Yarrow: Ancient Insect Repellent

Image: University of Wisconsin

If you plan on spending time outdoors this summer, then yarrow, Achillea millefolium, is a very useful herb to know about. As the title of this post suggests, you can make an alcohol extract of the upper parts of the yarrow plant — the leaves and flowers — and spray it as an insect repellent. (The recipe is one part herb per two parts liquid menstruum, which should be 50% alcohol).

Yarrow has other applications, too. If you’re out hiking and you cut yourself, applying the fresh leaves and flowers topically will stop bleeding and disinfect the area. If you pick the plant now, you can dry and powder it to have on hand for first aid later. And you can also brew a warming tea with the dried yarrow as a cold remedy. Herbalists say it’s good for sweating out a fever. If you make the tincture described above as an external insect repellent, you also could use it internally as an antibiotic to treat dysentery or urinary tract infections, according to herbalist Stephen Buhner.

Wikipedia Image

Wikipedia Image

If you’re into home-brewing your own beer, yarrow is for you. It has been used as an alternative to hops as well as an adjunct, and is said to intensify intoxication. I don’t know if that’s true, but I have had the pleasure of sipping yarrow beer and can vouch for its good flavor.

The Latin name for yarrow, Achillea millefolium, refers to two of its characteristics. The word “Millefolium” means thousand-leaved. If you look at a photo of the feathery yarrow leaves, you’ll see why. Achillea is derived from Achilles, the name of the mythical Greek warrior in Homer’s “Illiad.” It’s a reference to the herb’s wound-dressing abilities on the battlefield.

But if you’re an anthropology nerd like me, then the most interesting thing to know about yarrow is that archeologists detected it inside Shanidar Cave, a 62,000-year-old Neanderthal site in northern Iraq.

*Note: Do not use yarrow during pregnancy.*

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22 thoughts on “Yarrow: Ancient Insect Repellent

  1. I found a plant that I think is yarrow, but the cluster of white flowers are what seem to be closed flower buds. the plant also has a very strong, interesting scent. are there any close look alikes of this plant?

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  4. Carol – I purchased yarrow seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed. Then the wild yarrow went crazy in our yard and I didn’t need to plant…

  5. Beth, just wondering where I can get wild herb seeds from? I live in Georgia and the wild plants here kind of look like certain plants but not sure and don’t want to chance it until I know for sure. Would love to plant my own. So you know any wild seed companies?

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  9. Wonderful information! Your website was passed on to me from a friend after we were talking about insect repellents. We had been discussing remedies for the vegetable garden, but it sounds as if this may be intended for people, rather than plants. Also, I wanted to ask…when making yarrow tea, are you using just the flowers, or leaves, too? Yarrow grows so well in my sandy, sandy yard and I was just talking about getting the yellow and pink/purple varieties, too, to add a little color and visual interest. Wasn’t sure what different medicinal properties they might have, though, and whether that would be a good choice. Feel free to email me directly…jeannebuchanan@hotmail.com

  10. Hi Dave this is wonderful to hear. This is what i see in relation to Ormus. nd minerals in rich soils. Is soil in the north better or in the south or between. There is so much different answers to the same and to different questions…..

    “I have heard that to miss Beth , about the yarrow growing in the city is less effective than in the country . Something about how the city is more polluted , and the yarrow must fight harder to survive which makes it have less of the good stuff in it , and the country yarrow is more effective because its where there is less comp. and better soil , and all that! I have been using wild plants all my life ,granted the citys down here are pretty rural still ,but some places are urbanized heavily and i have used many herbs to heal myself and others over the years.”

  11. we had yarrow in our herb circle in ting in fröstrup in northern denmark. J. told that it has differnet healing properties with the different flowers. purple pink, white, yellowish,

    And also i think it has different healing properties in different bioregion. i think northern yarrow is different than the yarrow from south germany. In germany they trie to make all herbal remedies which are sold in the pharmacies equl in potency substance. So you can buy herbs in the pharmacies. This isnt a normal herb like you find on the land outdoors its farmed to have a special equal amount of substance in it.
    This is tested and analyzed in laboraties. This is also different from realy wild harvested yarrow.

    Also the ban of herb in the EU isnt that true as it looks like. Some people telling things and stories from sweden. also i heard an article from scotland. In germany its very calm on that maybe cause germany do a lot research on herbalism. Still ithink herbs will never realy forbidden. Why someone want that?

