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Yarrow root tincture / mouthwash for dental antibiotic & pain relief: how to make it, with pictures

 
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I believe I may have posted in the past about my fairly routine use of yarrow root tincture to help with dental pain and inflammation.  I have bad teeth, more than I can promptly afford to have extracted or repaired.  I do have access to emergency amoxicillin when things get out of hand but there's danger in going to that well too many times.  I get quite a bit of relief of both pain and infection by rinsing and holding a strong tincture of yarrow on the roots of the bad teeth, so I take pains to refresh my tincture every year.

Disclaimer: Obviously maintaining good dental health -- by whatever means works for you -- is a superior strategy to controlling dental pain and infection with Achillea millefolium root steeped in booze.  But sometimes shit has already happened and cannot be immediately unshit.



Today while driving home I noticed that the bright white yarrow flowers were turning grey-ish, which is a sign that I was about to lose my harvest window.  As far as I know I could harvest yarrow root at any time during the summer season, but once the flowers completely drop, it becomes so much harder to find the plants among the other tall grasses and weeds, it's almost a fools' errand as far as harvesting enough.  Last year I left it too long and did not make a harvest or get a batch of tincture laid by.  So I had promised myself not to make the same mistake this year!

The way I make my tincture is that I stuff a small jar full of yarrow root and cover it with a strong spirit (I prefer whiskey for flavor but 100 proof vodka works slightly better).  After sitting for awhile the tincture is ready and I usually swig it straight from the jar.  When it runs low I fill the jar back up, so I never truly run out; but the tincture gets weaker and weaker with time as the old roots lose virtue, and you have to let the jars sit for much longer after topping up to "refresh" to a point of usefulness.  Having missed a harvest last year, I have been working with 2016 and 2017 jars and while they are not without merit, they just don't have the "zing" or efficacy that a fresh batch of tincture would bring to the table:



I'll talk a little bit more about today's yarrow harvesting below.  But here are the old nearly-spent roots from my two old jars, and not-very-strong tincture that's been valiantly trying to extract what virtue remained in them for several months now:



I'll save it and I'll use it -- and I'll even put those nearly-spent roots back in a jar and put fresh booze on them -- because waste not, want not.  None of this stuff takes up very much space, yarrow magic is powerful magic, and I can't bring myself to throw any of it away.  There have been too many nights where I bought myself the pathway to sleep by soaking an ounce of this fluid in the corner of my mouth that was yelling at me, and woke up the next day toothache free.  Just because I'll soon have a new jar of super duper strong stuff, doesn't mean I don't feel better also having a jar of not-so-strong stuff.  As Jack Spirko would say, two is one and one is none.  

So like a lot of places in the USA we've been having ridiculously wet weather around here.  That makes good soil conditions for harvesting yarrow root.  Normally in a hot dry June when I grasp a yarrow plant at the base and pull, it's 50/50 whether I get the root cluster or the plant breaks off.  And, even when I get the root cluster, a lot of the rootlets are short, because our clay soils bind and hold onto the finer fragile root ends.  But with the ground so wet and soft, I got 100% root cluster extraction today, and the clusters were long and full and fine.  Here's what I came home with:



Here's a closer view of the uncleaned roots:



Now, I don't fuss too much about cleaning the roots.  My notion is that you shouldn't pluck roots for this purpose from soil you wouldn't eat.  No matter how well I wash them, I always get sediment at the bottom of my jars.  It's at the bottom; I don't eat it.  But any soluable fraction, of course, I get.  

But wash them, I do.  Also, when I pull them out of the ground in the field, I twist the stems off by hand.  This leaves an inch of stem attached, and usually some black matter that is dead decaying yarrow fronds attached to the root cluster below where I twisted off the stem.  When I wash the roots, I cut that stuff off with a knife.  Here's what the washed roots look like; you can see what I've cut away and discarded, at left:



Next I pack them in a jar.  The rootlets with some color to them, I believe, are the newest; they have little flavor.  It's the thin white rootlets that have the most tang and pungency.  Thicker woody roots seem to have rather less virtue.  





Once they are all in a jar -- I don't make any effort to pack tightly, as I want there to be plenty of volume for my extraction fluid -- I pour in the alcohol.  Per theory, as I understand it, 100 proof vodka is about perfect for this.  There are water soluble and alcohol-soluble components in any herb that are beneficial, and a 50% solution of water/alcohol is ideal for getting the most of each extracted.  However, in practice, I like the way the flavor of brown whiskey complements the sharp tang of yarrow root, so I usually use whiskey (which at 80 proof is more like 40%/60% alcohol/water).  But the yarrow taste is so strong that I'm happy to use the cheapest blended American whiskey that money can buy, for this.

