photo by Steven Foster
The flowers of feverfew are reminiscent of chamomile flowers, ¾" daisy-like heads of white ray flowers with yellow centers. The inflorescence grows in rounded or flattish clusters. Leaves are strongly divided, 2-4 inches, petioled, 2-pinnate, and ovate in outline; yellowish- to dark green and feather-like. Hence the common name "featherfew." Stems are stout, ridged, branched, and covered with fine down. Older stems are woody. Plant is full and somewhat dense and grows to 3 feet. Leaves and flowers have a strong unpleasant scent that repels bees. This plant should not be grown next to others that depend on bee pollination. This is mostly a cultivated plant, but seeds itself everywhere. Escapes are more than common. In fact, keeping it contained is practically impossible. Feverfew blooms most times of the year in Southern California, keeping its green leaves year round.
The exceedingly bitter taste makes feverfew useless for food. But the plant has been cultivated extensively in Europe and other countries for medicine, especially for pain relief. It was rediscovered in the late 1970’s as a migraine remedy, dispelling not only headache pain, but also the nausea and vomiting associated with migraines. Feverfew is a strong vasodilator and is used to treat headaches caused by hypertension. Further, the fresh leaves, used in all the above applications, are used to treat arthritis pain and other pain due to inflammation. And feverfew has been used to relieve dizziness and tinnitus. The same cautions apply to people with aspirin sensitivities, of course.
One of the first uses of feverfew was to promote menstruation in cases where menses was sluggish or late. So the use of feverfew in cases of pregnancy should be avoided. It was used as a cold douche after labor to tone and cleanse the uterus. The leaves also stimulate the digestive system and are mildly laxative. However, the flowers have a pronounced laxative effect. Too, the leaves, being a strong insecticide, have been used to expel worms. There is some evidence that suggests feverfew might be useful as a sedative. Feverfew, though its name is really a corruption of "featherfew," is also used to bring down fevers, so is used for colds. A cold infusion is taken as a tonic.
Most effective are the fresh leaves, one leaf chewed up to four times per day. But infusions of 1 teaspoon dried herb per cup water are also used—hot for all the above applications except tonics, which are taken cold. Tinctures of feverfew are sold in health food stores, but are far less effective than the fresh leaf. Mouth ulcers and severe tenderness of the mouth and gums are a regular feature of using feverfew. Also, the plant may cause dermatitis when handled.
As an insecticide, a tea of feverfew (1 ounce dried herb to 1 pint water) will kill leafhoppers, aphids (plant next to roses), caterpillars, and beetles. This is a potent insecticide and if used regularly could upset the ecological balance of a garden. Use sparingly and with caution.