Feverfew has an interesting history. This member of the daisy family has been used for centuries to treat headaches, arthritis, and problems with labor and childbirth. Ancient Greek physicians used it to reduce inflammation and treat menstrual cramps. Although it was once used to treat fevers, as its name suggests, it was not very effective. It is now used to prevent migraine headaches, and several scientific studies suggest that it works well for that purpose.
Native to southeastern Europe, feverfew is now widespread throughout Europe, North America, and Australia. Feverfew is a short perennial that blooms between July and October, and gives off a strong and bitter odor. Its yellow-green leaves are alternate (the leaves grow on both sides of the stem at alternating levels), and turn downward with short hairs. The small, daisy-like yellow flowers are arranged in a dense flat-topped cluster.
What is it Made Of?
Feverfew products usually contain dried feverfew leaves, but all parts of the plant that grow above ground may be used. Researchers thought a substance called parthenolide, which helps relieve spasms in smooth muscle tissue, was what made feverfew effective against migraines. However, after more studies researchers are not sure which part of the herb may best treat or prevent migraines.
Parthenolide may also reduce inflammation and may stop cancer cells from growing.
Medicinal Uses and Indications
Feverfew is used mostly to treat and prevent headaches.
Feverfew was popular in the 1980s as a treatment for migraines. A survey of 270 people with migraines in Great Britain found that more than 70% of them felt much better after taking an average of 2 to 3 fresh feverfew leaves daily. Several human studies have used feverfew to prevent and treat migraines. Overall, these studies suggest that taking dried leaf capsules of feverfew every day may reduce the number of migraines in people who have chronic migraines.
One study used a combination of feverfew and white willow (Salix alba), which has chemicals like aspirin. People who took the combination twice a day for 12 weeks had fewer migraines and the pain did not last as long or hurt as much.
Another study found that people who took a special extract of feverfew had fewer migraine attacks per month compared to people who took placebo. A 3-month study with 49 people found that a combination of feverfew, magnesium, and vitamin B2 led to a 50% decrease in migraines.
Not all studies have found that feverfew works for migraines, however. Whether it reduces migraine pain and frequency may depend on which supplement you take. Ask your doctor to help you find out the right formula and dose for your needs.
Some laboratory tests show that feverfew can reduce inflammation, so researchers thought it might help treat rheumatoid arthritis (RA). However, a human study found that feverfew did not work any better than placebo in improving RA symptoms.
Preliminary studies suggest that feverfew may help reduce damaged skin cells and inflammation. Other studies show feverfew may help relieve dermatitis and improve the appearance of the skin.
Feverfew supplements are available fresh, freeze-dried, or dried. They can be purchased as capsules, tablets, or liquid extracts. Feverfew supplements used in clinical studies contain a standardized dose of parthenolide. Feverfew supplements should be standardized to contain at least 0.2% parthenolide.
How to Take It
DO NOT give feverfew to children under 2.
For older children, ask your doctor whether feverfew is safe for your child. Your doctor will determine the right dose.
For migraine headaches: Studies have used 50 to 100 mg daily, standardized to contain 0.2 to 0.35% parthenolides. Feverfew may be used to prevent or stop a migraine headache. Feverfew supplements may also be carbon dioxide extracted. For these, one study used 6.25 mg, 3 times daily, for up to 16 weeks.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a health care provider qualified in the field of botanical medicine.
Side effects from feverfew can include abdominal pain, indigestion, gas, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and nervousness. Some people who chew raw feverfew leaves may have mouth sores, loss of taste, and swelling of the lips, tongue, and mouth.
Rarely, allergic reactions to feverfew have been reported. People with allergies to chamomile, ragweed, or yarrow may be allergic to feverfew and should not take it.
Feverfew may increase the risk of bleeding, especially if you take blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin. Ask your doctor before taking feverfew if you take blood thinners.
Pregnant and nursing women, as well as children under 2, should not take feverfew.
If you are scheduled for surgery, tell your doctor if you are taking feverfew. It may interact with anesthesia.
DO NOT abruptly stop taking feverfew if you have used it for more than 1 week. Stopping feverfew too quickly may cause rebound headache, anxiety, fatigue, muscle stiffness, and joint pain.
Feverfew may change how prescription and nonprescription medications work. If you take any of the following medications, you should not use feverfew without first talking to your health care provider.
Blood-thinning medications: Feverfew may increase the risk of bleeding. Ask your doctor before taking feverfew if you take blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin.
Medications broken down by the liver: Feverfew can interact with many medications that are broken down by the liver. To be safe, ask your doctor before taking feverfew if you take any prescription medications.
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- Last reviewed on 3/27/2015
- Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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