, the whole pelvic cavity, and even beyond. After years of guesswork, laparoscopic surgery, many trials and errors in medical treatments, I started to wake up. I decided to take my power back and lead my own exploration with the help of alternative, complementary therapies. Shame on me or shame on our health and education system, but the fact is that only when I was approaching 37 that I get in-depth teaching about my endocrine system, the cyclic nature and substantial influencers of the hormonal and reproductive characteristics. Just another wake-up call how everything is connected in the highly sophisticated complex of this home we call body. And how do we define the body? Sadly, we still easily discount the now scientifically re-authorised ancient knowledge that we have several body layers. To be more precise, the energetic fields of the physical body, also referred to as the aura, are divided into physical, astral and spiritual planes and several sublayers. Modalities as bioenergetics, botanical medicine and aromatherapy can support these systems on many levels to balance and harmonise the triangle of body, mind and soul, consequently creating a hugely positive impact on our health and wellbeing.
Finding Yarrow in Hungary
I had a few years of patchwork and studies behind me already, but sitting on the school bench in Yarrow’s class year 2009, a whole new world opened for the possibilities of plants and healing work. I got a lot of assignments, such as finding high-quality organic herbs to be used internally (such as herbal teas, technically called infusions) and externally, such as for poultices and regular full-body baths. It came with Saturday outings at the farmers market and a quest for reliable suppliers, technical datasheets, material safety data sheets, and certificates of analysis to get to know the origin and composition of essential oils I was about to use in the treatment plan customised for me. Just over twelve years ago in Hungary (and worldwide), the market looked very different from how it is today, and things were not so easily accessible. The knowledgeable therapist I worked with at the time was basically teaching me about what we were doing, literally empowering me to be able to take part and responsibility in my own healing process. And with a few tips and hints, finding Yarrow was relatively easy. In fact, if it was an international contest and I had to delegate one aromatic plant for Hungary, that would be Yarrow. Chances are that wherever you live in the world, checking out imported and adequately labelled, genuine pure essential oil bottles, you could find that your precious blue oil comes from Hungary through the distribution channels of several well-known aromatherapy companies.
When the flowering Yarrow plants are distilled, they yield a beautiful blue-coloured essential oil that can vary in shade from pale light blue to magical cobalt blue. The colour has to do with the most important component of the herb called matricin that due to heat during the distillation process will transform and biosynthetize into another component we call chamazulene. The same component can be found in German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) and beyond colour, they share some of the characteristics of the scent profile. When you first smell Yarrow essential oil, you may have this look of “I may know you, but to be honest, I am not entirely sure if we met before.” The smell of Achillea millefolium is pretty distinctive yet may not be attractive to everyone for the first time, and here is what Suzanne Catty has to say about it: “The smell of the blue essential oil is potent, intensely herb-like, sweet but with a sour edge like old balsamic vinegar; somewhere in the middle of the smell you can tell it comes from a flower, but it is not oral and it reminds one of wild places and open fields in summer. Yarrow hydrosol is… well, it’s a bit stinky, really. One client described it as puppy breath. There is absolutely nothing flowery in the odor, but if you can bring yourself to get past its scent, yarrow hydrosol is one of the most versatile tools for gaining and maintaining health.”
Indeed, in its many various extracted forms such as essential oil, hydrolat, herbal tea, tincture or else, Yarrow is one of the most powerful natural remedies on Earth and so it happens to grow in abundance in my home country, Hungary. More about that later, let me just come back to the healing properties of Yarrow for a short overview.
A quick look at therapeutics
What makes Yarrow an amazing wound healer is characterised by its powerful anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. Its essential oil is antimicrobial, astringent, haemostatic, and cicatrisant. Cicatrisant means that it helps our organism to replace the destroyed or damaged tissue with newly produced one, a great act in the cell regeneration process that Yarrow so willingly fosters. Like a good witch, she would inform the homeostasis in the body, different ways in the various organ systems. The plant in her many forms is expectorant, antipyretic and diaphoretic, and traditionally used for the treatments of common cold and digestive issues, loss of appetite and gastrointestinal spasm.
I hardly took any medication in my life, but I was regularly on top painkillers as a young woman. That was to make life more bearable in the cyclical repetition of menstruation pain and mysterious mid-cycle gastrointestinal cramps. Better late than never, some years after my fate had come to bring me on my knees and into the emergency clinic. I nally started to learn about the endocrine glands, and amongst many other things, how herbs like Yarrow can gently but powerfully influence our hormonal system. In alliance with many other plants, they take part in healing in complexity and become our fellow agents of change with serious life-compromising issues like endometriosis and several related conditions like menorrhagia, or even the opposite amenorrhea (the abnormal absence of menstruation). Yarrow being an antispasmodic is just another one from a list of properties that makes her praised, while looking at the circulatory system, we certainly mention others such as being useful for hemorrhoids, thrombosis, hypertension, and as a vasodilator.
