This herb’s name hints at what people once though it did: reduce fevers. “Feverfew” is actually a bastardization of the classic term febrifugia, meaning fever reducer. These days, however, there is more support for the use of feverfew in headache prevention than fever treatment. In fact, feverfew has become a popular proactive herb among migraine headache sufferers.
Tanacetum parthenium (also Chrysanthenum parthenium) is a hardy plant that, at first blush, resembles chamomile, donning lovely yellow and white flowers. It is a hardy grower that can thrive in a range of soil conditions, meaning that its composition varies slightly by region. The active ingredient for migraine headache prevention is a substance called parthenolide, a lactone compound that affects the blood of the brain. Parthenolide reacts with other compounds to prevent inflammation and blood vessel expansion associated with migraine headaches. While this increase in vascular diameter is not necessarily the ultimate cause of migraine headaches, it is the source of the pain that afflicted people experience.
Feverfew is not an immediate treatment for a migraine headache because it does not yield instant results. Rather, feverfew slowly works as a prevention herb. After taking feverfew for several weeks, many consistent migraine sufferers report fewer and less intense headaches. Though official research is inconclusive, ample anecdotal evidence exists for the use of feverfew to treat frequent migraines through prevention. And beyond preventing the vascular dilation associated with migraine headaches, it is sometimes used to ease menstrual cramps, arthritis, and other pain.
The herb is not considered harmful unless taken in combination with blood thinning products (like aspirin) or taken consistently in high doses year after year. Some users report that an abrupt stoppage of feverfew intake can cause nausea and (ironically) headaches. If you start taking feverfew and then decide to stop, it’s best to taper off your doses by slowly.
Some feverfew herbal supplements use the entire above ground plant – stem, leaves, and blossom – and others use just the leaves. In any case, the exact amount of parthenolide is what really matters. The most effective feverfew herbal products contain 0.3% to 0.5% parthenolide. Be sure to scrutinize the labels to ensure you’re not wasting money on a weak batch of feverfew. Because of its bitter taste, feverfew is less frequently available in tea form or as a direct consumption herb, so you’ll probably want to buy gelatin- and water-based capsules to enjoy the health benefit of feverfew without wincing.
The following online herbal stores sell feverfew as a headache prevention herb.
www.zooscape.com : sells a broad array of feverfew products, including tablets, tinctures, and tea
www.1001herbs.com : sells what they call “high parthenolide” capsules
www.ihealthtree.com : stocks various brands of capsules, including Nature’s Herbs and Nature’s Way
www.organicpharmacy : offers organic feverfew capsules by NOW foods and Pure Encapsulations