Feverfew is an ancient herb that helps with migraines, reduces inflammation, soothes skin irritation, and protects against UV radiation-induced skin damage. In addition, this plant may also help soothe pain, combat cancer, and relieve anxiety and depression. Read on to discover why this old remedy is now modern medicine.
What is Feverfew?
It is native to the Balkans but now grows all over the world, including the Americas [R].
Also known as ‘‘medieval aspirin’’, this plant has been traditionally used as a treatment for fever, rheumatism, arthritis, toothache, psoriasis, insect bites, asthma, stomach-ache, headaches, infertility, tinnitus, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, menstrual problems and migraine [R].
- Sesquiterpene lactones (mainly parthenolide, 85% of total sesquiterpene lactones ) – parthenolide decreases inflammation and combats cancer
- Volatile oils (such as camphor), which are antibacterial
- Flavonoids, which have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-bacterial properties
Feverfew Health Benefits
1) Feverfew Improves Migraines
Feverfew has been historically used as a “natural aspirin” for headaches and migraines.
In a study of 147 patients (DB-RCT), feverfew extract reduced the severity/intensity and the number of migraines that required bedrest [R].
Similarly, in a study of 170 patients (DB-RCT), feverfew extract decreased the number of monthly attacks [R].
In a study of 72 people (DB-RCT), feverfew reduced the number and the severity of migraine attacks and decreased vomiting [R].
In a study of 17 regular feverfew users with migraine (DB-RCT), the plant (dried) prevented the worsening of headaches, nausea, and vomiting symptoms. However, regular users experienced a withdrawal-like “post-feverfew syndrome” when switching to placebo with migraine symptoms and joint stiffness [R].
However, in another study of 50 migraine patients (DB-RCT), feverfew extract (with 0.5 mg parthenolide) did not improve the symptoms [R].
A pilot study (DB-RCT) of 60 migraine patients found that feverfew and ginger reduced the pain from mild headaches [R].
Parthenolide, the active ingredient of feverfew, blocked pain signals in rodent nerves (trigeminal neurons), which may be the mechanism by which it reduces migraine pain [R].
2) Feverfew Is Anti-Inflammatory
Feverfew has been used as a natural anti-inflammatory remedy for millennia. The Greek doctor Pedanius Dioscorides used it for “all hot inflammations and hot swellings” [R].
It reduced joint inflammation in rats with arthritis [R].
Parthenolide also protected skin cells against inflammation (by blocking NF-κB) [R].
Feverfew reduces inflammation even when devoid of parthenolide. Parthenolide-depleted feverfew blocked the release of inflammatory molecules nitric oxide, PGE2, TNF-alpha, IL-2, IL-4, and IFN-gamma from white blood cells. It also improved skin inflammation (dermatitis) in mice [R].
This means that feverfew has components, other than parthenolide, that effectively combats inflammation.
3) Feverfew Is an Antioxidant
Feverfew is a known antioxidant that targets free radicals (ferric, oxygen, hydroxyl, and peroxynitrates) [R].
Parthenolide also protected rats against toxin-induced oxidative stress and liver damage [R].
4) Feverfew May Combat Cancer
Modern research has shown that parthenolide has anti-cancer properties.
Parthenolide delayed the development of skin tumors and decreased their number in mice exposed to UVB radiation [R].
Parthenolide also damages or kills multiple cancer cells types, including leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma, liver, breast, lung, colon, skin, bladder, and brain cancer cells. It does so by increasing reactive oxygen species (ROS) and triggering cell death [R, R, R, R, R, R, R, R, R, R, R, R].
However, a cancer study of 12 patients found that the feverfew does not contain enough parthenolide to show up in blood tests and may not have any effect against the disease [R]. Therefore, higher doses of purified parthenolide may be required to see an effect.
5) Feverfew Can Help with Rosacea
Health and beauty companies use parthenolide-depleted feverfew in a variety of topical products.
Parthenolide can cause skin irritation (contact dermatitis). However, parthenolide-depleted feverfew helps with redness/blotchiness, roughness, razor burns, and UV damage without causing irritation [R].
In a study of eight people, topical parthenolide-depleted feverfew reduced skin redness caused by an irritant. Concentrations of 0.5%, 0.75%, and 1.0% reduced redness by 28%, 39%, and 68%, respectively [R].
Topical parthenolide-depleted feverfew also reduced skin inflammation (dermatitis) in mice [R].
Migraine is more common in people with rosacea. Both are inflammatory conditions that cause problems in areas innervated by the trigeminal nerve. A study in rodents showed that parthenolide targets the trigeminal nerve, which may explain why feverfew can help with both conditions [R, R].
