Feverfew is a flowering plant that may be grown for its appearance or its medicinal properties. As its name suggests, feverfew has been traditionally used for centuries as a fever reducer. Other applications include the treatment of arthritis, digestive complaints, and headache. More recently, feverfew has shown promise as a remedy for migraine headaches.
The feverfew plant is a bush about 18 inches (46 cm) high, with yellow and white flowers and a bitter citrus scent. It is related to the sunflower and native to southeastern Europe, though it is now grown around the world. In the United States, it is most commonly found in the westernmost parts of the country. Over the centuries, feverfew has been used to treat such diverse conditions as asthma, skin conditions, and menstrual and labor complications.
In the 1990s, feverfew gained in popularity as a treatment for both migraine headaches and arthritis, particularly in Great Britain. A number of studies have shown feverfew to be effective against migraines, particularly when taken on a regular basis. The active ingredients in feverfew are parthenolide and tanetin, which are believed to prevent migraines by inhibiting serotonin and prostaglandins. Some studies on the use of feverfew against migraines did not show the herb to be effective, and a 1989 study on its use for arthritis was similarly inconclusive. Nevertheless, feverfew continues to be prescribed by herbalists for both these conditions, with the support of extensive anecdotal evidence and the added benefit of minimal side effects.
There are a few side effects associated with feverfew, as with any medicinal herb. Gastrointestinal distress, mouth sores and swelling, and nervousness are all documented side effects. Allergies to feverfew are also possible, though rare.
Feverfew can also interfere with the blood's ability to clot, and is therefore not recommended around the time of surgery or for patients taking other blood-thinning medications. In addition, pregnant or nursing women and children under the age of two should not take feverfew. Feverfew and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may reduce each other's effectiveness if taken together.
Feverfew supplements are usually made from the leaves of the plant, but may contain other above-ground portions of the plant as well. The herb may be used fresh or dried to make a tea or taken in capsule, tablet, or tincture form. As with any medicinal herb, always consult a knowledgeable herbalist and discuss any medicines you are taking or planning to take with your doctor.