FEVERFEW: Chrysanthemum Parthenium, Tanacetum Parthenium, Pyrethum Parthenium, Matricana Parthenium
Also known as: Bride's button, Bachelor's Buttons, Maydes Weed, Feather Few, Featherfoil, Altamisa
Parts Used: leaves, flowers
Systems/Organs affected: liver, stomach, nerves, brain, digestive, respiratory, female reproductive, structural, circulatory, cardiovascular
Properties: antipyretic, carminative, bitter tonic, purgative, nervine tonic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, emmenogogue, anti-parasitic, analgesic, tranquilizer, anti-thrombotic, antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic, cardio tonic.
Feverfew is a member of the Compositae (daisy or sunflower) family. It is a native of the Balkan Peninsula but can now be found growing all over the world, including places like Australia, North America, Europe, Africa and China. It is a perennial that can get between two and three feet tall and be quite bushy. Feverfew has pinnately shaped leaves often described as feather-like, and white, daisy like flowers with flat yellow centers. It is often mistaken for chamomile but its scent alone distinguishes it from the lovely chamomile perfume. It blooms between July and October and can be found in fields, meadows, woodland borders, roadsides and waste places. It enjoys well drained soil but can be found growing in all kinds of soil. It is a hardy plant with an abundance of medicinal value.
Feverfew is a bitter plant that dates back centuries. The name comes from the Greek as it was believed that the plant saved the life of an individual who had fallen from the Parthenon (hence the parthenium). The root has a particularly strong bitter taste which early eclectic physicians related to pyr (fire). Dioscorides used it for all inflammatory conditions, including arthritis. He would also mix the powdered herb with wine or honey to help alleviate vertigo. He said the plant was good for "...such as melancholike, sad, pensier, and without speech." It was widely used for fevers and as an antispasmodic. The Romans employed it for warts and erysipelas (a potentially serious, bacterial skin infection characterized by raised red patches on the skin, especially the legs and face).
Culpeper believed it was a good female reproductive herb, claiming that it strengthened the womb and helped ease headaches related to menstruation. He used it as a tonic for consumption and to stimulate menstruation. Culpeper stated that when feverfew was boiled and mixed with white wine it, "..cleanses the womb, expels the afterbirth and does a woman all the good she can desire of an herb." Culpeper went on to say that:
"The powder of the herb taken in wine, with some oxymel, purges both cholera and phlegm, and is available for those that are short- winded, and are troubled with melancholy and heaviness, or sadness of spirits. It is very effectual for all pains in the head coming of a cold cause, the herb being bruised and applied to the crown of the head; also for the vertigo, that is, a running or swimming of the head."
Parkinson used it to help those who imbibed too much in alcohol or opium-to ease the pain of overdose and hangover. Cotton Mather used the hot leaves of the plant, sprinkled with run, to ease toothache pain. John Hill believed it to be effective against worms and insect bites. The Kallaway Indians used it for colic, stomach complaints, kidney pains, morning sickness; the Costa Ricans used it for digestive issues, menstrual problems, as a dewormer and a cardio tonic and the Mexicans used it as an antispasmodic. The Venezuelans used it for earaches while the Danish used it for epilepsy.
In 1813, the 'Welsh Botanology' published the story of a woman who had debilitating migraines that were 'cured' by feverfew tea. This was all but forgotten until the 1970's when Mrs. Ann Jenkins, a doctor's wife, began taking feverfew for her migraines and was free of them within a ten month time frame. This launched a host of clinical studies that began in the 1980's which found feverfew to indeed be effective for migraines. All this from an herb originally used to quell fevers.
In 2005 a study done on 170 patients with migraines showed that they experienced less headaches taking feverfew than those taking a placebo. Another study done in 2005 found that one of the main components of feverfew called 'parthenolide' inhibited pancreatic cancer cell growth in the lab. Test tube studies also found that feverfew helped to fight inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and rheumatism. The 'Pharacognosy Review' published a lengthy article in their Jan-Jun 2011 volume on feverfew. In it they state that, "It has multiple pharmacologic properties such as anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, cardiotonic, antispasmodic, and emmenogogue, and as an enema for worms." This element was found to be effective against yeast, fungus, gram-positive bacteria and tuberculosis bacteriums. This same component was also found to have some positive effects against various cancers including human fibroblasts, cancer of the nasopharynx, Epstein-Barr, human laryngeal carcinoma, human melanoma and cystic fibrosis.
Feverfew has over 30 sesquiterpene lactones to which parthenolide belongs. It is also high in flavonoids as well as ascorbic acid, beta-carotene, calcium, choline, chromium, cobalt, folic acid, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, silicon, selenium, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, zinc and tin! Insects hate this plant and many gardeners employ it as a garden hedge to keep them at bay.
Feverfew does interact with some medications such as blood thinners, Benadryl, Cymbalta, Xanax, Zyrtec, Lyrica, Imitrex, Topamase, Maxalt, Singulair, Vicodin and Flexeril. It also interacts with CoQ10, Omega Oils, vitamin D3, B2, B12, and vitamin C as well as ginger root and gingko biloba. (My guess would be that is because it has many of the same elements and taking them in conjunction may cause some unpleasant toxic flushing). Some side effects are mouth ulcers, lip and tongue swelling, abdominal pain, diarrhea, gas, nausea, indigestion and vomiting although those are rare.
Feverfew should not be taken by those allergic to the daisy family which would include yarrow, tansy, ragweed, chamomile, chrystanthemum and sunflowers. It should also not be taken by pregnant or nursing women as it can cause uterine contractions and transfer through breast milk. If choosing to use this plant-less is more over time. Two or three leaves a day is all that is used. The dried or fresh plant seem to be more effective that the tincture so take it in a tea, capsules or eat them in a salad or sandwich.
As always, consult a qualified physician before starting an herbal regimen.