6) Feverfew Protects Against UV-Induced Skin Damage
Parthenolide-depleted feverfew also protects against sun-induced skin damage.
A study of 12 people found that parthenolide-deprived feverfew reduced redness caused by UVB radiation. It helped by reducing UV-induced free radical (hydrogen peroxide) formation, blocking inflammatory cytokine (IL-1alpha) release, and increasing DNA repair enzymes [R].
Furthermore, in rodents, parthenolide-deprived feverfew reduced skin thickening caused by UV damage [R].
7) Feverfew May Relieve Pain
This herb has been called “medieval aspirin” due to its pain-relieving effects [R].
In mice, feverfew reduced acute chemically-induced pain without causing sleepiness or changes in behavior [R].
Feverfew flower extract reduced acute, inflammatory, joint, and neuropathic pain in rodents. It was also effective against chemotherapy-induced pain. However, the leaf extract was much less potent [R].
8) Feverfew Is Antibacterial
This plant also fights bacterial growth. Feverfew essential oil inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria (in cell-based studies) [R].
Oil made from the flowering stage is the strongest against bacteria due to a high concentration of camphor [R].
9) Feverfew May Prevent Blood Clots
10) Feverfew May Help with Anxiety and Depression
In mice, feverfew extract reduced anxiety and depression [R].
11) Feverfew May Help with Drug Intoxication
12) Feverfew May Help with Allergies
Feverfew supplements are available fresh, freeze-dried, or dried and can be purchased in capsule, tablet, or liquid extract forms. Those used in clinical studies usually contain a standardized dose of parthenolide [R].
Leaves can be taken either dried or fresh. The typical adult dose is 2 to 3 leaves/day [R].
- The extract is usually taken in doses of 100 to 300 mg per dose up to 4 times daily (extracts with 0.2 to 0.4% parthenolide) [R, R]
- In cases of CO2-extracted feverfew, the dose is 6.25 mg 3 times daily for up to 16 weeks [R]
- The dosage for inflammation is 60 to 120 drops, 2 times per day, of 1:1 w/v fluid extract or 1:5 w/v tincture [R, R]
Children younger than 2 years old shouldn’t take it. For children over 2 years old, adjust the dosage proportional to weight. Adult doses are based on an average weight of 150 lbs (70 kg). Therefore, a 75 lb child is half of the typical adult and would consume half of the adult dose [R].
A variety of skin-care products are available that contain parthenolide-depleted feverfew. Consult the product for usage instructions [R].
Studies show that feverfew is safe, with mild and transient adverse effects (mainly mouth ulceration and gut-related symptoms) [R].
Avoid it in the case of:
- Pregnancy (prostaglandin synthetase inhibitors can harm fetuses and newborns and may cause contractions) [R, R, R]
- Allergy to ragweed/Compositae plants [R, R]
- Bleeding disorders or imminent surgery (feverfew acts as a blood thinner and may increase bleeding)
Feverfew ingestion may cause:
- Mouth sores [R]
- Mouth numbing [R]
- Heartburn [R]
- Nausea/vomiting [R, R]
- Gas [R]
- Bloating [R]
- Indigestion [R]
- Diarrhea [R, R]
- Constipation [R]
- Weight gain [R]
- Increased menstrual bleeding [R]
- Post Feverfew Syndrome: withdrawal from feverfew may cause aches, pains, and stiffness in muscles and joints as well as nervousness and fatigue [R, R]
- Dermatitis, as parthenolide is a skin irritant [R, R, R]
Parthenolide is the main active compound of feverfew and is found in the leaves [R].
Feverfew and parthenolide:
- Reduce serotonin release by platelets and white blood cells and block serotonin receptors. During a migraine attack, increased serotonin release may cause inflammation and stimulate nerves, causing pain [R, R, R, R].
- Inhibit phospholipase A and prostaglandin formation and reduce blood clots, which decreases inflammation. Additionally, prostaglandins also cause blood vessels to widen (vasodilation), which contributes to migraine [R, R, R, R].
- Block NF-kB, the master-regulator of inflammation, decrease nitric oxide and inflammatory cytokines TNF-alpha, IL-1beta, IL-2, IL-4, IL-6, IL-17A, IFN-gamma, and PGE2 [R, R, R, R].
- Increase Nrf2/ARE activation. Nrf2 increases antioxidant enzymes and protects against oxidative stress [R].
- Increase p53 and decrease VEGF. This causes cell death in cancer cells [R, R].
Many reports that feverfew helps with their migraines. For a lot of them, it can get rid of migraines completely. However, in a few people, the condition can get worse.
Feverfew-containing creams are effective in reducing redness and soothing irritation. But these creams can also cause skin irritation in others, especially those sensitive to this plant.