These days this shrubby little plant of the daisy family is most widely known as Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium). Its original home is in the Balkans, but it is now widespread across the northern hemisphere, including in and around my garden, where it happily self-seeds. It reached Britain in the Middle Ages, perhaps brought by returning Crusaders (that’s only a guess). It was certainly used medicinally by the Ancient Greeks. As the name suggests it was used to relieve fevers. Other uses included the relief of headaches, particularly migraine, rheumatism and general aches and pains.
Many migraine sufferers swear by it, and make sandwiches of the leaves, or chew them neat (warning: they taste very bitter). There have been a number of clinical trials. Some claim it works e.g Dr Stewart Johnson’s study at the City of London Migraine Clinic (Richard Mabey Flora Britannica). Other studies claim it was no more effective than a placebo, which always sounds damning.
Of course modern medicine is most interested in identifying and then commodifying the specific so-called active ingredient of any medicinal plant because then you can clinically test the substance in known amounts, and if it is deemed to work, licence and market it. But then plant chemistry is extremely complex, and medical herbalists do not think in terms of isolating specific ingredients. They use whole plant parts – leaves, flowers, bark in tinctures, decoctions and teas. Any so-called active components will be in very small quantities, and the treatment may take weeks or months to effect healing.
Anyway here is the conclusion from a scientific study reported in Pharmacognosy Review 2011 Jan-Jun 103-110 and posted on The National Center for Biotechnology Information website. You can read the whole article at the link:
T. parthenium (L.) contains many sesquiterpene lactones, with higher concentration of parthenolide lipophilic and polar flavonoids in the leaves and the flower heads. The plant also contains high percentage of sterols and triterpenes in the roots. Flowers and leaves and parthenolide showed significant analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antipyretic activities, which confirmed the folk use of feverfew herb for treatment of migraine headache, fever, common cold, and arthritis, and these effects are attributed to leaves and/or flowers mainly due to the presence of sesquiterpene lactones and flavonoids. Feverfew also use as spasmolytic in colic, colitis and gripping, and as vermifuge and laxative. The uterine stimulant effect of the plant agreed with the folk uses of the plant as abortifacient, emmenagogue, and in certain labor difficulties and also agreed with the warning of the drug producer, which indicates the prevention of using feverfew during pregnancy but not agree with the folk use of the drug in threatened miscarriage. Taking great concern of the useful benefits of the plant, it can be advocated as a safe, highly important, medicinal plant for general mankind.