Feverfew is believed to help migraine sufferers because of the unique plant chemical it contains, parthenolide, which helps relieve smooth muscle spasms and can combat the widening of blood vessels that occurs in migraines. This effect appears to be backed up by research which shows that Feverfew can reduce the frequency of migraines and reduce symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light (flashing lights).
According to herbmed.org: "It is the combination of ingredients in the Feverfew plant that brings such effective relief. It works to inhibit the release of two inflammatory substances, serotonin and prostaglandins, both believed to contribute to the onset of migraines."
"By inhibiting these amines as well as the production of the chemical histamine, the herb controls inflammation that constricts the blood vessels in the head, and prevents blood vessel spasms which may contribute to headaches".
One particular study in the UK took a survey of 270 migraine sufferers and found that more than 70% of them felt significantly better after taking an average of 2 to 3 fresh Feverfew leaves daily. Several human studies have used this herb to prevent and treat migraines although overall, these studies suggest that Feverfew is best used as an aid to preventing migraines.
Menstrual cramps occur when the lining of the uterus makes large amounts of prostaglandins. When these cells break down during menstruation, the prostaglandins are released. They constrict the blood vessels in the uterus and make its muscle layer contract, causing painful cramps. Because Feverfew has been shown to reduce prostaglandin production, it may be helpful in easing menstrual cramps.
Whist there is conflicting evidence regarding the use of this herb to provide arthritis relief; Feverfew does possess potent anti-inflammatory properties, which help to prevent swelling and damage to the joints.
There are a group of proteins known as NFkappaB that are a pro-inflammatory signalling pathway which is particularly associated with arthritis. Parthenolide, one of the powerful sesquiterpene lactones found in this herb, is responsible for the bioactive effects of Feverfew, acting as a NFkappaB inhibitor. By inhibiting the process of NFkappaB activation, the severity of the joint erosion can be reduced and the progression of arthritis can be prevented.
Feverfew also acts as an antioxidant, protecting the joint tissues against free radical damage and preventing damage to the membranes lining the surfaces of the bones. This reduces friction between the ends of 2 bones at a place where they meet to form a joint, which may help to provide long-term relief to persons suffering from arthritis.
Folklore and history
The Greek doctors, Dioscorides (60 AD) and Claudius Galenus of Pergamum (129-199 AD), described Feverfew in their works by the name “Parthénium”, which translates roughly as “virgin” or “virgin goddess”. In ancient times it was widely used as a medicinal herb for women’s health.
By the 18th Century, Feverfew had been widely adopted in Great Britain for headaches, tooth and stomach pains. Feverfew uses also included addressing symptoms related to rheumatism, joint inflammation and the early stages of arthritis.
In his 1772 publication, "The Family Herbal", English physician, pharmacist and botanist Dr. John Hill described the Feverfew plant as one “surpassing anything previously used against headaches.” Through his endorsement, the Feverfew herb became accepted in England as “the aspirin of the 18th century.”
The word "Feverfew" derives from the Latin word febrifugia, meaning "fever reducer" or "to drive out fevers". With a long history of traditional use, the Ancient Greek physician Dioscorides gave a decoction of Feverfew to women in labour to speed up the birth process by increasing contractions. The Romans used it as an emmenagogue, to induce or increase menstrual flow and they also used it during difficult births to aid in the expulsion of the placenta.
It gained notoriety as a remedy for migraines after the wife of a Welsh doctor described how she used it to end a 50 year struggle with these debilitating headaches. It is reported that she ate three Feverfew leaves per day for a period of 10 months, over which time her migraines disappeared completely. This has triggered many studies being undertaken by the scientific community on Feverfew as an aid to migraine prevention.
Feverfew can be made into a hot drink by decocting the leaves into boiling water. Use 1-2 teaspoons per cup of boiling water and steep for 3-10 minutes depending on taste.
Feverfew Tincture can be added to water or fruit juice and taken daily.
Traditionally Taken: 2-3ml taken 2-3 times per day, or as directed by a Herbal Practitioner.
Feverfew contains sesquiterpene lactones, volatile oil, pyrethrin, tannins, parthenolide, pyrethrin, alpha-pinene, sequiterpenes. Over 85% of these are the compound parthenolide.
Pregnant women are recommended to avoid any decoction of Feverfew entirely as it might lead to uterine contraction, resulting in miscarriage. Lactating mothers and children below two years of age should not take this herb.