What is Feverfew?
The feverfew plant is a relative of the sunflower and daisy, and it also goes by names such as bachelor’s buttons, Flirtwort Midsummer Daisy and featherfoil. In scientific circles, feverfew is called Tanacetum parthenium. According to Edwards (2007), the species name (parthenium) came from the plant being rumored to have once been used to save someone’s life after they fell off the Parthenon in ancient Greece. Likewise, the main active chemical compound of feverfew bears the name ‘parthenolide.’
RelayHealth (2013) says, Feverfew is a short, bushy plant that grows along the roadside and resembles chamomile. Despite straddling the line between flowers and weeds, feverfew has an exceptional reputation for its health benefits. While more testing is needed to determine many of its claims as a health supplement, feverfew has passed a number of clinical trials based on its efficacy against migraines, and as a stem cell killer of myeloid leukemia.
Given the apparent successes of feverfew under clinical study, it’s hopeful that more uses will be verified, or even discovered. Considering its history as a traditional herbal remedy for thousands of years, and that its use survives in today’s modern society, natural remedy users should consider some of the benefits of feverfew.
Additionally, feverfew can be grown in a small garden, and there are a number of ways the plant can be ingested or used. The simplest way is in capsule or tablet form found in local pharmacies, but the feverfew leaves and flowers can also be dried to be used in teas, or its leaves can even be chewed. While the National Institutes of Health (NIH) calls feverfew “likely safe,” it is indeed a powerful plant, and precautions should be taken before eating a plant on the side of the road.
This article will cover the verified health benefits of feverfew. It’ll also offer a bit of practical information regarding the use of the plant as a supplement, and in its dried-plant form. Finally, because natural remedies and health supplements are indeed powerful, the article will conclude with a section of warnings.
Benefits of Feverfew
There are a number of maladies rumored to be cured by using feverfew in different ways. Feverfew has long been considered an analgesic, and has been put to use as a painkiller against headaches and arthritis (potato juice as well as mustard seed oil can help with these issues too), as well as used as a topical compound to soothe sensitive and irritated skin. A non-exhaustive list of the many reported (Source, NIH), but not necessarily confirmed uses of feverfew looks like:
- Treating migraines and headaches
- Curing a cold
- Rheumatoid arthritis relief
- Edema, (i.e. swelling, mostly in ankles or feet)
- Improve menstrual flow and regularity
While that list is impressive, much of it might not be real. For instance, the NIH says studies of feverfew’s effect on rheumatoid arthritis have concluded that the supplement does not treat the affliction. Still, a study conducted on feverfew in 2005 highlighted a number of problems in earlier tests and studies on the plant, given lax methodology on data collection.
Feverfew & Migraines
The aforementioned study was a 16-week double-blind trial ultimately involving over 200 migraine sufferers in Germany and France. There was a group given a tablet of feverfew extract, and another group receiving the placebo. Before the study began, there was a baseline period of testing to determine a migraine rate.
After the study concluded, both groups showed a decline in the rate of migraines and their severity, but the feverfew group’s decline was significantly more than the placebo group. What’s more is that the placebo group actually registered more adverse reactions than the feverfew group. That means more people got sick off the fake medicine than people did on the real stuff.
The thing about the study is it wasn’t a study of treating migraines; it was a study of preventing them. What the doctors determined was feverfew works as a migraine preventer, and it needs to build up in the system in order to work. Therefore, feverfew must be taken every day to prevent migraines, and it can take several weeks before it builds up in the system enough that its benefits can be felt.
While the actual mechanisms behind the anti-migraine benefits of feverfew remain a mystery, the compound parthenolide is thought to take a part, as a vasodilator that opens blood vessels in the brain. Parthenolide is also believed to block serotonin, which is thought to be a migraine trigger.
Feverfew as an Anti-Inflammatory
Speaking of blocking, feverfew blocks the COX-2 enzyme within the body, which causes inflammation, according to Dr. Stephen Holt. What’s special about the way feverfew does it is that it’s the only compound that blocks COX-2 without negative side effects, such as blocking the COX-1 enzyme, which plays an important role in the functioning of platelets, and the digestive system. Until feverfew and a number of other natural remedies were found to block the COX-2 enzyme, it was thought that blocking that enzyme should be avoided, due to negative consequences.
Feverfew to Soothe Irritated Skin
Feverfew is thought to help soothe redness and irritation present in sensitive or sunburned skin. However, it can also be a cause of irritated skin, if too much is used, or if the person using it has an allergy.
Feverfew Against Leukemia
While it’s not being touted as a miracle drug yet, the benefits of feverfew have breached the world of cancer, and it’s reported by Nedley (2009) in Vibrant Life, that feverfew kills malignant leukemia stem cells – the first known substance to do that. Nedley says scientists believe attacking cancer at the stem cell level is the only way to control it, not to mention curing it. The study from the University of Rochester Medical Center also noted that while feverfew kills the malignant leukemia stem cells, it leaves bone marrow nearly untouched, which is desirable.
How to Use Feverfew
If you’re planning on using feverfew to prevent migraines, Bjornson says in her 2007 article “Pill Free, Pain Free,” to take 100 to 200 mg of feverfew daily, and to make sure it’s standardized to contain at least 0.2 percent parthenolide. Standardization is an issue in the United States for feverfew in particular, because as it is a botanical supplement, is not regulated by the Food & Drug Administration. Other countries, such as Canada and Germany have a standard set for the amount of parthenolide contained within a supplement. Most importantly, to maintain its efficacy, feverfew must be taken every day.
If using the feverfew plant itself, Tyler (2001) said in Prevention that chewing two leaves and swallowing them should equal one dose of feverfew, if the plant is of good quality. He warns the taste is bitter, but that’s not the only thing to look out for.
Warnings about Feverfew & Side Effects
As with any supplements or remedies, you should talk to your doctor before you start using feverfew. While the NIH calls feverfew safe, and in clinical studies, the placebo group had more adverse effects, It is in fact a powerful herb, and there are side effects reported with its use.
Pregnant women also should avoid feverfew, as it’s thought to cause premature contractions, and was traditionally used to induce abortions, according to NIH. They also say that children under two should not take feverfew.
If using parts of the feverfew plant in teas, or by chewing leaves, it is very possible you will get sores on your tongue or in your mouth. That’s not all though, fever few can also cause your tongue and mouth to swell, and you can even lose your sense of taste. This stands doubly true for feverfew, as it is a powerful herb, and what’s more, is it’s a powerful allergen for some people. If you are allergic to ragweed, daisies, sunflowers, etc., then you are most likely allergic to feverfew, and you should avoid taking it, and allowing it to make contact with your skin.
Feverfew can also interact with more than a few medications. It should not be taken with other anti-coagulants, as it thins out the blood. Aspirin is an anti-coagulant, so taking it along with feverfew should also be avoided.
Lastly, users of feverfew should be warned of effects when coming off the supplement. While there are many benefits of feverfew, one of the biggest detractions is the symptoms of physical withdrawal. Feverfew helps prevent headaches, but if someone stops taking it, the “rebound effect” is that the headaches return, as well as feelings of nausea, nervousness and sleeplessness. When stopping a feverfew regimen, the NIH recommends to go off it gradually, by lowering dosages over time.Image Source: flickr.com