Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)



Feverfew is a member of the Asteraceae/Compositae family. A perennial plant, it grows up to 60cm tall long, and has narrow pinnate leaves. The flowers comprise yellow disc and white ray florets.

The herb’s name is a corruption of the word ‘febrifuge’ – a medicine used to allay fever. Feverfew leaves are used medicinally. They are rich in sesquiterpene lactones including parthenolide, as well as volatile oil, tannins and sesquiterpenes. It is primarily used as a migraine prophylactic, but also has anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic and vasodilatory actions.

It is thought that feverfew’s migraine prophylactic action is due to serotonin (5-HT) inhibition – abnormal platelet behaviour with the release of 5-HT has been implicated in migraine. The constituent parthenolide also interferes with both the contractile and relaxant mechanisms in blood vessels. Many patients involved in the clinical trials for migraine prophylaxis also reported that feverfew helped to alleviate their depression. It also helps ease tinnitus and allays nausea and vomiting. Gerard recommended it as ‘very good for them that are giddie in the head, or which have the turning called Vertigo, that is, a swimming and turning in the head.’

Feverfew has long been reputed to help relieve arthritis, particularly in the painful active inflammatory stage of rheumatoid arthritis The sesquiterpene lactones, and particularly parthenolide, have been shown to inhibit human blood platelet aggregation and secretory activity in platelets and polymorphonuclear leucocytes (increased secretion is a feature of rheumatoid arthritis). However, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study over six weeks on 40 females with rheumatoid arthritis showed no beneficial effects.

Feverfew has been used in the treatment of painful periods and sluggish menstrual flow. Culpeper wrote, ‘Venus commands this herb, and has commanded it to succour her sisters and be a general strengthener of their wombs’. It is contraindicated during pregnancy due to its stimulating action on the uterus.

Antimicrobial properties against Gram-positive bacteria, yeasts and filamentous fungi have been documented for parthenolide; Gram-negative bacteria were unaffected.

NB: The above information is for guidance only, and is not intended to take the place of diagnosis and treatment by a qualified practitioner. Some herbs may interact adversely with other medication, so make sure that your health professional is aware of everything you are taking.