However, today I happened to have some 100-proof vodka on hand, and my whiskey supply was low.  So I went with the vodka.  

Left to right, here, we see:

1) my old roots, covered in new vodka;
2) a pint of the old tincture, poured off the 2016 and 2017 roots;
3) the 2019 roots harvested today, covered in new vodka.



For now and until the new tincture has had about a month to extract, it will go into my old utility fridge with the jar of old roots.  I'll keep the jar of weakish tincture I took off the 2016/2017 roots in my active fridge in the meanwhile.  My teeth have been pretty good lately so with luck I may not use any of it.

Does any of this stuff need to be refrigerated?  I can't see why it would.  Nonetheless, I do.  It's how I treat my liqueurs that I make by similar process; keeping them refrigerated prevents discolorations and muddy flavors as the fruit sits in alcohol for a few months.  So it's just my habit.  

Hope somebody finds this process/procedure/information helpful!



 
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Dan Boone wrote:Today while driving home I noticed that the bright white yarrow flowers were turning grey-ish, which is a sign that I was about to lose my harvest window.  As far as I know I could harvest yarrow root at any time during the summer season, but once the flowers completely drop, it becomes so much harder to find the plants among the other tall grasses and weeds, it's almost a fools' errand as far as harvesting enough.  Last year I left it too long and did not make a harvest or get a batch of tincture laid by.  So I had promised myself not to make the same mistake this year!


Thank you Dan for this post. The pictures and descriptions are great. From my understanding though, aren't the roots most potent once the plant is finished flowering and putting all its remaining energy into them? I know you said its hard to find them without the flower but perhaps a flag of some sort could be used to mark their location instead?
 
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Gerry Parent wrote:Aren't the roots most potent once the plant is finished flowering and putting all its remaining energy into them? I know you said its hard to find them without the flower but perhaps a flag of some sort could be used to mark their location instead?



Hey, Gerry.  Thanks for these questions!  I have a couple of thoughts on them but no certain answers.

1) The stuff I make is plenty potent.  Is it maximally potent?  I don't know.  In video gaming there's a type of player called a min/maxer who won't proceed unless they can get the "perfect" gear to maximize their stats and potential; that was never my way.  I am not approaching this from the perspective of trying to make the strongest possible elixir.  

2) I do not have enough herb lore to know for sure whether yarrow, which is a perennial herb, concentrates the specific phytochemicals of interest (whatever they may be) in its roots after flowering.  I do know that in my climate zone all the yarrow plants flower at once in April or early May.  The plants then go semi-dormant during the heat and drought of mid summer and there's a second flush of flowering in the late summer and fall, but it's irregular -- not all of the plants do it, and they don't all do it at the same time.  In fact I suspect that it may just be new or young plants -- perhaps seedlings from the spring flowers? -- that I am seeing in flower in the fall.  In any case, I never see enough blooms in one place in the fall that I've been tempted to try digging roots.  It takes quite a patch of yarrow to get enough roots for this project, especially considering that polite wildcrafting protocol dictates that destructive digging of this sort means one ought to leave many plants untouched rather than wiping out a whole patch.  

3) I am not organized enough or well-enough-prepared to mark 100 flowering yarrow plants in early June and then come back two or three weeks later to harvest them.  I don't have that many brightly colored stakes, I don't have that much discipline, and I don't have enough certainty that the marginal utility of doing it would justify spending what sounds like in excess of twice the effort I'm currently spending on the root-harvesting project.  

I do know that there are people out there who put a lot more emphasis on craft and perfection than I do, so it could be that we'll hear in this thread from some of them about whether they go to extra harvesting lengths in order to make better/stronger tinctures.  I hope we do hear!  I am not an herbalist or a lorist or a meticulous craftsperson of any kind, just a guy who respects the power of plants and uses them where I can to fill needs that I have.
 
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Dan,   I'm glad you've found a system that works for you. Also, I know some people only harvest during certain phases of the moon too, so as they say, "if the shoe fits".
Each area has its own flowering times (yarrow here just started to bloom last week) and can't say if I've ever seen a second bloom in the fall but interesting that it does in your neck of the woods. I chew on a leaf from time to time and have felt a very slight bit of numbness from it (sure tastes like medicine though!) but have never needed it for an actual tooth ache.... and hope I never do but its good to know these things. I'll give the root a try on my next outing.  
 
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Great post, Dan.  Thank you for sharing how you use yarrow.  I learned to ID it from Jackie Dill during one of her last walks but have never used it myself.  After reading this, I think I'll make some tincture just to have on hand for unforeseen uses.  This is a great tool for anyone to have in their herbal first aid kit.
 
