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A Look into Feverfew and Migraines

Please note that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not evaluated any of the following statements regarding herbal medicine to treat, cure, or prevent any disease. 

I am not a licensed health care professional, nor do I pose as one.  This is meant for educational use only to present a growing body of scientific research regarding the treatment of migraines with Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium).

Migraines are a class of headaches that can be debilitating to the sufferer, often associated with pulsing or throbbing pain in localized areas of the head, sometimes accompanied by nausea and vomiting.  Some people have extreme sensitivity to light, noise or even air movement.  Duration of episodes can range anywhere from a few minutes to several days or weeks.  These episodes can halt one's ability to function, interfere with work, family, and social life, and create great misery for the patient.  More information about what a migraine is here.

As the causes of migraines are still a mystery, a variety of OTC (over the counter) and prescription drugs are often prescribed to lessen the symptoms, duration and frequency of migraines. These can often come with their own side effects and have limited benefit to the patients.  Read here for more information regarding conventional treatments.  


Lets take a look at a beautiful herb that herbalists have long used to combat migraines and other headaches: Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium).   It is generally thought of as a prophylactic rather than a treatment of migraines, meaning there is good evidence that it prevents the onset or lessens the severity.  The common name derives from the Latin word febrifuga, or fever medicine.  With anti-inflammatory and vasodilating properties, it is also a remedy for rheumatoid arthritis and menstrual disorders.  In addition, its a bitter digestive, nervine tonic and exhibits possible anticancer activity. Not to be consumed during pregnancy.

Feverfew is an herbaceous perennial that grows quite well here in Northern Idaho, although it hails from Europe, covered with lovely white flowers not unlike chamomile (they are both in the Asteraceae family). If you are allergic to members of this plant family, Feverfew may not be for you- use caution or avoid altogether. The aerial parts are harvested while in flower, although fresh leaf can also be used as medicine prior to flowering.  It can be consumed raw, in tincture or in an infusion.

Chemical Constituents*: Sesquiterpene lactones, onoterpenes, sesquiterpenes and flavinoids.  

Actions*: Anti-inflammatory, vasodilator, emmenagogue, bitter

 *Hoffman, D. 2003. Medical Herbalism: the Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Healing Arts Press, Rochester, VT. p587.


For an in depth review of all the Feverfew research done do date, including chemical activity and efficacy on a wide range of conditions, this is a great paper:

Pareek, A. et al. 2011. Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium L.): A systematic review. . 5(9): 103–110. 

Find it here:


This study finds that Feverfew significantly reduced the pain and intensity of migraines when compared with a placebo:

Palevitch, D. et al. 1997. Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) as a Prophylactic Treatment for Migraine: A Double-blind Placebo-controlled Study. PHYTOTHERAPY RESEARCH, VOL. 11, 508–511.

This is one of the earlier studies looking at the prophylactic effects of Feverfew on migraines and appears to have led to more research on the topic.  They found eating raw leaf material significantly reduced frequency and severity of migraines:

1985. Johnson, E. et al. Efficacy of feverfew as prophylactic treatment of migraine.Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1985;291:569

The University of Maryland Medical Center has a great write up of Feverfew and its uses here, including a nice compilation of supporting articles.  They have also looked at the medical benefits of many herbs and have pages dedicated to them on their site.  AWESOME REFERENCE!

Same goes to Penn State Hershey Milton S. Hershey Medical Center's page.






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