I cannot spread the word enough how much sitz-baths are so underestimated. They are sadly forgotten but worth much more than anything for nasty painful pelvic cramping. And it is as with meditation, if you don’t have time for it, that’s probably when you need it most… As part of the healing process comes the actual time you spend on your own self-care, which would help you reverse and come back up from even the most hopeless situations. This is how and when a woman as a bleeding rose may become a blossoming rose.
While this writing is not about my healing journey from endometriosis in a natural way, these are interrelated, and not bringing the subject up would be both a lie and neglect for a great deal of medication that needs to be shared and delivered to inform and inspire others. Enough to say, 2009 and 2013 were yet the most significant cornerstones in my life journey. By the latest, I fully recovered, majorly transformed and decided to open a brand new chapter in life: starting a new journey in the Mediterranean Greek island of Crete. And there, I found my natural and spiritual home.
Attachments, detachments and re-connection
Although Yarrow has always been with me in spirit, we lost track of sight for the next couple of years. It was just such a blast finding myself on Crete. A fairy-tale with lots of adventures. Fully aromatic, while spiritual in nature, that led me to embrace being in my body. Being in nature grounded me. Connecting to my heart helped to follow my call. Exploring and expressing more freely and authentically ignited finding my way home. In other words, to embody who I am.
Detaching from old concepts and identifications allowed me to reveal more aspects of my personality and the gifts of my soul. The concept of the Wounded Healer and books such as The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael Alan Singer reassured me that I was on the right path. Ongoing research, studies, and embodied practice revealed that I no more needed to be a single business card title, poorly misrepresenting my entire being. My red carpet became more green, tear-washed by years of wounding and healing, and my magic toolset was expanding unprecedentedly, combining the scientific mind with the openness of the heart. Yarrow started to speak to me in different languages, and I found myself more fluent in the fields of ethnobotany, herbal medicine, aromatherapy, foraging wild plants, tending the garden and distilling aromatic plants. Decades of experience made me understand how much humanity loses connection with the natural world even though we aim to shop around all things claimed natural. The distinction has never been as hard as going down the rabbit hole in wonderland mirror madness, where many things are not what they seem.
Connecting to Source by connecting to plants is a great way forward. We are all together in this game; we are all wounded, we all need to heal. And beyond physical and emotional healing, Yarrow offers her spiritual gifts: reconciliation, balance and protection. Gergely Hollódi’s fabulous beautiful aromatherapy oracle cards feature Yarrow as the herb of ‘protection’ and there you get a reading as follows: “The essential oil of yarrow gifts you with rare wisdom: helps you to realise that the wounds on your soul given by others are only waiting to let go. Let go of the ones who passed them to you, as well as the disturbances they have caused. Yarrow embalms the scars of old despair with peace and heals the new lesions of offence. It supports you in moving forward with pride and peace, so you can build your existence and relations freely again.”
Connecting with Yarrow means re-connecting with ourselves and each other. If you are not familiar with working with Yarrow, I encourage you to do your research and explorations as a great learning process. It may feel too late for many to start investing time and energy into such a vast area as the plant world. I would just say there is never too late for anything, and one step at a time may just bring so much into your life!
Late summer in 2018, when I was travelling from Crete to Brighton to attend the stupendous Botanica Conference held there, I adventurously had a stop at Stockholm airport only to say a quick hello and goodbye to those blossoming babes of the bearer of blue oils, Yarrow and Tansy (Tanacetum annuum) near the runway. A year later, driving in the countryside close by my hometown in Hungary, in a very unexplainable way but I just clearly felt the presence of Yarrow. A couple of minutes later, arriving at the village of my uncle, I was exposed to this breath-taking endless field of Yarrow flowers near where my grandmother rests in peace. I felt gratitude for the presence, guidance, and I played the innocent child who is yet to grow up. Or yet to grow into embracing all. For some time, my collection of innate inherited and acquired wisdom felt like a womb in stagnation in need of more gentle care and at new crossroads. I started to feel more challenged than ever, with observations to formulate deeply in my veins, yet I could not put my finger on it. Looking at its energetics, Yarrow as a flower essence shows us how to efficiently draw a healthy line between us to benefit oneself and the other. When ‘the other’ is represented by our ancestors, Yarrow as an essential oil is probably most beautifully described by Cathy Skipper in her esteemed work with Yarrow, the Wounded Healer.
