Feverfew is a perennial composite plant, Chrysanthemum parthenium (synonymous with Tanacetum parthenium), in the aster family, Asteraceae. It is native to the Old World, but it’s now naturalized in North America. The Chrysanthemum genus contains many familiar ornamental plants with aromatic foliage, including the garden mums, Shasta daisy, costmary and tansy.
Feverfew is a bushy little plant with button-like blooms. The flowers are like daisies. As a composite flower the ray flowers, or petals, are white and quite short or stubby. The center round of disc flowers is large and yellow. The composite flowers look like buttons. The blooming period is from late spring to late summer.
The lemon-scented leaves are alternate and pinnately compound. The leaflets number five to nine and are oval in shape and broadly toothed. The whole plant is pungently aromatic and grows to one or two feet tall. As a garden escape it can be found in fields, in waste areas, along roads and railways.
Feverfew is one of the chrysanthemums that naturally contain pyrethrum, a chemical used commercially as a pesticide. A related plant, C. coccineum, also contains this insecticide and the plant itself is called pyrethrum. If you take notice to the foliage of garden mums, they are rarely bothered by munching insects, probably due to the presence of chemicals that deter them from making these plants a meal.
To take advantage of this natural bug repellent, plant feverfew in the garden near other plants that are susceptible to damage by insects, such as basil. Feverfew makes a nice companion plant for garden plants that don’t need to be pollinated because it will also drive away bees. Alternatively, steep a cup of dried flowers in a quart of hot soapy water for an hour. Fill a labeled spray bottle with the solution and use it to spray plants that need protection from grazing insects. Make sure to wash any sprayed fruit or leaves that will be consumed.
This herb has been used to treat a number of maladies, including fevers, colds, stomach aches, arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, anxiety and migraine headaches. The leaves and flowering heads have been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, carminative, sedative and vasodilative properties. Pregnant women should not take feverfew because it can cause uterine contractions and possible miscarriage.
The most promising use of feverfew has been used to treat migraine headaches. Fresh leaves are placed in gelatin capsules or tucked into a small piece of bread so that contact is not made with the upper digestive tract as mouth ulcers have occurred in some people. Migraines that are not successfully stopped by conventional treatments may respond to the antispasmodic and vasodilative properties of feverfew. One to four leaves may be all that’s needed to prevent migraine headaches.