Originally native to the Balkans, this relative of the common daisy was spread by deliberate planting throughout Europe and the Americas. Feverfew's feathery and aromatic leaves have long been used medicinally to improve childbirth, promote menstruation, induce abortions, relieve rheumatic pain, and treat severe headaches.
Contrary to popular belief, feverfew is not used for lowering fevers. Actually, according to one source, "feverfew" is a corruption of the name "featherfoil."
At that time, the wife of the chief medical officer of the National Coal Board in England suffered from serious migraine headaches. When workers in the industry learned of this fact, a sympathetic miner suggested she try a folk treatment he had used. She followed his advice and chewed feverfew leaves. The results were dramatic: her migraines disappeared almost completely.
Her husband was impressed, too. He used his high office to gain the ear of a physician who specialized in migraine headaches, Dr. E. Stewart Johnson of the London Migraine Clinic. Johnson subsequently experimented with feverfew in his practice and seemed to observe good results. This led to the studies described below.
What Is Feverfew Used for Today?
Feverfew is primarily used for the prevention of migraine headaches
It is important to remember that serious diseases may occasionally first present themselves as migraine-type headaches. For this reason, proper medical diagnosis is essential if you suddenly start having migraines without a previous history, or if the pattern of your migraines changes significantly.
What Is the Scientific Evidence for Feverfew?
Five meaningful double-blind, placebo-controlled
In a well-conducted 16-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 170 people with migraines, use of a feverfew extract at a dose of 6.25 mg 3 times daily resulted in a significant decrease in headache frequency as compared to the effect of the placebo treatment.
A previous study using the same extract had failed to find benefit, but it primarily enrolled people with less frequent migraines.
Two other studies used whole feverfew leaf and found benefit. The first followed 59 people for 8 months.
One study using an alcohol extract failed to find benefit.
The tested liquid-carbon-dioxide feverfew extract is taken at a dose of 6.25 mg 3 times daily. To replicate the dosage of feverfew used in the two positive studies of whole leaf described above, take 80 to 100 mg of powdered whole feverfew leaf daily.
Animal studies suggest that feverfew is essentially nontoxic.
In one 8-month study, there were no significant differences in side effects between the treated and control groups.
In a survey involving 300 people, 11.3% reported mouth sores from chewing feverfew leaf, occasionally accompanied by general inflammation of tissues in the mouth.
In view of its use as a folk remedy to promote abortions, feverfew should probably not be taken during pregnancy.
Because feverfew might slightly inhibit the activity of blood-clotting cells known as platelets,
Safety in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with severe kidney or liver disease has not been established.
8. De Weerdt CJ, Bootsma HPR, Hendriks H. Herbal medicines in migraine prevention. Randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover trial of a feverfew preparation. Phytomedicine . 1996;3:225-230.
11. De Weerdt CJ, Bootsma HPR, Hendriks H. Herbal medicines in migraine prevention. Randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover trial of a feverfew preparation. Phytomedicine . 1996;3:225-230.
12. Pfaffenrath V, Diener H, Fischer M, et al. The efficacy and safety of Tanacetum parthenium (feverfew) in migraine prophylaxis-a double-blind, multicentre, randomized placebo-controlled dose-response study. Cephalalgia. 2002;22:523-532.
19. Sumner H, Salan U, Knight DW, et al. Inhibition of 5-lipoxygenase and cyclo-oxygenase in leukocytes by feverfew. Involvement of sesquiterpene lactones and other components. Biochem Pharmacol. 1992;43:2313-2320.
21. Pfaffenrath V, Diener H, Fischer M, et al. The efficacy and safety of Tanacetum parthenium (feverfew) in migraine prophylaxis-a double-blind, multicentre, randomized placebo-controlled dose-response study. Cephalalgia. 2002;22:523-532.
22. Diener H, Pfaffenrath V, Schnitker J, et al. Efficacy and safety of 6.25 mg t.i.d. feverfew CO-extract (MIG-99) in migraine prevention - a randomized, double-blind, multicentre, placebo-controlled study. Cephalalgia . 2005;25:1031-41.
Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
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