An Outbreak Of Flirtwort? Or Would That Be batchelor’s Buttons, Featherfoil Or Midsummer Daisy?

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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.

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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.

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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.

27 thoughts on “An Outbreak Of Flirtwort? Or Would That Be batchelor’s Buttons, Featherfoil Or Midsummer Daisy?

  1. So THAT’S feverfew – I’d heard of it, but had no idea what it was, or that it potentially had medicinal properties. Really interesting – and I love places that explain about this kind of thing. It’s all I can do, frankly, to get past ‘plant’ and identify ‘some kind of daisy’.

  2. I had some pop up in my ‘parking area’ last year, I was hoping to see it again this so I could get some seeds, but no sign of it 😦 It is a very pretty daisy plant.

    1. It does seem to have a mind of its own. But it will doubtless pop up somewhere else. It’s only just started to make an appearance in my garden – this year that is.

  3. I do hope they continue to call them daisies… it’s a great pleasure hearing of continued knowledge of the medicinal qualities of plants and minerals. At one time, not so long ago, it seemed as if scientific research was sure to replace all that was learned of medicine for thousands of generations, even before people could read and write. But now that a certain cynicism has raised it’s head in pharmacology, I imagine that more people might be willing to learn the old methods.

    1. Pharmaceutical companies, since they have a large number of employees to pay, plus shareholders, are clearly mainly interested in finding an effective compound they can replicate, often synthetically in the lab, standardise and licence. To me, this does not seem to have a lot to do with actual healing. Still, we’ve probably all been glad of an aspirin at one time or another, even if it is a long way away from the white willow bark from which it was derived, and generally only deals with the symptom not the cause.

      Plants can be tricky too. I seem to remember reading that when cichona trees producing quina bark from which quinine derives, were planted outside their native zone, the active compound they produced was not so effective as it was in their homeland. There are also currently lots of studies going on in the developing world, where scientists are finding that many traditional remedies for both humans and farm stock actually do seem to work.

      1. I have known people who prefer traditional medicines. I have a daughter who is a medical doctor, and for some time now she has been working on a project to integrate alternative methods with the standard medical approach.

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