Feverfew is a small, daisy-like herb that grows abundantly across gardens in Europe, Australia, North Africa, China, and the Americas.
Feverfew has been traditionally used to reduce fevers and chills, support digestion, and improve mood. It’s also said to be helpful for migraine headaches.
This article will look at the health benefits feverfew, as well as its safety and history.
Table of Contents
What is Feverfew?
Feverfew is a small flower known for its likeness to chamomile (Matricaria recutita).
The scientific name for feverfew is Tanacetum parthenium. It grows throughout Europe and the United States, and although it grows in the wild, it’s primarily cultivated in gardens.
Traditional accounts recommend taking feverfew for fevers, chills, migraines, and digestive issues. Ancient Greco-Romans used feverfew for various conditions, including menstrual cramps and toothaches, and as a general tonic.
Contemporary research indicates that feverfew has anti-migraine and anti-inflammation properties. Studies also show its potential for alleviating gastrointestinal conditions.
The sesquiterpene lactones in feverfew, particularly a compound called parthenolide, are thought to be responsible for these health-supporting properties.
Health Benefits of Feverfew:
A combination of clinical research, traditional knowledge, and contemporary herbalist accounts have observed various feverfew benefits.
Below are the primary health benefits of feverfew and its main constituents.
1. May Have Anti-Migraine Effects
Various sources indicates that feverfew is a helpful herb for migraines.
Migraines are a complex disorder that involve moderate-to-severe headaches. Nausea and light/sound sensitivity often accompany these headaches, which can happen for hours or days.
In a clinical trial involving participants suffering from migraine headaches, feverfew was found to reduce the frequency and severity of the migraines over 6 months. Researchers suggest that the sesquiterpene lactones found in feverfew may be responsible for this effect.
Another clinical study with volunteers experiencing consistent migraines found that feverfew leaf capsules reduced the severity and frequency of migraines. The trial lasted 8 months, and there were no reported severe side effects.
In a pediatric clinical trial observing children with headaches, researchers discovered that a herbal combination formula (including feverfew and andrographis) “improved headache frequency and pain intensity.” The results continued for 16 weeks after the trial concluded.
A review of trials observing the effects of feverfew on patients with migraines found that feverfew supplements reduced the frequency of migraine headaches by 0.6 attacks per month. The review mentions that there were no adverse reactions to the herb.
A review of feverfew mentions that parthenolide is the main active constituent responsible for reducing the frequency of migraines.
The American Botanical Council recommends feverfew for “relief of migraine symptoms” due to various conclusive clinical studies.
The European Medicines Agency suggests taking feverfew “for the prevention of migraine[s], after serious conditions have been excluded by a doctor.” They recommend it for adults only and mention it “usually need[s] to be taken for 2 months to have an effect.”
Internationally renowned AHG herbalist, Christopher Hobbs, writes that feverfew generally prevents migraine headaches.
Accredited herbalist, Rosemary Gladstar, mentions that migraine sufferers have great success with feverfew, but it isn’t a “quick fix” herb. She recommends it as a preventative herb and says, “it generally has to be used for an extended period of time to be effective.”
Clinical research has found that feverfew may be a beneficial herb when being used to treat and prevent migraine headaches.
2. May Have Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Animal trials, lab-based studies, and modern reviews suggest that taking feverfew reduces inflammation and regulates the inflammatory response.
Inflammation is a response from the body’s immune system. This response is a reaction to trauma, infection, toxins, and physical overuse. While short-term inflammation is essential in the early stages of recovery, chronic inflammation signals a long-term physiological issue.
In an animal study observing mice with arthritis, parthenolide extract (a compound found in feverfew) significantly reduced inflammation at and around the pain site.
Another animal study involving mice with inflammatory bowel disease found that parthenolide extract significantly reduced colon inflammation. The feverfew extract also increased the rate of survival and prevented severe weight loss.
A third animal study observing rats with induced arthritis discovered that parthenolide extract reduced inflammation. Researchers also noticed that by reducing inflammation, the feverfew extract prevented significant cartilage damage and bone erosion.
A lab-based study concluded that parthenolide extract has an anti-inflammatory response on cystic fibrosis (an inflammatory lung disease) cell models. Researchers mention that either parthenolide or feverfew extract could effectively reduce excessive cystic fibrosis inflammation.
Another lab-based study observing parthenolide-depleted feverfew extract found that the extract reduces inflammation caused by dermatitis.
Respected AHG herbalist David Hoffman suggests feverfew for those struggling with arthritis.
Christopher Hobbs mentions that feverfew is commonly used in Europe for inflammatory conditions such as psoriasis and arthritis.
Summary:Animal research indicates that the compounds found in feverfew may work to reduce inflammation, but human trials are needed for confirmation of this finding.
3. May Support the Gastrointestinal Tract
Feverfew has traditionally been used for stomach conditions and as a digestive aid due to its bitter properties.
Bitter herbs promote bile production in the gallbladder and liver. This bile increases and improves digestion and food and nutrient absorption, especially with foods that are hard to break down, like fatty foods.
A review of feverfew’s properties mentions that Costa Rican cultures take a feverfew decoction to aid digestion. The Kallaway peoples of the Andes use it to ease stomach aches and colic (intestinal gas or obstruction).
Herbalist Christopher Hobbs writes that feverfew has a bitter taste that “stimulates the appetite.”
Revered herbalist Maude Grieve and modern herbalist David Hoffmann describe feverfew as a bitter herb that supports supports the gastrointestinal tract (GI).
In the King’s American Dispensatory, Dr. Felter and Dr. Lloyd mention that feverfew supports the whole GI through improved digestion and increased appetite. They suggest that taking feverfew achieves this effect by increasing bile secretion.
