When Feverfew is mentioned in herbal articles, or in herbal remedies, the first thing they mention is its ability to relieve migraines. There are many more benefits that this herb can contribute to than that one particular ailment. Feverfew was aptly named for its traditional use to reduce fevers, but it has also gone by the common names of Featherfew, or Featherfoil due to the shape of its leaves. You will find it in old herbals (or medica materia) under the name “Parthenium." In those texts, Parthenium was described mostly as a valuable carminative, stomachic, and antispasmodic with its properties and uses closely resembling those of chamomile. (1)
This perennial is found in disturbed habitats, roadsides, meadows, and fields all over the U.S. It is not a native of our area, but has easily naturalized due to the Early Colonists bringing it with them, and its spreading habit. It prefers full sun to partial shade, and well-drained soil; however, it will adapt to many different situations. It grows 18-24 inches with a spread of about 15 inches. It grows in zones 3-9. The leaves are alternate, pinnate, yellow-green, with scalloped and serrated edges. They tend to point towards the ground, and they have short hairs. They are similar to Chrysanthemum leaves if you are familiar with them. The flowers are tubular yellow disk flowers with white rays composing a composite head typical of the Asteraceae family. The flowers bloom from July-October, and are sometimes confused with Chamomile. The leaves are high in many nutrients such as: calcium, magnesium, manganese, niacin, phosphorus, riboflavin, selenium, thiamine, and Vitamins A & C. (2)
Traditionally, this herb was used mainly for arthritis, stomach aches, fevers, coughs, inflammations, headaches, to expel worms, and help with female reproductive ailments. It was also used to repel insects! Bees will not come near this plant, and it is best to make sure it is planted away from beneficial plants for these pollinators. It is considered an analgesic, anti-inflammatory, carminative, stimulant, nervine, antispasmodic, emmenagogue, and febrifuge. It is very similar in action to the modern day aspirin being that it will help to relieve pain, reduce fevers, prevent blood clots, and reduce inflammations. It helps with migraines by calming the nerves, reducing expansion or contraction of blood vessels, providing extra magnesium, and reducing muscle spasms. Back in the 17th century, John Parkinson (Apothecary to James I, Royal Botanist to Charles I, and English Herbalist), described feverfew as “very effectual for all paines in the head”. (3) It was not until modern day science, that we now know the “Why” of its effectiveness; however, traditional herbalists knew it worked without knowing those particulars. It is mainly taken to prevent migraines, but some do get relief during their episode. Feverfew has a strong odor that is produced by the volatile oils, and a bitter taste. It is this bitter taste that stimulates saliva, stimulates digestion, and stimulates bile production. The volatile oils have also been shown to have antiseptic qualities. There are 29 components found in just the volatile oils alone! (6) It also has been shown to reduce histamine release pertaining to allergies. (4) J.T. Garrett explains in “The Cherokee Herbal”, “Feverfew’s strong odor helps to purify the air around the home, and it is used for alleviating asthma and allergies”. He also went on to say, “It helps those with low spirits and with muscle tension”. (5) You can make an infusion of the herb, let it cool, and use it as a rinse on your pets to deter fleas. That same rinse will be beneficial for lice, scabies, psoriasis, insect bites, or other external inflammations. Remember, insects do not like feverfew! The anti-inflammatory property of this herb helps to reduce the pain of arthritis by reducing the inflammation in the joints. This will not cure arthritis by any means, but it will help with the symptoms. For women, it can stimulate and regulate menstrual flow, help with menopausal symptoms, and reduce tension (both in the muscles and the nerves). You can start drinking the infusion a few days before to help with those particular situations.