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Feverfew

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Feverfew, Other Names - Past and Present

Chinese: xiao baiju
Japanese: natsushirogiku
Korean: hwalan gughwa
French: chrysanteme matricaire / featerfoiul / pyrethre dore
Spanish: santa maria / santamaria
Italian: partenio
German: mutterkraut
Swedish: mattram
English: bachelor's buttons / featherfew / featherfoil / flitwort / midsummer daisy
Latin (ancient): febrifugia
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Tanacetum parthenium

Background and History

Feverfew is a relatively ancient medicinal herb originally employed by the Ancient Greeks as a febrifuge, and later adopted by the majority of the western culture as a primary herbal medicine. Feverfew is a small, shrub-like perennial which thrives best in warm sunny environments. It is best characterised by its white efflorescence replete a stamen which possesses vibrant yellow florets. It is also known for its uniquely-shaped dark green to emerald-green hued leaves which are flat, and which strongly resemble feathers. Feverfews are a very hardy plant, usually found in hedgerows, although they can also thrive (and often flourish) in waste places and abandoned lots. Because of its relative hardiness and its propensity to thrive wherever ideal conditions are found, feverfews have been allotted the status of a weed in many parts of the West. The plant possesses a characteristic bitter aroma which is exuded by the leaves and the flowers which act as a sort of natural deterrent to some insect species (especially bees). Nowadays, feverfews are typically cultivated for use as ornamental plants, although a number of private gardens still actively grow feverfew for medicinal purposes. [1]

The use of feverfew for medicine has long been associated with the folkloric branch of herbal medicine which attempts to keep alive traditional herbalist practices, and while it is nevertheless still employed in the modern day, very few herbalists now recommend or employ feverfew medicinally due to the sheer lack of medicinal range which the plant possesses. The earliest usage of the plant dates back to the First Century (AD), when the Greek physician Dioscorides noted its anti-inflammatory and febrifuge properties. Its usage soon spread throughout the majority of the Western world, although its employment in the Eastern sphere was not altogether that commonplace. It became a popular remedy and a seemingly cure-all for many individuals during the Middle Ages, especially for peoples living in quit villages or relatively secluded hamlets, with very little access to whatever small medicinal advancements were available during the times. [2]

Common / Popular Uses

The most common usage of feverfew in these modern times seems to veer towards the more decorative than the medicinal, chiefly due to the fact that feverfew is not only hardy, but is also readily and easily cultivated. Outside of the modern ornamental use of feverfew, it is to this day employed as a remedy for fevers, migraines, headaches, and minor stomach complaints. The leaves of the plant are the most commonly employed constituent parts, typically decocted in its fresh form, although it can and has been employed in its dry state as well.

A mild decoction of the leaves is generally given to an individual as a remedy for fevers, cold, and flu. When mixed with honey, sugar, molasses, or ginger, it is believed to be an excellent remedy for coughs, wheezing, shortness of breath, and a number of other bronchial complaints. [3] The most common application for regular decoctions of the leaf however is in the treatment of headaches, dizziness, migraine, and nausea - an association which is as old as the usage of the herb itself. Moderately concentrated brews typically yielded potent emmenagogues which also functioned as nervines. It was believed by Mediaeval herbalists that a draught of moderately strong decoctions of the plant helped to cure or relieve hysteria, nervousness, anxiety, and uplift low spirits. [4]

The leaves, when allowed to macerate and in heated wine, could either be drunk as a remedy for indigestion, dyspepsia, and colic, or otherwise applied topically to the affected area to elicit the same effect. [5] Milder concentrations of this recipe was also drunk to help relieve vomiting and nausea, while moderately stronger concentrations were given to convalescent individuals in the hopes that it would hasten healing and improve their overall recovery.

Likewise, a tincture made from the bruised or dried leaves, or a maceration of the same plant matter in one's choice of base-oil, when applied topically, is said to help relieve the discomforts brought about by arthritis, rheumatism, and gout due to its anti-inflammatory properties. When employed as a general topical ointment, it can even be used as a type of natural insect-repellant, especially if combined with herbs such as lemongrass, verbena, and chamomile. [6] This same oil can also be employed as a hair-tonic, which, when applied religiously, helps to allay the symptoms of dandruff, eczema, psoriasis, and may even help in the riddance of lice. Similarly, a very potent decoction of the leaves (or a combination of the leaves and flowers), or a maceration of such parts in apple cider vinegar, employed as a hair-rinse, elicits the same effect. [7]

A rare employment of its other constituent part - the flowers - has been as a nervine and sleep tonic, although its potency and efficiency is debatable. An infusion of feverfew flowers, allowed to cool, can be applied internally to treat earaches, toothaches, and or to alleviate mild trembling associated with anxiety or palsy. Unlike many other herbal remedies, feverfew possesses only very little significant therapeutic applications, hence its relative unpopularity in modern herbalist applications. It is, nevertheless, still popular for more traditionally-oriented herbalists as well as with newbie herbalists who have yet to develop their own pharmacopoeia of herbs and spices which possess more than a handful of significantly effective benefits.

Magickal / Esoteric Uses

In the magickal context, feverfew is generally considered a protection herb and is said to prevent accidents from occurring, hence its common use as a talismanic herb generally encased in a medicine pouch or juju bag. In voodoo and hoodoo practices, it is usually combined with other protective herbs and carried or worn upon one's person to help protect the bearer from all harm. [8] In Mediaeval folk magick, it was also believed that planting feverfew around the perimeters of one's homestead would protect the inhabitants within from illness and discord. Feverfew is also believed to be a moderately powerful de-hexing herb, and is often employed for such purposes, either as a smudge (when employed as incense) or as a rinse (when employed as a bathing liquid). [9]

While feverfew's usage was quite popular in folkloric applications, its common usage is largely discouraged by most modern herbalists due to the fact that feverfew is a known allergen. Chewing feverfew leaves or orally partaking of any remedy which contains feverfew may cause oral lesions, especially in individuals who are allergic to plants belonging to the Asteraceae / Compositae family (which includes marigolds, daisies, and ragweed). Likewise, even minor topical exposure to feverfew can cause contact dermatitis in some individuals, so careful usage and patchtests are a must prior to general applications. Although it is relatively safe for short-term consumption (granted moderate and non-concentrated doses are observed), long-term usage of the herb may cause some type of drug dependency with the withdrawal of intake causing minor repercussions such as a worsening of previously manageable ails.

As a general rule of thumb, feverfew should never be given to pregnant and nursing women due to emmenagogue properties and due to the unpredictable reaction which it may elicit in the production of breast-milk. Furthermore, children below the age of five years old must never be given oral preparation of feverfew. Individuals who are under blood-thinning medications must also steer clear from partaking of herbal preparations containing the plant, as it can interact with the anticoagulants and increase the risk of bleeding. Due to its limited medicinal applications, alternative herbs for headaches and minor aches and pains such as peppermint, mint, lemon, basil, ginger, and lemongrass are better alternatives which pose lesser risks than feverfew.

References:

[1 - 2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feverfew

[3] http://nccam.nih.gov/health/feverfew

[4] http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/f/feverf10.html

[5] http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-933-FEVERFEW.aspx?activeIngredientId=933&activeIngredientName=FEVERFEW

[6] http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/natural-medicine/herbal-remedies/feverfew-herbalremedies.htm

[7] http://altmedicine.about.com/od/herbsupplementguide/a/feverfew.htm

[8] http://herb-magic.com/feverfew.html

[9] http://www.angelfire.com/stars3/ashtah/feverfew.html

Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt. © herbs-info.com 2013

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