Friday, March 4, 2011

Tanacetum parthenium - Feverfew

Tanacetum parthenium - Feverfew, a member of the Chrysanthemum family, feverfew (also called Chrysanthemum parthenium) is sometimes called Wild Chamomile, as the two plants are very similar.  Feverfew has been used for centuries in European folk medicine as a remedy for headaches, arthritis, and fevers.  The word "feverfew" derives from the Latin febrifugia, meaning "fever-reducer."   It is also sometimes called Altamisa, Amargosa, Bachelor's Button, Chrysantheum parthenium,  Flirtwort, Manzanilla, Featherfew, Featherfoil, Wild Chamomile, Tansy, Febrifuge Plant, Midsummer Daisy, Mutterkraut, Nosebleed, Wild Quinine and Parthenium.

Feverfew is a perennial plant and hardy in zones 3 to 9. It is sometimes grown for its leaves, which are used in teas to reduce fevers and anxiety. This plant grows up to 2 feet tall and has small, daisy-like flowers.

Native to southeastern Europe, feverfew is now widespread throughout Europe, North America, and Australia.  Feverfew is a short perennial that blooms between July and October, and gives off a strong and bitter odor. Its yellow-green leaves are alternate (the leaves grow on both sides of the stem at alternating levels), and turn downward with short hairs. The small, daisy-like yellow flowers are arranged in a dense flat-topped cluster.

Feverfew products usually consist of dried feverfew leaves, but all parts of the plant that grow above ground may also be used for medicinal purposes. The migraine-relieving activity of feverfew  is believed to be due to parthenolide, an active compound that helps relieve smooth muscle spasms. In particular, it helps prevent the constriction of blood vessels in the brain (one of the leading causes of migraine headaches). Parthenolide also inhibits the actions of compounds that cause inflammation and may inhibit cancer cell growth.

Feverfew gained popularity in Great Britain in the 1980s as an alternative to conventional medications for migraine headaches. Studies suggest that feverfew taken daily as dried leaf capsules may reduce the incidence of attacks in patients who experience long-term migraine headaches.  Feverfew is also used to treat menstrual irregularities, labor difficulties, skin conditions, stomach aches, and asthma.

CAUTION:  Feverfew should not be used by pregnant and nursing women as well as children under 2 years of age.  Do not use feverfew if you have bleeding disorders or are taking blood-thinning medications.  People with allergies to chamomile, ragweed, or yarrow should not take feverfew.  Also, do not abruptly stop taking feverfew if you have used it for more than 1 week. A withdrawal syndrome characterized by rebound headache, anxiety, fatigue, muscle stiffness, and joint pain may occur.

Feverfew is useful for cats as an alternative to aspirin, which is toxic to felines.  Pets can be bathed in a cooled tea as a flea rinse.

Contrary to reports in some popular health magazines, there is no evidence that wild crafted feverfew contains more parthenolide than cultivated feverfew. Interestingly, the head florets contain as much as four times the amount of parthenolide as the leaf, the florets, however, have never been used as material in clinical trials. 

Feverfew prefers full sun, but will tolerate some shade, it also likes a well-drained soil. The plant grows into a small bush with citrus-scented leaves and is covered by flowers reminiscent of daisies. It can be propagated by root divisions, stem cuttings, or seed in the spring, transplanting to the garden when outdoor temperature and soil has fully warmed. It usually self-sows and spreads rapidly, they will cover a wide area after a few years.  Feverfew has a bitter scent and taste making it unattractive to bees and other insects.  Do not put this plant anywhere in the garden where you want bees, as they will avoid any area where feverfew is present.  Feverfew should be placed near other plants that you want protected from insects.

A legend says that Feverfew was called "Parthenium" because it was used to save the life of someone who had fallen from the Parthenon in AthensAccording to popular superstition in the Middle Ages,  Feverfew was planted around dwellings for its powers to ward off disease, purify the atmosphere and repel insects.

An amulet of feverfew can be worn to prevent all afflictions to the head and to keep one's bearings straight.  It is also believed that using Feverfew will assist in breaking hexes cast upon a person.  Ancient Greeks and the Romans aligned Feverfew with the underworld as its odor was thought to be similar to that of a corpse and that by using it magically, it masked the scent of corpses in funereal rituals.

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