The History of Yarrow Tartar?

Yarrow - Kohler's Medicinal - 1897

Yarrow as illustrated in Kohler's Medicinal, 1897

The worst part about going to the dentist is when they scrape the tartar from your teeth with that tiny little scraper.  ​I hate the way it sounds.  I hate the way it feels.  I hate everything about it ... 

Scientists have scraped the tartar from the 50,000 year old teeth of five Neanderthals found in Northern Spain.  Like your dentist, they used a scalpel to scrape the tartar, but instead of wiping it on your dental bib to be thrown away they used an electron microscope to study the tartar.  

We think of Neanderthals as meat-eating beasts, but they found little evidence of meat eating in the tartar and much more evidence of plant eating.  ​It could be that Neanderthals (or at least, this tribe or family) ate far less meat than we had suspected, or it could be that the meat just didn't leave a mark on their tartar as well as the plants did. 

They also found that many of the plants had been roasted.  Now, you're not going to go to the trouble to make a fire just to cook plants, so the roasted plants suggests that fire making was easy and common in the Neanderthal household.  You can imagine one Neanderthal saying to another "Hey, let's roast these veggies to make them tastier, since we already have a fire going anyway." 

Of the five Neanderthals, one had evidence of yarrow in his tartar.  The yarrow plant is a bitter herb with no nutritional value - so you wouldn't choose yarrow just to snack on.  ​But yarrow has been used medicinally for centuries ... dating back to ancient Greece.  In Western Europe and China it was used both as a healing herb and as a magical herb used for divination. So while we knew that yarrow had a long history, no one knew how exactly how long, until now. The yarrow in the tartar of this 50,000 year old Neanderthal's teeth is the oldest direct evidence of herbal medication.

Which makes you wonder why this Neanderthal was eating yarrow.  Yarrow is an astringent and anti-inflammatory herb.  Taken internally, yarrow aids in digestion by acting on the gallbladder and liver.  It also improves circulation and can help urinary infections.  We don't know the sex of the yarrow-eating Neanderthal, but yarrow can also soothe menstrual cramps and reduce excessive menstrual bleeding. 

Yarrow, by Walter Siegmund

Pretty yarrow flowers!
Photo by Walter Siegmund.

But yarrow is best known for its use as a battlefield medicine and is sometimes called the "Soldier's Herb" for it's ability to stop a bleeding battlefield wound (and by "battlefield wound" I mean knife and sword injuries, not gunshot).  When applied externally to a wound, the plant's feathery leaves slow the bleeding and help with clotting, while the herb's antibiotic and anti-inflammatory compounds prevent infections. 

In France yarrow is known "herbe de St. Joseph."  According to legend, St. Joseph injured himself while working in his carpentry shop and young Jesus brought him yarrow to stop the bleeding.  The scientific name of yarrow is "Achillea millefolium," named after the Greek warrior Achilles.  Achilles himself was invulnerable to any wounds (except, of course, for his "Achilles Heel"), but he was said to use yarrow to stop the bleeding of his fellow warriors after a battle. 

"Millefolium" means thousands of flowers, because on top of its legendary history and medicinal properties - yarrow is just plain pretty!  With the delicate feather-like soft green leaves topped off with a cluster of tiny white flowers, you'll wish you could wear yarrow.  Well, now you can!  FiberWild's new Yarrow Tunic is a summer-weight pullover with feather-patterned lace at the neckline and bottom. 

P.S.  We call the Yarrow Tunic a "full coverage" garment, which is a polite way of saying that your bra won't show through a bunch of lacy holes across your chest.  The Yarrow Tunic has a stockinette stitch body, with lace only on the neckline and bottom. 

Happy Knitting! ... Scout

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