Feverfew and migraine

Feverfew, Shirtbuttons, Chamomile Flowers, Feverfew or in Latin Tanacetum parthenium, many names for a forgotten herb that is now once again in the spotlight of medicinal interest. Not a real native plant, but a simple tomboy that, with its yellow tubular and white ray florets, fits nicely in our yellow-white garden.

Family Feverfew

The strange camphoraceous scent of the leaves is reminiscent of the Tansy, which means they both belong to the genus Tanacetum and to the large family of Composite Flowers. Feverfew is a perennial plant that grows to a height of about 30 to 50 cm, the flowers are very similar to the Chamomile, but the leaves are much wider and there are varieties of the Feverfew with only tubular flowers, the so-called Shirtbuttons or with only ray flowers, so species with double flowers. Propagating these plants is easy, they self-seed or can be easily torn.

History of our feverfew

Already in the time of Dioscorides, the plant was used against menstrual complaints and headaches. In the Middle Ages it was grown in the monastery gardens as a headache remedy. Feverfew was also known as an antipyretic herb. The feverfew became popular, especially in England, through the publication of the famous herbalist John Gerard Herball (1597). He wrote dried and pulverized, two drachmas mixed with honey or sweet wine, drives away phlegm and melancholy, it is good for all who have spinning in the head, or who have the dizziness called vertigo. Two hundred years later, Dr. Hill, a pharmacist from Covent Garden, picks up the thread in his Family Herbal. For the worst headaches, this herb surpasses all other remedies, he assures. Yet it would take another 200 years for the final breakthrough. A doctor’s wife from Cardiff had reported in the media that the Feverfew had freed her from lifelong migraines. Many migraine sufferers started using Feverfew with success, with seven out of ten patients claiming that using it made their headaches less frequent and less painful.
Due to its great popularity, doctors began to conduct clinical studies, which gave us more and more precise knowledge about the Feverfew. This plant is a good example of an old-fashioned herb that has been developed into a modern and efficient medicine through scientific research.

Why does feverfew work?

Feverfew smells strongly and tastes bitter. Chemists call these bitter substances in the plant sesquiterpene lactones. For the plant itself, lactones have a function as an antifungal agent. There are hundreds of different types of these substances, in the Feverfew it is mainly the lactone parthenolide that determines the effect. In the human body, this substance prevents the breakdown of some platelets, reducing the release of histamine and other irritants and thus preventing pain and inflammation.
In the traditional applications (headache, fever, female ailments) of feverfew, we notice a striking similarity with the effect of salicylates (aspirin ). Research has now shown that feverfew, like aspirin, partly owes its effect to regulating the prostaglandins in the body. These are the body’s own hormone-like substances that transmit signals to almost all organs and thus influence, among other things, the contraction or expansion of blood vessels and regulate inflammatory responses.

Migraine but also for more good

Feverfew, as the name suggests, has been used for thousands of years to treat female ailments. Now that we know how great the influence of prostaglandins is on the menstrual cycle and how feverfew can influence the production of these substances, it is not surprising that this herb can be used for painful menstruation or during menopause. Feverfew could also prevent miscarriages in some cases, but to be on the safe side, use during pregnancy is not recommended.
As a lady’s herb, we can better combine this plant with Lady’s Mantle and Black Cohosh, two other herbs from our pharmacy garden. We can
also use Tanacethum parthenium for unwanted inflammatory reactions, which are so characteristic of rheumatism, especially in combination with Meadowsweet. Joint complaints are clearly relieved by regularly drinking this herbal tea. It tastes very bitter and can cause irritation of the oral mucosa in hypersensitive people. If that is the case, it is better to use capsules of the herb that are available from herbalists or pharmacists.

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