Feverfew - Tanacetum parthenium:
(Also sometimes known as Chrysanthemum parthenium,
as well as a couple other names, simply due to dissention in the
nomenclature field over the genus of this plant.)
In New England, it flowers at the end of June and through much of July,
producing small daisy-like flowers with white petals surrounding a yellow area.
It is apparently a relative to the standard chrysanthenum, bearing
similarly-shaped leaves, only with more dimunitive flowers and leaves, and
more resistant to pests. It can grow to approximately two feet in height, and
is quite attractive in its own right.
Feverfew grows readily, reseeding itself in meadowlands and
through low-lying grasses in disrupted areas. It is a perennial.
We are not aware of any culinary uses for this plant. While not terribly
unpleasant, the leaves do have a "medicinal" taste.
Medicinal Uses in Folklore:
The leaves and flowers have been used for centuries to treat headache,
stomachache, fevers, and menstrual irregularities.
Scanning the Scientific Literature:
The main active ingredient has been determined to be the sesquiterpene lactone,
parthenolide. Compounds in this category work by allowing the walls of the
cerebral blood vessels to be less reactive to internal stimuli such as norepinephrine,
prostaglandins, and serotonin. This may be the mechanism by which migraines
are alleviated. It has also been demonstrated that extract of feverfew inhibits
release of serotonin from bovine (cow) platelets.
Feverfew has shown some indication of being effective against arthritis as
In other studies, feverfew lactones inhibited the production of the inflammatory
agents leukotriene B4 and thromboxane B2 in rat and human leukocytes.
A new flavinol, named tanetin, has recently been isolated, and it may also
be implicated in the anti-inflammatory activity of the plant.
On the down side, feverfew extract containing parthenolide caused loss of
tone in rabbit aorta. In part, this may be caused by potassium channel blocking.
This is a factor to consider closely when determining the safety of feverfew.
Allergic reactions to feverfew pollen are relatively common.
Parthenolide concentrations (the active ingredient) are most pronounced in
the leaves, flowers, and seeds of the plant, with a significantly lower level
in stalks and roots. Storage markedly decreases the amount of parthenolide
present. In some dried preparations, parthenolide was not detected. Since
efficacy against migraine has only been demonstrated in feverfew products
containing parthenolide, quality control is essential.
At the moment, none.
- Tyler, V.E. The Honest Herbal.
- Barsby RW. Salan U. Knight DW. Hoult JR.
Feverfew extracts and parthenolide irreversibly inhibit vascular responses
of the rabbit aorta.
Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology. 44(9):737-40, 1992 Sep.
- Barsby RW. Knight DW. McFadzean I.
A chloroform extract of the herb feverfew blocks voltage-dependent
potassium currents recorded from single smooth muscle cells.
Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology. 45(7):641-5, 1993 Jul.
- Heptinstall S. Awang DV. Dawson BA. Kindack D. Knight DW. May J.
Parthenolide content and bioactivity of feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium
(L.) Schultz-Bip.). Estimation of commercial and authenticated feverfew
Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology. 44(5):391-5, 1992 May.
- Marles RJ. Kaminski J. Arnason JT. Pazos-Sanou L. Heptinstall S.
Fischer NH. Crompton CW. Kindack DG. Awang DV.
A bioassay for inhibition of serotonin release from bovine platelets.
Journal of Natural Products. 55(8):1044-56, 1992 Aug.
- Paulsen E. Andersen KE. Hausen BM.
Compositae dermatitis in a Danish dermatology department in one year (I).
Results of routine patch testing with the sesquiterpene lactone mix
supplemented with aimed patch testing with extracts and sesquiterpene
lactones of Compositae plants.
Contact Dermatitis. 29(1):6-10, 1993 Jul.
- Sumner H. Salan U. Knight DW. Hoult JR.
Inhibition of 5-lipoxygenase and cyclo-oxygenase in leukocytes by
feverfew. Involvement of sesquiterpene lactones and other components.
Biochemical Pharmacology. 43(11):2313-20, 1992 Jun 9.
- Williams CA. Hoult JR. Harborne JB. Greenham J. Eagles J.
A biologically active lipophilic flavonol from Tanacetum parthenium.
Phytochemistry. 38(1):267-70, 1995 Jan.
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Last Updated: March 7, 1999.