[Herbal Rootlets]: No. 55 – Learning About Feverfew

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There is no one way to become a healer: no particular age and no special way for medicine spirits to come. When the time is right, they come.


-Evelyn Wolfson, From the Earth to Beyond the Sky: Native American Medicine

With a name like Feverfew, it might be assumed that he was historically used as a fever reducing herb but in fact, Feverfew started out being called Featherfoil because of his leaves and over time, the name changed to Featherfew then to Feverfew. Nowadays, he’s commonly known as the migraine herb, though this plant is capable of a lot more than just relieving and preventing migraines.

Feverfew is known by many names including Featherfew, Featherfowl, Motherwort, Mayweed and Whitewort. You might notice some of those names sounding familiar: Motherwort refers to a plant we’ll be learning about next month and Mayweed is also a name given to a few species of Chamomile. That’s why it’s a good idea to learn botanical names of plants, to be sure of the plant you are working with is the correct plant. Feverfew’s botanical name is Tanacetum parthenium. Feverfew’s botanical name has been through a few genus names, while his species name has always stayed the same. He has also been known as Chrysanthemum parthenium, Leucanthemum parthenium and before that Pyrethrum parthenium. Looking at his flowerhead, you can probably guess he is a member of the Asteraceae family.

Do you have Feverfew growing in your garden? If so, harvest a leaf and a flower if he is blooming. Let’s do a little experiment: take a piece of the leaf and chew it up, what do you notice? I can see by the look on your face that the leaf is bitter and pungent. Does the leaf feel warming or cooling in your mouth? Most herbalists agree that it is warming though a few feel that Feverfew is cooling. How does your mouth feel, is it drying up or does chewing the leaf seem to encourage more saliva? You’re probably noticing that your mouth seems to be drying up. So we consider Feverfew to be bitter, pungent, warming and drying. If you also have a flower available, try the experiment with the flower and record your experiences. Both the flower and leaf are used medicinally. Some people may have sensitivities to eating the leaf so try this experiment with caution.

Feverfew contains many constituents (the parts that make up the medicine of the plant) including parthenolide ,bitter resin, pyrethrin, camphor, borneol, inulin (in the root), and tannic acid.

Nutritionally, Feverfew contains protein, carbohydrates and fiber, vitamins A and C, and calcium.

Medicinally, we consider Feverfew to be an alterative, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antispasmodic, aperient, aromatic, bitter, carminative, diaphoretic, diuretic, emmenagogue, febrifuge, nervine, purgative, relaxant, stimulant, tonic, vasodilator and a vermifuge. Let’s take a closer look at all these actions…

First of all, did you notice I mentioned Feverfew is both a relaxant and a stimulant? That can seem confusing that a plant can be both. Michigan herbalist jim mcdonald probably best explains this stating that we should think of it as “stimulating activity while relaxing resistance to that activity”. This is because the word ‘relaxant’ isn’t the same as ‘sedating’ but rather means that the action relaxes contracted tissues. As a nervine and antispasmodic, Feverfew may be useful for treating sciatic nerve pain and muscle spasms. Those who suffer from nervousness, panic attacks and low spirits may find Feverfew to be calming in this regard.

Though Feverfew is pinned as the migraine herb, he is not indicated for all migraines. Herbalist Matthew Wood describes a person who would benefit from Feverfew for migraines as someone who “has a pale, blue complexion that becomes full, red and hot, with fever or heat; sluggish and depressed digestion from poor circulation to the stomach, causing fermentation, flatulence” as previously reference by William LeSassier. Women who suffer from menstrual related migraines with an onset right before the start of their menstrual flow is a good example. For those who notice this pattern, eating a few leaves every day can often be preventative enough. Feverfew has been shown to inhibit the release of serotonin from blood platelets which may be part of the reason for his success with relieving migraines in blood congested situations.

As an emmenagogue, Feverfew is also used to bring on delayed menses. He is also used for treating congestion before the menstrual cycle begins, for women who are full, red and swollen, and have headaches associated with their cycles as well as heavy bleeding, clotted bleeding. Older women may find relief in using Feverfew to treat hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause.

As a vasodilator, those suffering from hypertension, varicose veins and stagnant blood issues might find Feverfew useful.

Feverfew also inhibits the release of histamine and may be beneficial for those with allergies. Feverfew may also be helpful in relieving the coughing, wheezing, mucus and breathing difficulties caused by allergies as well as asthma.

Feverfew’s name gives an indication of how he was also used historically. First-century Greek physician Dioscorides prescribed feverfew for “all hot inflammations.”

Chronic constipation and a sluggish digestive system may benefit from the use of Feverfew.

Feverfew as a purgative and aperient. He also works well as a vermifuge, purging parasites from the body as well. 

Externally, Feverfew has found to help with the pain from arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis as well as insect bites and varicose veins.

Feverfew should not be used by pregnant or nursing women or folks with clotting disorders or on anticoagulants. Those who are allergic to Asteraceae family herbs may be sensitive to Feverfew and may cause contact dermatitis. Feverfew is not recommended for long term use without consulting a health professional.

Feverfew makes a bitter tea on his own. Try making a tea with other herbs, such as Lemon Balm, in this recipe:

You will need:

1 teaspoon dried Feverfew

1 teaspoon dried Lemon balm

12 oz boiling water

Tea cup
Tea ball or muslin bag

Spoon

Place the herbs in the tea ball and add to the cup. Pour in enough boiling water to fill your cup. Have a big person help you if you are not used to pouring hot water.

Let steep for 10 – 20 minutes. Drink 1 cup daily for migraine prevention and allergies.

Want to learn more about Feverfew? You can find him in this month’s issue!

Do you have Feverfew growing in your garden? What is your favorite use of it?


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