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Native American Yarrow Mythology

Native American Legends About Yarrow

Some books, especially older botanical books, claim that yarrow plants are not native to North America and that they were introduced by early Europeans. Although we are not botanists, we find that claim extremely hard to believe because we know indigenous words for yarrow in so many Native American languages; meanwhile, we are unaware of any Native American words for yarrow that were borrowed from English, French or Spanish. (Most plants and animals introduced by Europeans have just the opposite situation.) Yarrow also has a more important and longer-standing role in traditional Native American herbalism than do more recent herbal arrivals like dandelions and chicory. Recently published botany books more often seem to recognize multiple different subvarieties of yarrow, suggesting that there were slight genetic differences between Old World and New World varieties of yarrow, and that most yarrow growing wild in North America today is a hybrid form between the two.

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Whatever the truth of this situation is, yarrow plays an extensive role in the medicine and oral history of Native American tribes throughout North America, particularly used as a poultice for wounds and a treatment for headaches, toothaches, and gastrointestinal problems. Yarrow is considered one of the sacred Life Medicines of the Navajo tribe, and was sometimes burned as a purifying herb by the Anishinabe tribes.

Recommended Books of Yarrow Stories from Native American Myth and Legend
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Song of the Seven Herbs:
    Several legends about the meaning of yarrow and other North American herbs and flowers.
Wildflower Folklore:
    Collection of legends about wildflowers from all over the world, including a Native American legend about yarrow.
Native Plant Stories:
    Excellent collection of Native American stories about plant spirits, by Abenaki storyteller Joseph Bruchac.
Native American Medicinal Plants:
    Comprehensive book on the names and traditional uses of herbs throughout Native North America.

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