    Here where i live now. im very cautious on picking wildherbs. I feel the enrgy of the place isnt that good. i wish to be at other places where the energie is better. Still the industrie and streets are to close and entangled with the forest and plants. How much toxins a plant can take to filter them. I see a lot diseases on plants. fungi or other diseases or living organisms who invade the plants. the ecosystem here where i live isnt that healthy anymore. Thats a big problem in germany and in other places in europe. That a lot places are made dirty since hundret of years otherwise europeans had never explored america. cause they had used theyr land wise and sparely. Now europeans are in america and writing wonderful herbal article. This is a gift a great gift. Thank you folks. Thank you becky*

    I like to avoid alcohol. As i said. I wanna use Aplle Cider Vinnegar instead. My first tincture i made was so on on appple cider vinnegar. Its made from japanese Knotweed. Its very nice smell. Like christmas ginger bread. Or baked apple with cinamon and nuts. I recommend everyone to find solutions for not using alcohol. Its so much harming effect in alcohol. And you always ride with the social stigmata.
    This is how i feel on it.

    So maybe ill do a insect repellent based on apple cider vinegar or maybe i use some oil based like good olive oil or coconut oil.

    Maybe also it could be an idea to make a water infusion and mix it with lanolin and beewax. Or just spray the water infusion on the skin. Somehow in south germany i had a lot of ticks and in northern Denmark i had no ticks at my body. South germany is more populated by ticks. Its funny also in northern denmark and in southgermany grows japanese knotweed. So its a manmade disease. Lyme and tick menigitis.

    Thank you very much becky. You are very wonderful. I wish to learn more from you* Next time i try to tell my european herbalist friends from you. All the best Niko.

    PS: there is a lot herbalism in europe beside the UK. its just a pitty all is in its local native language. so its hard to find. With google translate and google search you can find some textes. Also russian herbalism is realy great. Caused by their poor lifecircumstances they use common herbalism and it therefor works well, since generations.

  12. I have heard that to miss Beth , about the yarrow growing in the city is less effective than in the country . Something about how the city is more polluted , and the yarrow must fight harder to survive which makes it have less of the good stuff in it , and the country yarrow is more effective because its where there is less comp. and better soil , and all that! I have been using wild plants all my life ,granted the citys down here are pretty rural still ,but some places are urbanized heavily and i have used many herbs to heal myself and others over the years. I have used plants from the city ,and country with the same results no diff. I do beleave it has some truth to it but thats just my thoughs its not a fact . Plants have been such a big part of my life , from childhood to now . Not much i havn’t heard about them . In my college days we discused the experiments on broccoli flower heads , where they took the broccoli and played diff. kinds of music classical was good , hard rock bad . Also they would record the broccoli , first they would show the broccoli another head of broccoli , which did nothing then they would bring a knife out and proceed to cuttin up the broccoli head in front of the other broccoli head . Supposedly the broccoli that saw the other one chopped up was recorded screaming . You choose what to beleave …..

  13. Yarrow is also excellent for alleviating the pain of a cut, no matter how deep. Simply chew the flower, and or leaves and place on the cut. It is the first plant I reach for!

  14. I love yarrow! I can vouch for it’s ability to help UTI’s. I had quite a few UTI’s in my early 20’s and always healed them using fresh yarrow tea and cranberry juice. I would make a big brew of yarrow tea, buy a couple litres of cranberry juice and keep them by my bedside, drinking them through the night. In the morning, I always felt better. 24 hours later I would be completely over it. Go yarrow!

  15. Interesting….I gathered some yesterday for tea…We drink at least a cup a week in the winter to help build our imune system and thus stay away from cold and flue…

  16. Excellent post, this is one of the many wild edibles at our disposal that I really need to make better use of. The mosquitoes are pretty bad this year, I will have to introduce them to yarrow.:)

  17. Beth,

    Thanks for your comment. I’ve been exploring the wildcrafting end of herbalism, the harvesting, that is, and not the cultivating end, as I am an urban apartment dweller with no land, so I’m afraid I can’t be of much help to you in answering that question. I’m very interested, though, and if you discover the answer, please do let me know. Meanwhile, maybe you can tell me what you mean about the huckleberries? What does it mean for a plant to ‘domesticate itself’?

    All the best,


  18. I have tasted yarrow in an excellent Gruit and have used it to relieve the sting of insect bites…definitely a good one to know, especially if you’re too lazy to use it preventively! Do you know much about the difference between urban yarrow and alpine yarrow? It seems that one needs a greater quantity of the urban variety to accomplish the same flavor or concentration of oils. Does yarrow domesticate itself in a similar way to huckleberries?

    Great website! The resources are a gold mine.


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