Garden Plants

Feverfew

Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen pictures appearing on every social media feed, filled with a beautiful, unassuming daisy. Enjoyed for its aesthetically pleasing flowers and leaves, this plant is a common addition to many garden beds. However, Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is a lot more than just another daisy (which, by the way, are also amazing).

Throughout history, Feverfew has been used to treat a list of ailments as long as my arm, with its use in traditional medicine stretching back as far as ancient Greece. More than that, to me, Feverfew marks the beginning of my journey to becoming a Botanist.

The name ‘Feverfew’ describes the earliest uses of this plant. In Latin, this name is ‘Febrifugia‘ or ‘fever reducer’. The use of Feverfew in traditional medicine can be traced back to 1AD. Pedanius Dioscorides, a Greek physician and botanist, described it as an anti-inflammatory plant.

Dioscorides famously wrote ‘De materia medica‘, a five volume encyclopedia, citing 600 plants (plus some animals and minerals) and their medicinal uses. This book was widely read and used for 1500 years before it was revised. But that’s a story for another blog post.

As well as its use as an anti-inflammatory, Feverfew has also been used as a traditional cure for: skin conditions, allergies, asthma, nausea, joint pain, arthitis, digestive problems, childbirth and tinnitus, to name a few. Perhaps it should be renamed to Fevermany, because it doesn’t stop there.

In modern medicine, chemicals in Feverfew has been found to have potential benefits as an anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, cardiotonic (improves heart function and blood flow) and antispasmodic medicine (suppresses muscle spasms), and as an emmenagogue (stimulates or increases menstrual flow) and even as an enema for worms [1].

You may also have seen Feverfew capsules in your local health food shop, being advertised as a preventative for migraines. Although the reviews for such capsules are overwhelmingly glowing, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) couldn’t find any benefit to its use.

In fact, taken liberally Feverfew can cause mouth ulcers, digestive problems and vomitting, symptoms called “Feverfew rebound syndome”. So while our ancestors may have found some medicinal benefits for plants long before we had the science to prove it, Feverfew is an important lesson in why it’s important to check these claims for validity before they’re prescribed.

In my first year of my Bachelor’s Degree in Biological Sciences, I was awarded a place on the Gatsby Plant Science Summer School, where I truly discovered my love for plant science. At the end of the week, we were invited to take home the plants we’d used throughout, and I took home Fernando.

With the exception of the last photo, the photos I’ve used in this post are all of Fernando the Feverfew in my own garden. In the final photo, you can see the day I took him home. To see him live in action, he’s featured in my June Favourites video on my YouTube channel.

Feverfews are perennial plants, so he blossoms every year, is an absolute treat to behold and reminds me of how far I’ve come on my journey to becoming a Botanist.

References

[1] Pareek, A., Suthar, M., Rathore, G.S. and Bansal, V. (2011). Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium L.): A systematic review. PMC. 5 (9): 103-110.

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