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Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)

Despite its name, feverfew is not a fever reducer but a migraine preventive.  For centuries this herb was relied on for headaches, stomach problems and menstrual irregularities, but it virtually disappeared from use until reports calling it a migraine cure began appearing in the late 1970s.

What it is?

Recently celebrated for its effect on migraines, feverfew (also known as featherfew) is a member of the flower family that includes daisies and sunflowers.  With its bright yellow and white blossoms and feathery, yellow-green leaves, this herb resembles chamomile and is often mistaken for it.  The leaves are used medicinally, and, although the flowers have no health benefits, they do emit a strong aroma.  In the Middle Ages, the plant was believed to purify the air and prevent malaria and other life-threatening diseases.  Although feverfew probably can't kill germs in the atmosphere, the odour is apparently quite offensive to bees and bugs, so feverfew planted in your garden can act as a natural insect repellent.

What it does?

The active compound in feverfew (a chemical called parthenolide) seems to block substances such as serotonin in the body that constrict blood vessels and cause inflammation.


Though the exact cause of migraines is unknown, some experts think these headaches occur when blood vessels in the head rapidly dilate and then constrict.  Such a dramatic change can trigger the release of chemicals stored in platelets (the small blood cells involved in blood clotting) that cause pain and inflammation.  Researchers speculate that feverfew prevents the sudden constriction of blood vessels.  Though this action makes feverfew a good migraine preventive, the herb cannot relieve a migraine once it occurs.

Word of mouth in the 1970s among people with chronic migraines led to widespread use of feverfew.  To determine the herb's effectiveness, British researchers recruited migraine sufferers who had already been using feverfew regularly.  The researchers divided them into two groups: one continued to take feverfew, and the other was given a placebo.  Those taking the placebo soon experienced more frequent, and more intense, headaches, but those in the feverfew group had no increase.  Another study showed that feverfew reduced the number of migraines by 24%, and that, even when the headaches did occur, they were much less severe.

Additional Benefits

Feverfew has long been used for menstrual complaints.  The herb inhibits the production of inflammatory prostaglandins, hormone-like substances that can cause pain and inflammation.  Because menstrual cramps result from an imbalance of prostaglandins produced by the lining of the uterus, feverfew may be effective for this problem.

The anti-inflammatory action of the herb also led to its use as a treatment for the inflamed, sore joints that occur in rheumatoid arthritis.  However, a study of rheumatoid arthritis patients found no additional benefit from taking feverfew in conjunction with medications that are commonly prescribed for this condition.  No studies have been done on how the herb might work alone, or in combination with other herbal treatments, for rheumatoid arthritis.

Common Uses

  • Helps to prevent or reduce the intensity of migraines.
  • May ease menstrual complaints.


  • Capsule.
  • Tablet.
  • Tincture.
  • Dried herb/tea.


  • Pregnant women should avoid feverfew, as it may cause contractions of the uterus.  Women who are breast-feeding should not use the herb either.
  • Because feverfew may inhibit blood clotting, check with your doctor before using it if you are taking anticoagulant drugs.
  • Reminder:  If you have a medical condition, talk to your doctor before taking supplements.

How to take it?


To help prevent migraines, one dose of 250 mg a day of a feverfew product standardized to contain at least 0.4% parthenolide is typical.

Guidelines for use:

The experience of the migraines sufferers in the British study cited above underscores the importance of taking feverfew daily for an extended time, because stopping the herb may lead to a resumption of headaches.

Possible side effects

Few side effects have been noted, even when feverfew is used long term.  There have been reports of sores and inflammation of the mucous membranes of the mouth, but this reaction seems to be limited to people who chew the fresh leaves (a common practice before feverfew supplements became available).  Some people experience stomach upset from both the fresh leaves and supplements.  Skin contact with the plant can cause a rash.  Anyone who develops a rash after touching feverfew should not use the product internally.

Shopping Hints

  • One study in Britain reported that half the feverfew preparations examined contained virtually none of its active ingredient, parthenolide.  Look for feverfew tablets and capsules made from the herb Tanacetum parthenium and standardized to contain at least 0.4% parthenolide.