Feverfew: A Pain-Killing Herb

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Feverfew is an herb that originated in the Balkans and that belongs to the same family (Asteraceae) as the daisy, which also includes other herbs like dandelions and chamomile.

In Ancient Greece, Feverfew was called parthenion and used it to treat problems related to menstruation and childbirth. The story is that someone fell from the Parthenon as it was being constructed in 447 BCE, and the herb was used to save their life. A few centuries later, Pedanius Dioscorides recommended feverfew for treating inflammations.

Throughout history, one of feverfew’s primary uses was for easing difficulties with menstruation and other ailments that women might endure. The 17th-century naturalist Nicholas Culpeper wrote of feverfew, describing the herb as being able to strengthen the womb. Another English herbalist from this era — John Parkinson — would state that feverfew was effective for treating headaches.

In Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine, feverfew is said to act as a diuretic and ease stomach ailments in addition to helping with insomnia. King’s Dispensatory made similar claims that feverfew was good for digestion along with colds, irregular menstruation and hysteria.

The name has fever in it, which is somewhat misleading since the herb is not actually used to treat fevers. Feverfew is a corrupted version of featherfoil, which would eventually become featherfew — a name sometimes used for the plant. Featherfew eventually evolved to feverfew. The incorrect name would lead to some herbalists believing that the plant was able to treat fevers. Because it did not work, it was at one point dismissed as being ineffective.

Feverfew would eventually become a popular herb in the 1970s. According to a widely-repeated anecdote, the wife of the Chief Medical officer of England’s National Coal Board suffered from severe migraine headaches for which she could find no effective treatment. A miner suggested that she try feverfew. She did and the herb provided significant relief.

Feverfew flavor profile

Feverfew is primarily a medicinal herb rather than a culinary one. In fact, most people should note that the herb does have a bitter taste that might be off-putting to some. Some people also find that chewing the fresh herb irritates the mouth.

Health benefits of feverfew

You can use featherfew to treat or prevent:

  • Migraines: Double-blind placebo-controlled studies have shown feverfew to be effective for the treatment of migraine headaches. It decreases the severity of the headaches.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: Feverfew’s ability to fight inflammation also makes it effective for treating inflammatory conditions like arthritis. Researchers believe that feverfew slows the production of compounds that cause inflammation.
  • Dermatitis: There are many skin problems that fall into the general category of dermatitis but most involve some form of inflammation. Studies have shown that the anti-inflammatory effects of feverfew do help to lessen inflammation caused by dermatitis.
  • Cancer: Feverfew has been shown to be effective against both breast and cervical cancer cells. In studies, it inhibited the growth of these cells.
  • Blood clots: Feverfew acts as a blood-thinner, which mean that you can use it to stop the formation of blood clots. When used for this purpose, it may also be effective for preventing the serious health problems that blood clots can cause. Blood clots can result in strokes and heart attacks.

Common uses

Feverfew is most often used as a tea herb. Other ways to consume it include as a salad green or in as a sandwich garnish.