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What is feverfew?

A short, perennial plant with yellow-green leaves and yellow flowers that look like a daisy, feverfew is found throughout Europe, North America and Australia. The word is taken from the Latin term febrifuge, which literally means "fever-reducing." People originally planted feverfew in gardens and around their homes with the belief that it would purify the atmosphere and ward off disease.

Why do we need feverfew? What is it used for?

Feverfew has traditionally been used to combat headache, fever and arthritis. More recent studies have shown it to be successful in reducing the effects of migraine headaches. A survey conducted in Great Britain in the 1980s found that 70% of migraine sufferers experienced relief from their symptoms after eating two or three fresh feverfew leaves. Another study revealed that feverfew significantly reduced the symptoms of migraine headaches compared to a placebo.

The anti-migraine properties of feverfew have been attributed to substance called parthenolide. Parthenolide affects smooth muscle in the walls of blood vessels of the brain that block the action of vasoconstrictors like serotonin and norepinephrine.

How much feverfew should I take?

The amount of feverfew taken depends on the condition. To treat and prevent migraines, it is recommended to take a standardized feverfew extract (containing a minimum 250 micrograms of parthenolide) twice daily. To treat an acute migraine attack, one to two grams of parthenolide daily are recommended.

What forms of feverfew are available?

Feverfew is most readily available in capsule form. While most feverfew products are made from the leaves, some products also use the aerial (above ground) parts of the plant. When purchasing a feverfew product, make sure that it is standardized and that it contains at least 0.2 percent parthenolide.

What can happen if I take too much feverfew? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

No long-term studies on feverfew toxicology have been conducted. However, some people may experience unwanted side effects such as abdominal pain, flatulence, indigestion, nausea, diarrhea and nervousness when taking it.

If you are taking aspirin, warfarin or any other type of blood-thinning medication, you should not take feverfew. Women who are pregnant, nursing or menstruating should not ingest it; children under the age of two should also refrain from feverfew and should consult with a qualified health care provider first.

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• 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.
Johnson ES, Kadam NP, Hylands DM, Hylands PJ. Efficacy of feverfew as prophylactic treatment of migraine. Br Med J 1985;291:569—573.
Murphy JJ, Heptinstall S, Mitchell JR. Randomised double-blind placebo-controlled trial of feverfew in migraine prevention. Lancet 1988;2:189—192.
Palevitch D, Earon G, Carasso R. Feverfew (tanacetum parthenium) as a prophylactic treatment for migraine: a double-blind controlled study. Phytotherapy Res 1997;11:508—511.
Pattrick M, Heptinstall S, Doherty M. Feverfew in rheumatoid arthritis: a double-blind, placebo controlled study. Ann Rheum Dis 1989;48:547—549.
Tyler VE. Herbs of Choice: The Therapeutic Use of Phytomedicinals. Binghamton, NY: Pharmaceutical Products Press; 1994:126—134.


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