The Feverfew---Tanacetum parthenium

Feverfew belongs to the Family Asteraceae {daisy family} formerly known as the Compositae. They belong to the Order of plants Asterales and placed in the genus Tanacetum. The genus name of tanacetum derives from the Greek word athanaton which indicates immortality. There are several schools of thought that try to explain the connection below are three examples. 

1--The plant was believed to confer eternal life to those who drank an infusion of it.

2--Because it lasts so long in flower.

3--It was {Tansy} considered capitol for preserving dead bodies from corruption.

The species name of parthenium derives from a Greek word  which means maiden. The plant was also employed in preparations for women  especially those in childbirth.

Feverfew derives from the Latin febrifuga the plant being used to counteract the symptoms of fever.  Older names for the plant include featherfoil, flitwort, bachelors buttons, featherfew, and pyrethrum. The latter name of pyrethrum derives from the Greek pur indicating fire and alludes to the hot taste of the root.

This wild member of the chrysanthemum family was often grown as a medicinal herb {see below} and as an ornamental plant in cottage gardens. The long flowering period was also a factor of it being chosen to grow in cottage gardens.  As I write { Mid December } feverfew is still flowering in my garden. However, because of its ability to spread rapidly by self seeding it has lost favour in many modern gardens. It is an aromatic perennial with a distinct characteristic smell. The plant seems to be disliked by bees. It is thought that medieval monks and herbalists introduced the herb to Britain.

Feverfew flowers

photograph courtesy of Vsion {Creative commons attribution}

Description of feverfew., Tanacetum parthenium

The stems which attain the height of up to 90 cm are round, and much branched in the top half, and lightly furrowed. The foliage is of a light yellow green colour divided by broad toothed lobes. They are dense , somewhat  lacy like fern foliage , alternately arranged, slightly downy with serrated margins, borne on short stalks.

The flowers are numerous, packed loosely in clusters and daisy like in appearance with a central yellow disc composed of tubular florets, which are flattish not conical in shape. The disc is surrounded by white ray florets that make up the flower head. The individual flower heads are 2 cm across. The fruit is an achne. Seeds germinate readily.

Feverfew just before flowering.

photo by Dal

Flowering stem, and foliage upper and lower surfaces.

photo by Dal

Feverfew historical medicinal uses.

The following paragraph is taken from The Family Herbal published in the 1800s---" The whole plant is used, it is best fresh, but it preserves some virtue when dried. It is to be given in tea, and is excellent against hysteric disorders, it promotes the menses"

Culpeper {1600s}-- " The powder of the herb taken in wine with some oxymel  purgeth both choler and phlegm and is available for those that are short winded and are troubled with melancholy"


Feverfew contains Cosmosline, Borneol, Partenolide, Volatile oil and Sesquiterpine lactones.

Herbalist usually prepare feverfew in the form of a tincture. Dried powdered leaves can be pressed into a tablet which are usually available in good health shops. A traditional way of using feverfew is to eat fresh leaves from the plant at the rate of two large or four small leaves daily. However, the reader is advised to try a nibble first for the taste of feverfew foliage is very strong and bitter which also makes it an acquired taste in infusions. .

For winter use the foliage can be collected throughout the summer and frozen in ice, then made into a syrup when required. feverfew has longed been use to cure headaches and science has proved that it is beneficial against migraine. it is used as an antispasmodic.

Although the plant has fell out of favour in reducing the symptoms of fever, from which the plant takes its common name,the plant still retains some merit when taken as a syrup to reduce the symptoms of colds, flu, asthma and  related breathing difficulties.

Ointments containing feverfew are used as insect repellents and for curing the bites and stings of insects.

Chewing the foliage of feverfew can, in some cases, cause irritation in the mouth, however, this will cease once the practice has ceased. Feverfew is better when procured from a herbalist or in products ready made such as tinctures and capsules from Health shops {drug stores}

Anyone using feverfew for the first time is well advised to read WILD HERB ADVISE. 

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