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Feverfew, or Tanacetum parthenium (L.) Schultz-Bip, belongs to the Asteraceae family of herbs, which also includes daisies and other valuable medicinal herbs such as chamomile, yarrow and echinacea. Feverfew’s delicate white flowers with bright yellow centers look like their relatives’, too. Feverfew is believed to be native to what is today Greece and, according to legend, its Latin name, parthenium, was given because the plant was used to save the life of someone who had fallen from the Parthenon temple in Athens. The common name feverfew is derived from the Latin word febrifugia which means “fever reducer”, and describes how the early Greek physician Dioscorides used to prescribe the herb. The herb spread and now has a rich history in many parts of the world.
Some of feverfew’s traditional uses were for toothaches, insect bites, joint pain, vertigo, colic, menstrual problems, digestive problems, skin conditions such as psoriasis and, of course, fever.[i] Many herbal experts refer to feverfew as the ‘aspirin’ of the 18th century.[ii] Today we better understand how feverfew works in the body, and many traditional uses have been validated with this knowledge. Without a doubt, however, feverfew is most popular in modern herbal medicine as a migraine preventative.
In the 1980s, two studies were published that solidified feverfew’s place in modern herbal practice. In both studies patients taking feverfew experienced less frequent and less severe migraines with less nausea and vomiting than the placebo group.[iii] Since then, researchers have been looking for the answer as to why. It appears that compounds in feverfew actually help to modulate inflammation of brain cells, as well as relax smooth muscles and modulate platelet aggregation, all of which support healthy blood flow to the brain and healthy brain function.[iv],[v] Most of the research into feverfew has been done on migraines and cluster-type headaches but it may also be beneficial for other types of headaches such as premenstrual headaches.[vi]
Although some people may find benefit from taking feverfew acutely during a migraine episode, most will do better to take the herb on a daily basis as a preventative.[vii]
Even though in the United States our use of feverfew focuses mainly on the treatment and prevention of migraines, many of its compounds are being researched for other beneficial effects. Feverfew may someday be valuable for the treatment of other inflammatory conditions, such as those of the joints and skin, as well as inhibiting many types of bacteria and yeasts.[viii],[ix],[x] It even shows promise against some cancer cell lines, although in most cases we are a long way from having conclusive data.[xi],[xii],[xiii]
Feverfew contains a class of compounds called sesquiterpenes, which are believed to be responsible for its benefits.[xiv] Among these is parthenolide, the compound products are most often standardized to. It was once thought that parthenolide was the active compound, but research over the years suggests that other compounds in addition to parthenolide are likely beneficial as well, and now many herbalists recommend using a product that contains at least some of the whole leaf, not just the isolated parthenolides.[xv] A general recommendation for migraine sufferers is to take 125mg of dried feverfew leaves that contain a minimum of 0.2% parthenolide daily.[xvi] Benefit can usually be seen within four to six weeks of taking the herb. Feverfew use appears to be safe, with very few side effects reported. Even regular use (up to 46 months) appears safe, but longer term safety data is not available. Those who have been taking feverfew long term and wish to discontinue its use should gradually taper off to avoid possible discomfort.[xvii],[xviii] As always, caution should be used when starting any new herb, nutrient, or medication, especially if you are already taking other supplements or medications or have a medical condition.
 Because the quality and potency of an herb is dependent on variables in season, soil, weather, growing location and post-harvest handling, some companies choose to standardize their herbal products in an attempt to deliver a consistent product every time. Standardization in botanical extracts refers to delivering a consistent, measurable amount of a recognized plant constituent, often one believed to be an active ingredient.
[i] Blumenthal M. The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; 2003.
[ii] Pareek A, Suthar M, Rathore GS, Bansal V. Feverfew (tanacetum parthenium L.): A systematic review. Pharmacogn Rev 2011;5(9):103-110
[iii] American Botanical Council HerbClip: Foster S. Feverfew: When the Head Hurts. Alternative & Complementary Therapies. 1995;335-337.
[iv] Magni P, Ruscica M, Dozio E, Rizze E, Berretta G, Maffei Facino R. Parthenolide inhibits the LPS-induced secretion of IL-6 and TNF-α and NF-κB nuclear translocation in BV-2 microglia. Phytother Res. 2012;26(9):1405-1409.
[v] Pareek A, Suthar M, Rathore GS, Bansal V. Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium L.): A systematic review. Pharmacogn Rev. 2011; 5(9):103-110.
[vi] Pareek A, Suthar M, Rathore GS, Bansal V. Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium L.): A systematic review. Pharmacogn Rev. 2011; 5(9):103-110.
[vii] Cech R. Making Plant Medicine. Williams, OR: Horizon Herbs; 2000.
[viii] Pareek A, Suthar M, Rathore GS, Bansal V. Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium L.): A systematic review. Pharmacogn Rev. 2011; 5(9):103-110.
[ix] Amirghofran Z. Herbal medicines for immunosuppression. Iran J Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2012;11(2):111-119.
[x] Bowe WP. Cosmetic Benefits of Natural Ingredients: Mushrooms, Feverfew, Tea and Wheat Complex. Journalof Drugs in Dermatology. 2013;12(9 Supplement):s133- s136.
[xi] Pareek A, Suthar M, Rathore GS, Bansal V. Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium L.): A systematic review. Pharmacogn Rev. 2011; 5(9):103-110.
[xii] Ghantous A, Sinjab A, Herceg A, Darwiche N. Parthenolide: from plant shoots to cancer roots. Drug Discov Today. 2013;18(17-18):894-905.
[xiii] Koprowska K, Czyz M. Molecular mechanisms of parthenolide’s action: Old drug with a new face [Published in Polish]. Postepy Hig Med Dosw (Online). 2010;16:100-14.
[xiv] Hobbs C. Feverfew: What did Gerard and Culpeper take when they had Headaches? Christopher Hobbs website. 1998. Available at: http://www.christopherhobbs.com/library/articles-on-herbs-and-health/feverfew-what-did-gerard-culpeper-take-when-they-had-headaches/
[xv] Blumenthal M. The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; 2003.
[xvi] Awang D. Feverfew Fever: A headache for the consumer. HerbalGram. 1994;29:34-35.
[xvii] Blumenthal M. The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; 2003.
[xviii] Pareek A, Suthar M, Rathore GS, Bansal V. Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium L.): A systematic review. Pharmacogn Rev. 2011; 5(9):103-110.
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