Dan Boone
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Vernon Inverness wrote:Great post, Dan.  Thank you for sharing how you use yarrow.  I learned to ID it from Jackie Dill during one of her last walks but have never used it myself.



You're welcome, Vernon!  I do miss Jackie.  I only had the privilege of going on one of her walks about a year before she passed away, but she was a kind and wonderful soul.  What's funny is that yarrow is one of the few things I already recognized when I got to Oklahoma; there isn't much that grows both here and in the boreal forests of Alaska where I grew up, but yarrow is one of those rare things.
 
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Nice post. I have a lot of yarrow, including a patch of perhaps 1000sf where it comprises at least half the vegetation... good to have this option on hand.

Even if money were to be no object, sometimes there are so many urgent time sensitive things to deal on a farm that this sort of coping option can be very helpful.
 
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I love yarrow. But I've never thought to tincture the roots, which I think is an eyeopening new way for me to bring more yarrow into my life.

I do buy essential oil of yarrow (blue) from Rae Dunphy Aromatics (great Canadian source for high quality essential oils). This I use for all things healing on the skin. It also smells awesomely yarrow.

The I Ching was originally done using, if I recall correctly, yarrow stems. I always felt that was a wildly cool connection to the past. That an I Ching diviner used yarrow stems just like these to predict fortunes.

I collected yarrow seeds for a few autumns because I happened upon a lawn that had a lot of yarrow in it. And I far preferred that lovely green soft yarrow lawn to a grass lawn. So I became good at "seeing" those dried yarrow heads so I could collect more seed. Kind of like getting the "sight" for morels. You can't see any at all, then you suddenly realize you are surrounded by them.

My view on lawns is that the less the better. But if I have to put up with some of them, they are far far better composed with as much yarrow as possible.

I toss a small amount of yarrow greens and flowers in for the chickens occasionally. Kind of a green medicinal hit of goodness.

Yarrow factors big in Aromatherapy for Animals: Healing Animals with Essential Oils and Plant Extracts by Caroline Ingraham.

Yarrow is just one of those extra special herbs!
 
Dan Boone
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Dillon Nichols wrote:I have a lot of yarrow, including a patch of perhaps 1000sf where it comprises at least half the vegetation.

 

Wow, that's a lot!  I have a fair bit on the property here, but not as much as I want, so I don't pull roots here.  It's part of the prairie wildflower mix that grows along roadsides and in pastures and fenceline areas, but never very thickly like that.  I have a few places I can go to routinely find enough, fortunately.
 
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Viola Bluez wrote:
I collected yarrow seeds for a few autumns because I happened upon a lawn that had a lot of yarrow in it. And I far preferred that lovely green soft yarrow lawn to a grass lawn. So I became good at "seeing" those dried yarrow heads so I could collect more seed.

My view on lawns is that the less the better. But if I have to put up with some of them, they are far far better composed with as much yarrow as possible.



I'm very protective of the yarrow in my our yard, but don't always have control of the mowing or the mowing schedule; we have wildfire risk here and I am not allowed to let things go to meadow nearly as much as I would like in the vicinity of the house.  So the yarrow in the lawn doesn't always get to go to seed.  

In that regard, I've never made a study of the yarrow flowers after they darken and dry, nor tried to collect the seeds.  I just assumed that like most wildflowers, the seeds shattered quickly and early and fell from the flowerheads, but your talk of collecting them makes me question that assumption.  How much of a window is there to get the seeds, and what's your technique?  Because I, too, would like a lot more yarrow in the lawn!
 
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Very interesting, my book doesn't mention using the roots at all, it states that the parts to use are the entire flowering herb from 8cm up above the ground. I wonder if that would work just as well, would certainly be less work to gather.
 
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Skandi Rogers wrote:Very interesting, my book doesn't mention using the roots at all, it states that the parts to use are the entire flowering herb from 8cm up above the ground. I wonder if that would work just as well, would certainly be less work to gather.



Which book are you using, Skandi?
 
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Edible and medicinal plants (of Britain and Northern Europe) Hamlyn guide 1981. someone else here has the exact same book, I've recognised some of the quotes!
 
Dan Boone
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Skandi Rogers wrote:Very interesting, my book doesn't mention using the roots at all, it states that the parts to use are the entire flowering herb from 8cm up above the ground. I wonder if that would work just as well, would certainly be less work to gather.



Does your book have anything to say about using the above-ground parts of the plant for my particular application as a dental painkiller and oral antibiotic?
 
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Dan Boone wrote:

Skandi Rogers wrote:Very interesting, my book doesn't mention using the roots at all, it states that the parts to use are the entire flowering herb from 8cm up above the ground. I wonder if that would work just as well, would certainly be less work to gather.



Does your book have anything to say about using the above-ground parts of the plant for my particular application as a dental painkiller and oral antibiotic?


