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Feverfew For Migraines
by Eva Urbaniak, N.D.
Feverfew, or Tanacetum parthenium, is a common plant found throughout the United States. It was introduced from Europe and has firmly taken hold in the U.S. and southern Canada. It is an ornamental and medicinal herb. Feverfew strongly resembles the Roman chamomile plant (both are of the Compositae family) and emits a strong, lasting aroma if touched. The plant contains high amounts of essential oils, terpenes, esters, and glucosides. It is an upright, firm and stalky plant, growing up to two and a half feet high. The leaves are alternate and divided into broad, lobed segments resembling that of the chrysanthemum. It fact, one of its other botanical names is Chrysanthemum parthenium. Daisy-like flower heads bloom from June through August, with white ray flowers surrounding nearly flat yellow centers, and grow about one inch across.

Historically, the name Feverfew derived from the scientific term, febrifuge, which means a medicine that reduces fevers, for which it was used apparently with great success. It received its Greek name parthenion, (girl) from its reputed power to promote menstruation and treat gynecological problems. Some of the proven actions of Feverfew are as an antiseptic, a bitter (a stimulant or tonic for digestive troubles), vermifuge (expels worms), an anti-inflammatory, vasodilator, bee and insect repellent and a soothing balm for their bites, inhibition of platelet aggregation, and as a uterine stimulant. Herbalists have recommended this herb for nervousness, hysteria, and low spirits. A tea made from the leaves can treat colds, indigestion, diarrhea, and a tea from the flowers will promote menstrual flow. Sometimes used to flavor wines and pastries in Europe, the leaves are served with fried eggs in Italy.

The fragrance of Feverfew is so potent and pleasant, it acts as a mood elevator for me. Years ago, while still in naturopathic medical school, I learned about Feverfew as a cure for migraine headaches, which I suffered from at the time. Since my garden abounded with the plant, I decided to experiment on myself, to dry the plant and make a tea from the leaves and flowers. However, the flavor of every part of this plant is so extremely bitter, I could not taste even the smallest amount without making a terrible face. I couldn't believe that something with such a wonderful fragrance could taste so bitter! What we know about bitters is that they aid in stomach and liver function. The flowers are actually more bitter than the leaves. I could barely drink the concoction, but that was the beginning of the end of my migraine headaches. I believe that the fragrance alone of this wonderful plant is sufficient to cure headache. I have experienced this phenomenon just sitting next to the plant in full bloom enjoying its soothing aroma.

When I wrote about my experience with Feverfew in school, I suggested that the curative power of the herb for headache might be because the taste is so horrible, it makes one forget about the pain! Luckily, Feverfew can be purchased in freeze-dried, encapsulated form for ease of ingestion. Also, it is important to note that headaches can be a symptom of other problems. See your doctor if you have recurring, severe headaches. I worked with a dentist at Children's hospital who suffered from blinding migraine headaches. She tried Feverfew and said it didn't help her. Two factors I observed which might have been interfering with Feverfew helping her were:

  1. She regularly performed surgery in the O.R., which exposed her to Halothane gas and other noxious fumes used as anesthesia (even though the patient has a mask covering the nose, when working in the mouth the gases escape into the room),
  2. She drank about two pots of black tea per day, which could have been giving her headaches caused by caffeinism. So it is important to explore all the potential causes for migraines before using herbs to treat them.

When using Feverfew, toxicity can occur with higher doses. Symptoms include uterine contraction, so its use is contraindicated in pregnancy. In some people, contact with the plant can cause skin irritation. Signs of overdose are nausea, ringing in the ears, and headache. For treatment of migraines, 50 mg. of the freeze-dried leaves twice a day is the recommended dose.

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