Cheerful, many-blossomed feverfew resembles daisies and chamomile, yet possesses its own charms. While it has minor uses as a potpourri ingredient, the flowering herb is best known for its medicinal properties. It was once used extensively for reducing fevers; alternative clinical use is now focused on feverfew for migraine relief in both fresh and capsule form. As a garden plant, its small blossoms and white-yellow coloring make it welcome in almost any herb or ornamental bed.
A relative of sunflowers and chrysanthemums, feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium, syn. Chrysanthemum parthenium) grows two feet high. It blooms with dozens of small daisy-like flowers starting in midsummer. The flowers feature yellow disk-like centers surrounded by a dozen white petals. The herb's multiple stems are round, ridged and medium green, branching into large, deeply-divided leaves whose rounded edges look a bit like geranium foliage.
Plant feverfew where it will receive at least six hours of sunlight. The herb grows best in dry, not overly fertilized soil. In the spring, work the soil lightly, scatter the seed, and cover it with a ¼-inch layer of soil. Water the area at least once a week until the seedlings are several inches tall. Thin the feverfew plants to 12 inches apart. Once the seedlings become established, don't overwater the area; feverfew thrives in dry areas. The plants self-sow with great abandon, which usually makes future seed sowing unnecessary.
Feverfew contains a compound called parthenolide, which works to prevent the blood vessel constrictions that contribute to migraines. Some migraine sufferers grow a steady supply of feverfew in order to eat several leaves daily. An broad survey of migraine sufferers in England during the 1980s revealed that 70 percent experienced fewer migraines after eating at least two to three leaves of feverfew each day, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Because direct contact with the leaves may cause mouth sores in sensitive patients, herbalist Lesley Bremness advises putting the leaves in a sandwich, letting the bread form a protective cover.
Other Medical Uses
While feverfew is rarely used to control actual fevers anymore, other ailments for which the herb is sometimes employed include asthma, arthritis, skin problems and stomach pain. The University of Maryland Medical Center notes that arthritis research is still inconclusive. Further, the herb sometimes exacerbates bleeding disorders or the side effects of blood-thinning medication. Always consult a physician before taking either fresh feverfew leaves or feverfew supplements.
Pick leaves and flowers any time during the growing season. Dry the plants in bunches in a cool, dry place, and store the dried material in an airtight container. Bremness suggests using both dried leaves and flowers for feverfew tea. The tea may promote migraine prevention as well as act as a soothing tonic for nerves and for the relief of menstrual pain. Dried flowers also add a yellow splash of color to potpourris.