Meanwhile, during spring 2019 on Crete, I was gifted a small plant of Achillea cretica, the endemic sister of Achillea millefolium. It was truly touching becoming her caretaker, and day by day, I was celebrating life with Cretan Yarrow feeling privileged in her presence. Long months passed before the leaves developed into what we call feather-like parts (millefolium means a thousand leaves, by the way), and another year until next April, the clusters of beautiful flowers started to emerge in the light towards the clear blue Cretan sky. As strong as this image, in awe, I discovered it corresponds to the Yarrow card (Ace of Wands) in my herbal tarot deck. And the message that came with it: “The life-force of the Spirit is fully acknowledged, the shafts of light are the inner illumination that one can experience. It is time for revelation and enlightenment. Be willing to face the truth, whatever it may be. The card also represents the triumph and success of an endeavour or project. All one needs to do to be assured of success is to learn the power of consistency in the endeavour, pace oneself accordingly, and follow an enterprise through to completion.”
Even though the year ahead was full of success, unprecedented changes brought about by a pandemic made me feel triumph got hacked, and consistency bottlenecked. As much as I felt protected and blessed for being admitted to the plant kingdom of Crete, I missed human beings, touch and laughter together with family and friends. Filling up my suitcase and on the road again in June 2021, I could not but see Yarrow everywhere I went on my journey home. In friends’ gardens wherever I visited, along the riverbank of the Danube, and roadsides all over in town and countryside. And then things happen, sometimes when you least expect it, other times, it’s because you take action. The Universe rewards my move, and I ‘accidentally’ earn this extraordinary chance to harvest Yarrow when I am on my uncle’s land with my family. Meadows and hills nearby the forests of the Western Carpathians, called Bükk, where wild herbs grow since remembrance of time. Beyond the plant gathering opportunity, a special gift of the day was sharing the precious harvesting time with my beautiful cousin and discovering how clearly we are from the same tribe, beyond family…
As spontaneous as our Yarrow harvest goes, two days later, I headed over to the headquarters of Aromatika Magazine, distilling the slightly wilted plants in the copper still of my dear teacher, colleague and friend Gergely Hollódi. Highly excited, we are both first-timers distilling Yarrow, which is quite peculiar in this alchemical process. Letting the flowering tops through the steam gifted us some mind-blowing cobalt-blue essential oil on top of a gentle baby-blue hydrosol. Not much of oil, you know, and to put it into perspective, according to the handbook of phytotherapy in Hungary, the essential oil of Yarrow should reach 0.25% relative to the weight of plant material used. As your homework to figure it out, please calculate our plant material was about 1200 g in this steam distillation. The same book suggests that the chamazulene content of the essential oil may reach 30–40%, while some specially cultivated varieties may go as high as 60%. Out of curiosity, I looked up the certi cate of analysis of the A. millefolium oil that I purchased in 2009, which listed the chamazulene content at a minimum of 18%. The beautiful, unique nature of plants and their characteristics! Meanwhile, our gorgeous light blue hydrosol smelled precisely as described by Suzanne Catty, and it changed its colour exactly as Ann Harman reports: “It takes less than a month or so for the blue hydrosol to turn to the pale yellow hydrosol that many are familiar with.”
Much more to say, but I will draw some conclusions here. First of all, Yarrow is a truly underrepresented plant that de- serves to be better known and respected. While writing this aromatic essay, a dear client was asking me about what I was working on. When I shared that it was about Yarrow, she seemed unfamiliar with the plant first. She came back to me after her quick search and stated: “Beautiful. I love using it when making bouquets, just fantastic! I really like to add this most charming weed to Roses or other spectacular flowers!” With a gentle smile on my face, my conclusion number one was born: look out for your weeds; they may turn out to be the most healing plants. My conclusion number two came as this: don’t be just fooled by finding the ultimate rescue, ever! My intention is not to create a new hype around yet another plant. Plants are great, especially in alliance, and are not a one-stop shop. And finally, while science is tracking down the road to get a clear picture of cause and effect, patterns might be more tricky to let alone in a cold lab missing the magic element. No magic pill, but to educate ourselves, learn the individual and collective magic of plants and how to co-create with them.
Even though there is such a long way behind us, it feels my journey has just started. I believe we are all on board now as we travel through our multidimensional journey where the interpretation of our Earthy mission is becoming more into our focus. And when you ask me: where is your home…? I wonder if you now do understand my hesitation in answering this question? If you are persistent, you may just see me shrugging my shoulders, and I would just reluctantly pull out something. A saying attributed to Pliny the Elder, author, naturalist, natural philosopher and army commander of the early Roman Empire: Home is where your heart is.
PS: If you are on a journey of self-discovery, healing and empowerment and feel the call of the magical power of the plant world, you may want to check out what else I have for offer on my signature website as a Holistic Guide to Life. With love, Ildiko
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One thought on “Yarrow – A Journey Home”
This came at just the right time for me. I have been I’ll and always looking for Mother Nature’s remedies. Thank you so much for your lovely article on Yarrow. This is another step on my path to learn all about plants and their healing properties, both physical and emotional. Thank you, Ildiko.