Summary:Traditional herbal knowledge recommends feverfew for promoting digestion and stomach health. Clinical research is required to verify these findings.
4. Other Benefits
Other purported feverfew health benefits include:
- May Reduce Menstruation Symptoms: Numerous traditional and contemporary herbalist accounts suggest that feverfew helps with irregular menstruation and pain during menstruation.
- May have Anti-Cancer Properties: A review of feverfew found that parthenolide exhibited anticancer activity against numerous types human cancer cells. Additional research is needed.
- May Support the Respiratory Tract: Maude Grieve writes that taking feverfew helps with coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.
Summary:Feverfew has been tied to a wide variety of health benefits. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.
Safety Class: 2b (botanicals not recommended for use during pregnancy)
Interaction Class: A
Generally, feverfew appears to be well tolerated and safe for most individuals.
Although feverfew does not have the “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) classification by the FDA, it is available as a “dietary supplement” under the US Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act (DSHEA).
People with sensitivities/allergies to herbs in the Asteraceae family should avoid using feverfew. Healthcare professionals recommend a skin patch test to check for any allergic reactions before use, although this reaction is rare.
Although no adverse drug-herb interactions have been reported, feverfew is thought to potentially interfere with anticoagulant pharmaceuticals, according to herbalist David Hoffmann.
The Botanical Safety Handbook suggests caution when chewing on feverfew’s fresh leaves as it may cause mouth inflammation.
Pregnancy & Lactation:
Feverfew is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women due to its stimulant effect on the uterus and limited safety data.
Although feverfew should be avoided during these times, evidence shows that no feverfew components are excreted into breastmilk.
Standard dosing for feverfew is as follows:
Fresh Herb: 1 fresh leaf, 1-3x/day.
Capsule/Supplement (freeze-dried herb): 50-100mg per day.
Standardized Flower and Leaf Extract (1:1): 25-125mg/day (a minimum of 0.2% parthenolide).
- Acute Treatment of Migraine or Inflammatory Conditions: up to 2g/day.
Rosemary Gladstar’s Migraine Formula:
- 2 parts feverfew
- 1 part California poppy seed (Eschscholzia californica)
- 1 part Lavender (Lavandula officinalis)
- 1 part St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum)
- Prepare as an infusion and drink ¼ cup every half hour until migraine symptoms subside.
Canada’s Health Protection Branch recommends 125mg of dried feverfew leaf preparation daily. When used for migraine headache prevention, the feverfew preparation should contain at least 0.2% of parthenolide.
Feverfew is not on the United Plant Saver’s “at-risk” list, implying that human activities do not impact this herb.
Naming & Taxonomy:
Feverfew’s scientific name is Tanacetum parthenium. While feverfew is its traditional name, it is also commonly called “featherfew” or “bachelor’s buttons.”
The scientific name “parthenium”originates from the ancient Greek account that feverfew saved someone that fell from the Parthenon (a Greek temple dedicated to the goddess Athena). Other accounts suggest the name derives from the Greek word “parthenos” (virgin), pertaining to feverfew’s ability to support menstruation conditions.
The name “feverfew” stems from the Latin word febrifuga, which means “fever reducer.”
Feverfew is in the Asteraceae (i.e. daisy) family and is considered a “short-lived” perennial that self-seeds fairly easily. It is native to Balkan Peninsula but has become naturalized across much of the world.
Feverfewflowers resemble chamomile; however, chamomile flowers are significantly more fragrant, and their petals are longer than feverfew’s. Feverfew likes well-drained, nutrient-dense soil, but it can grow in less-than-ideal conditions.
There are around 160 Tanacetum species, commonly called “tansies.” The tansy species are best known for the floret’s characteristic yellow center.
Common names of feverfew include: featherfew, altamisa, bachelor’s button, featherfoil, febrifuge plant, midsummer daisy, nosebleed, Santa Maria, wild chamomile, wild quinine, chamomile grande, chrysanthemum atricaire, federfoy, flirtwort, European feverfew, feather-fully, feddygen fenyw, flirtroot, grande chamomile, mutterkraut, and vetter-voo.
Other plants in the Tanacetum species include:
- Tanacetum achilleifolium
- Tanacetum balsamita
- Tanacetum ferulaceum
- Tanacetum scopulorum
- Tanacetum vulgare
History & Traditional Use:
Feverfew use dates back millennia to the indigenous peoples of the Andes mountains and the ancient Greco-Roman era. Accounts mention that the Kallaway peoples of the Andes used feverfew for colic, kidney pain, and stomach aches.
In the 1st century, the Greek physician Dioscorides used feverfew to ease fevers, and in the 5th century, there’s an account of feverfew healing someone that fell from the Greek Parthenon building.
During the medieval period, English country folk would add feverfew herb to drinks and tie it around their wrists to prevent fevers. It was called “medieval aspirin” in the 18th century.
In the 1980s, feverfew became popular in the United States as migraine support due to a few influential British clinical trials. In the early 1990s, a British feverfew product received a Drug Identification Number from Canada’s Health Protection Branch, which meant pharmacies and health markets could sell it over the counter.
Feverfew is a prominent herb used and grown in many parts of the world. Its medicinal qualities are well-renowned.
Most of feverfew’s effects are supported by animal and lab-based models, and contemporary and traditional reviews affirm the herb’s versatile therapeutic properties.
Consult a healthcare professional if you’re considering taking a feverfew supplement for medicinal use. It is important to conduct a skin patch test to check for allergies before taking feverfew topically and to avoid anticoagulants in conjunction with feverfew preparations.
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