Ohio Master Herbalist Mary Colvin - Monthly Articles

FEVERFEW

(Tanacetum parthenium) (previously called Chrysanthemum parthenium)

                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.

                I like to make an extract of feverfew to keep handy in certain situations (recipe below), and for storage purposes. You can also freeze dry the leaves for future use. Chew 2 to 3 leaves every day to prevent migraines. You can also make an infusion by pouring boiling water over the leaves (fresh or dried), covering, and letting steep for 15 – 20 minutes. Start with a small amount of tea (1/2 cup) per day based on a 150 pound adult for preventative measures. For symptoms needing help now, drink 1 cup twice daily if needed. You can use the infusion as a wash as many times during the day that you need to. Usually 2 to 3 times a day is effective. The standard dose for the extract or tincture is 10 – 30 drops no more than 3 times daily. I prefer to take the smallest amount first to see how it affects me personally. Ten drops might be quite efficient in one individual, but it might take 30 drops in another based on their weight, environment, diet, or metabolism. Avoid taking feverfew during pregnancy or nursing, or while taking other blood thinning medications. Allergic reactions and mouth sores have been recorded in some individuals, especially if they are allergic to ragweed. Discontinue use if such reactions occur. It is also advisable to slowly wean yourself off of taking feverfew if it has been taken consistently for a very long time. There have been some reports of minor withdrawal type reactions; such as, headaches, muscle stiffness, difficulty sleeping, and nervousness after usage is stopped after a long period.

                Most of the studies done on feverfew are on the Parthenolide( sesquiterpene lactone) content of the herb and its effects once isolated from the whole plant. Feverfew contains many more chemical components, vitamins, essential oils, and minerals in the whole plant that science has yet to understand how they contribute medicinally. These components work synergistically together to produce the desired effects that this plant can offer our well-being. I believe in utilizing the whole plant rather than an isolated chemical component. With that being said, I invite you to try growing this wonderful herb in your own garden, or experience the dried plant in different herbal preparations using the whole herb for yourself. School will be back in session this month, and summer will wind down. I will be holding an herb walk in the area on August 16 for plant identification purposes before the season ends, and I will teach the traditional uses of each herb. Refer to my Events page for more information and registration directions. Have a great August!

Until next month

Mary Colvin, M.H.

 

REFERENCES:

  • Hare, Caspari, Rusby (1905), The National Standard Dispensatory, Philadelphia and New York, Lea Brothers & Company
  • Pedersen, Mark (2010), Nutritional Herbology, Warsaw Indiana, Whitman Publications
  • Castleman, Michael (2001), The New Healing Herbs, Emmaus PA, Rodale Inc.
  • The activity of compounds extracted from feverfew on histamine release from rat mast cells. Hayes NA, Foreman JC, J Pharm Pharmacol, 1987 June; 39 (6) 466-70
  • Garrett, JT (2003), The Cherokee Herbal, Rochester Vermont, Bear & Company
  • Chemical composition antibacterial activity and cytotoxicity of essential oils of Tanacetum parthenium in different developmental stages. Mohsenzadeh F, Chehregani A, Amiri H. Pharm Biol. 2011 Sept. 49 (9): 920-6

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NO CULINARY RECIPES WITH FEVERFEW

 

 

DIRECTIONS:

 


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FEVERFEW AND CATNIP GLYCERITE

INGREDIENTS:

 

  • Feverfew herb (leaves, stem, and flowers) either fresh or dried
  • Catnip herb either fresh or dried
  • Vegetable Glycerin (organic)
  • Mason jar (any size) (The bigger the jar, the more herb and glycerite needed to make it; however, you will have more to share with your family and friends)

 

DIRECTIONS:

 

IF USING FRESH HERBS:

  • Fill the jar with cut up herbs (equal amounts), and then fill with vegetable glycerine to the top of the jar. Cap the jar, label it, and shake daily for two weeks. Strain it with cheesecloth, bottle it, and label the bottle. Store in a cool, dark area.

 

IF USING DRIED HERBS:

  • Fill the jar up one-half to two-thirds full with the dried herbs (equal amounts). You will combine 50% Vegetable glycerine with 50% distilled water, and then pour into the jar all the way to the top. Cap it, label it, and then shake daily for two weeks. Strain it with cheesecloth, bottle it, and label the bottle. Store in a cool, dark area.

 

This works well as a carminative, antispasmodic, digestive, and nervine!

Standard dose would be 20 – 40 drops up to 3 times a day if needed.

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