Not specifically it does give directions for bathing wounds as an antiseptic which would be the same use I guess, 1-2 handfuls dried herb per liter water. and as an inhalant for respiratory infections.
 
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Dan Boone wrote:

I believe I may have posted in the past about my fairly routine use of yarrow root tincture to help with dental pain and inflammation.



Dan,
I'm glad to know about this tincture and that it actually works for your needs.  As I said before, I plan to make it part of my kit.  I'm curious to know how you first came upon making this tincture.  Was it someone you know that recommended it to you (or made it for you initially) or did you read about it in a book and decide to try it out for yourself?  Thanks for replying!
 
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Vernon Inverness wrote:I'm curious to know how you first came upon making this tincture.  Was it someone you know that recommended it to you (or made it for you initially) or did you read about it in a book and decide to try it out for yourself?  Thanks for replying!



Vernon, I was concerned that I might not be able to answer you with precision, because I originally found this particular herbal preparation via internet research that can be tricky or impossible to reproduce after many years.  But in this case, I was able to re-find my original inspiration right way.  The authority who convinced me to begin experimenting with yarrow root tincture is Washington herbalist and botanist Dr. Ryan Drum, whose article here contains an enormous depth of general information about yarrow plus two tidbits of specifically relevant information:

There is also a long history of yarrow use on this continent. The Flathead Indians of Montana rubbed the flower heads in their armpits as a deodorant. The Okanagon people placed the leaves on hot coals to make a smudge for repelling mosquitoes (Turner, 1979). The Thompson Natives boiled roots and leaves and used the roots for bathing arthritic limbs. The roots were pounded and used as a poultice on the skin for sciatica. Root infusions were used to treat colds and venereal diseases. The mashed root was placed over a tooth for toothache. The whole plant including roots is boiled and the decoction drunk as a tonic or remedy for slight indisposition or general out-of-sorts feeling. This decoction was used as eyewash for sore eyes, and used on chapped or cracked hands, pimples, skin rashes, and insect and snake bites (Turner 1990).



My emphasis added. And:

Yarrow roots:
I have not used Yarrow roots therapeutically. Herbalist Matthew Wood recounts a dramatic hemostatic result from Yarrow roots used to quell deep laceration arterial bleeding (Wood 1997). Michael Moore (1993) states that the roots previously steeped in whiskey are good to chew on for toothache and gum problems.



I feel that I found additional authorities five years or more ago recommending the whiskey in which the roots had been steeped for my dental issues, but I can't bring them readily to hand.  Purely as a practical matter, yarrow roots are fibrous, and mashed or not, chewing on them is problematic when one has a bunch of messed-up teeth.  It's much easier and less hassle to steep the roots in booze and soak the problematic areas of the mouth in the medicated booze.  
 
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Dan Boone wrote: The authority who convinced me to begin experimenting with yarrow root tincture is Washington herbalist and botanist Dr. Ryan Drum



Thanks for the wonderful resource.  I'm glad you were able to recall it so quickly.  I've already spent a little time on the site today reading the article you posted and plan to spend even more time later consuming the information there.
 
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Vernon Inverness wrote:Thanks for the wonderful resource.



You are most welcome!  Also don't miss his article on Mullein -- which we have in such abundance here -- especially his interesting notes on the flower resin.
 
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Dan Boone wrote:...don't miss his article on Mullein -- which we have in such abundance here --



Will do.  I'm just now reading through his "How to prepare Dr. Drum’s All-Purpose Herbal Salve" article.  Good stuff right there!
 
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Hi Dan. The yarrow seed harvest window can be a good one. I often collect here in Northwestern Ontario up to snow time, so all through the fall. That is unless there are violent winds thrashing the seeds out. The heads are pretty stable markers. What you're looking for is your regular yarrow head and plant but now everything is a weathered barn board type colour. At least here they are like that. Not quite sure what happens in zone 7. Oh mysterious warm places.

Love Matthew Woods' books. On my list to check out now Dr. Ryan Drum.
 
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Viola Bluez wrote:The yarrow seed harvest window can be a good one. I often collect here in Northwestern Ontario up to snow time, so all through the fall. That is unless there are violent winds thrashing the seeds out. The heads are pretty stable markers. What you're looking for is your regular yarrow head and plant but now everything is a weathered barn board type colour.



Thanks, Viola!  That's a very good description of the "dead" yarrow flower head -- I know precisely what you mean.  Oklahoma is pretty notorious for our "violent winds" so I don't think I can afford to wait all summer but it's good to know seeds don't shatter out as soon as the flower loses all color.  I've got a few huge clumps of yarrow right in the middle of my container garden that I can watch pretty much daily so I'll keep an eye on them.  
 
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