A few days ago, my partner Al appeared in the garden pouring blood from his face and his legs. He had taken a nasty fall over a low post and rail fence while holding onto some random farm implement, which meant it was a fall he could not break. He had a nasty cut to his nose and wounds on his shins. Blood was everywhere. He was in shock and I was shocked and just wanted to get him into the car and off to hospital. He refused and asked me to clean the wounds up for him. I was upset to see my beloved in such a state but knew I had to take a breath, pull myself together and get on with helping him as well and as swiftly as I could.
We were in the garden, away from the house and so I reached into nature’s first aid kit for a handful of yarrow. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, is revered for its qualities as a styptic, something that reduces or stops blood flow. I had read many accounts of how this herb has helped stop bleeding in awful accidents. I remembered that renowned American herbalist Matthew Wood said “if I could only have one herb in my practice it would be yarrow. Everyone should know about it because it can save life and limb”.
As quickly as I could I put a handful of yarrow in my mouth and chewed it to a pulp and then placed the pulp on the wounds. That sounds disgusting I know, but it is what you do. It worked, and it worked fast. Within a couple of minutes the bleeding had stopped. I had seen it work quickly on small cuts and scratches, but these wounds were significant: on one shin a strip of skin over a centimetre wide and at least 10 centimetres long had been ripped off his shin and was dangling, while the other shin had a deep and somewhat complicated looking gash about five centimetres across.
Matthew Wood describes yarrow as a specific for deep wounds that haemorrhage freely. It is almost as if the more it bleeds, the better the yarrow works. He says that it will quickly stop bleeding, bring the lips of the wound together, prevent infection and excessive inflammation and promote healing with minimal scar tissue. Yarrow stimulates peripheral circulation so that the blood is dispersed through the body, which also means it can help take the bruising down. Having seen how it worked on Al’s injuries I can attest to this.
For the first few hours I changed the yarrow frequently and bathed the wounds in water containing drops of lavender, tea tree, chamomile and myrrh essential oils which are all renowned for their antiseptic, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
As it happened, I have been working on ideas for a salve that will help the body with wound repair. Over the Christmas period I had prepared a range of oils infused with herbs selected for their vulnerary, or wound healing attributes in readiness for blending them to make the salve. Now here I was with my loved one looking a lot worse for wear - talk about putting my thinking to the test! With a mental picture of his injuries (i.e wounds that have bled a lot, are quite deep, could have some dirt in them, are not a clean cut) I prepared a salve from oils infused with herbs such as yarrow (of course), gotu kola and others, plus beeswax and manuka honey and liberally applied it to some gauze dressing and put it on the wounds. I wanted to make something that would draw out any nasties and potential sources of infection, but also help the body get on with the job of healing everything up. And I wanted to make something that was soothing and didn’t sting.
The next morning I changed the dressings and I could see that the wounds were all healing. The nasty shin scrape (think digger going along and taking off all the topsoil) no longer looks like a gouge, but had ‘filled in’. There was no redness, no swelling, and no heat. The nasty wound on the other leg was looking even better as the lips of the wound had started to join up, and again no redness and no heat.
I have found this episode to be quite a test. Those initial moments when Al was pouring blood and I reached for the yarrow felt like a real trial by fire. It was one of those moments where text book learnings become real life practice – would the plant live up to its hype? Even I, who loves working with plants for healing, had my doubts. I was thinking, “I’ll do this and then take him to the hospital”. All I wanted to do was the best and the quickest thing for my love. It turns out I did. The effect of the yarrow was amazing and was certainly quick and upon stopping the bleeding and cleansing the wounds, it was apparent that a trip to the hospital was an option rather than a necessity. A couple of days on and the salve is working well. The wounds look nasty but healthy. Al is enduring my constant checking on him to make sure there is no sign of any infection occurring.
This experience has reminded me that:
- When you are not near a first aid kit and you need to do something fast it helps to know what is in Nature’s first aid kit
- It is definitely true that plants, which many people consider weeds, can provide precious and speedy healing
- We are fortunate to have hospitals with A&E departments reasonably near if we need them.
I am a supporter of an integrated approach to medicine and healing. Medical science and services and complementary therapies both have their strengths and weaknesses. A&E is a definite strength of mainstream healthcare. I have no hesitation in heading to a doctor or hospital, but thankfully in this instance Al’s wounds are responding to the herbal aids so well that we have not had to make that trip. I think it is going to be OK, but I remain vigilant.
I have to say though that I remain unreservedly thankful to Nature for all her amazing gifts, and to those over the centuries who have handed plant wisdom down to the next generation.Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
And yes, my Repair Salve will be available on the website soon :-).
A bit about the plant (it's a good one to get to know)*:
Name: Yarrow, Achillea millefolium
Description: a grassland, lawn and roadside dweller that easily invades any space given to it. It copes with competition in its growing space, enjoys some sun and can tolerate dry or frosty conditions. When growing conditions are perfect it can grow up to a metre tall.
The young plant grows rosettes of leaves that lie close to the ground. The leaves contain up to 30 pairs of leaflets all deeply indented and from which the name ‘millefolium’ or plant of a thousand leaves, is derived. These little leaflets give the plant a feathery look. I also think of this look as that of blood vessels.
The flowers are a head of densely packed white flowers on a dark red or reddish-green stem. It blooms throughout summer and autumn with the occasional head of flowers appearing at other times of year.
Actions: astringent, styptic (hemostatic), anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, diaphoretic, antiseptic, antispasmodic.
The medicinal use of yarrow dates back to before 1000BC and its use has commonly been associated with Achilles who used it to staunch bleeding in his soldiers on the battlefield. As well as being helpful to staunch blood flow, another key feature of yarrow is that when taken internally it induces sweating. A cup of yarrow tea when you have a cold can help you sweat out the fever.
Please note: People with known sensitivity to other members of the Compositae family (e.g. ragweed, daisies, chrysanthemums) should avoid using yarrow.
*Thanks to Matthew Wood, Isla Burgess and Carole Fisher for this information from their respective texts: The Book of Herbal Wisdom; Weeds Heal – a working herbal; Materia Medica of Western Herbs.