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12 Scientific Health Benefits of Feverfew + Side Effects

Written by Biljana Novkovic, PhD | Last updated:
Jonathan Ritter
Medically reviewed by
Jonathan Ritter, PharmD, PhD (Pharmacology) | Written by Biljana Novkovic, PhD | Last updated:

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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?

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is a plant from the daisy family. It is also known as featherfew, bachelor’s buttons, or wild chamomile [1, 2].

It is native to the Balkans but now grows all over the world, including the Americas [1].

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 [3].

The plant contains active compounds such as [1, 3]:

  • 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


Parthenolide is the main active compound of feverfew and is found in the leaves [1].

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 [4, 5, 6, 7].
  • 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 [4, 8, 9, 1].
  • 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 [3, 10, 11, 12].
  • Increase Nrf2/ARE activation. Nrf2 increases antioxidant enzymes and protects against oxidative stress [13].
  • Increase p53 and decrease VEGF. This causes cell death in cancer cells [3, 14].

Feverfew Health Benefits

1) Improves Migraines

Feverfew has been historically used as a “natural aspirin” for headaches and migraines.

In a study of 147 patients, feverfew extract reduced the severity/intensity and the number of migraines that required bed rest [15].

Similarly, in a study of 170 patients, feverfew extract decreased the number of monthly attacks [16].

In a study of 72 people, feverfew reduced the number and the severity of migraine attacks and decreased vomiting [17].

In a study of 17 regular feverfew users with migraine, 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 [18].

However, in another study of 50 migraine patients, feverfew extract (with 0.5 mg parthenolide) did not improve the symptoms [19].

A pilot study of 60 migraine patients found that feverfew and ginger reduced the pain from mild headaches [20].

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 [21].

2) 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” [22].

In mice with hepatitis, parthenolide, a component of feverfew, decreased the inflammatory cytokines IFN-gamma, TNF-alpha, IL-17A, IL-1beta, and IL-6, and improved liver function [12].

Additionally, parthenolide reduced brain inflammation by decreasing IL-17, TNF-alpha, and IFN-gamma levels in a mouse model of multiple sclerosis [23].

Parthenolide improved colon inflammation in a mouse model of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) by blocking NF-κB and decreasing TNF-alpha and IL1-beta [24].

It also reduced inflammation by blocking NF-kappaB activation in a mouse model of cystic fibrosis [25].

It reduced joint inflammation in rats with arthritis [26].

Parthenolide also protected skin cells against inflammation (by blocking NF-κB) [27].

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 [11].

This means that feverfew has components, other than parthenolide, that effectively combats inflammation.

3) Is an Antioxidant

Feverfew is a known antioxidant that targets free radicals (ferric, oxygen, hydroxyl, and peroxynitrates) [28].

Parthenolide-depleted feverfew is a stronger antioxidant than Vitamin C. In human cells, it was shown to protect against cigarette smoke-induced cell damage due to oxidative stress [28].

Parthenolide also protected rats against toxin-induced oxidative stress and liver damage [29].

4) 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 [30].

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 [31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 14, 39, 40, 41].

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 [42]. Therefore, higher doses of purified parthenolide may be required to see an effect.

5) 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 [43].

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 [11].

Topical parthenolide-depleted feverfew also reduced skin inflammation (dermatitis) in mice [11].

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 [44, 21].

6) 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 [28].

Furthermore, in rodents, parthenolide-deprived feverfew reduced skin thickening caused by UV damage [28].

7) May Relieve Pain

This herb has been called “medieval aspirin” due to its pain-relieving effects [1].

Parthenolide reduces inflammation and pain-causing prostaglandins by inhibiting prostaglandin synthase (PHS) [45, 46, 47].

In mice, feverfew reduced acute chemically-induced pain without causing sleepiness or changes in behavior [48].

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 [49].

8) Is Antibacterial

This plant also fights bacterial growth. Feverfew essential oil inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria (in cell-based studies) [50].

Oil made from the flowering stage is the strongest against bacteria due to a high concentration of camphor [50].

9) May Prevent Blood Clots

In cell-based studies, parthenolide increases platelet production but decreases platelet activation, which reduces the chance of blood clots [51, 52].

10) May Help with Anxiety and Depression

In mice, feverfew extract reduced anxiety and depression [53].

11) May Help with Drug Intoxication

In rats, parthenolide blocks the effects of cocaine on dopamine-sensitive neurons (in the ventral tegmental area of the brain). This may help treat cocaine intoxication or overdose [54].

12) May Help with Allergies

Feverfew extract blocks histamine release from allergy-causing mast cells [55].


Studies show that feverfew is safe, with mild and transient adverse effects (mainly mouth ulceration and gut-related symptoms) [56].

However, it can cause withdrawal-like symptoms if you stop taking it abruptly [18, 56].

Avoid it in the case of:

  • Pregnancy (prostaglandin synthetase inhibitors can harm fetuses and newborns and may cause contractions) [57, 58, 59]
  • Allergy to ragweed/Compositae plants [58, 60]
  • Bleeding disorders or imminent surgery (feverfew acts as a blood thinner and may increase bleeding)

Side Effects

Feverfew ingestion may cause:

  • Mouth sores [61]
  • Mouth numbing [20]
  • Heartburn [17]
  • Nausea/vomiting [61, 20]
  • Gas [58]
  • Bloating [56]
  • Indigestion [17]
  • Diarrhea [56, 17]
  • Constipation [56]
  • Weight gain [17]
  • Increased menstrual bleeding [58]
  • Post Feverfew Syndrome: withdrawal from feverfew may cause aches, pains, and stiffness in muscles and joints as well as nervousness and fatigue [18, 56]
  • Dermatitis, as parthenolide is a skin irritant [62, 63, 3]


Feverfew should not be taken along with other blood thinners such as warfarin or aspirin (due to the risk of increased bleeding) [58, 64, 65].



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 [65].

Leaves can be taken either dried or fresh. The typical adult dose is 2 to 3 leaves/day [1].

For Migraines

  • 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) [1, 65]
  • In cases of CO2-extracted feverfew, the dose is 6.25 mg 3 times daily for up to 16 weeks [1]

For Inflammation

  • 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 [1, 65]

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 [1].

A variety of skin-care products are available that contain parthenolide-depleted feverfew. Consult the product for usage instructions.

User Reviews

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.

Buy Feverfew

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About the Author

Biljana Novkovic

Biljana Novkovic

Biljana received her PhD from Hokkaido University.
Before joining SelfHacked, she was a research scientist with extensive field and laboratory experience. She spent 4 years reviewing the scientific literature on supplements, lab tests and other areas of health sciences. She is passionate about releasing the most accurate science and health information available on topics, and she's meticulous when writing and reviewing articles to make sure the science is sound. She believes that SelfHacked has the best science that is also layperson-friendly on the web.

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