I can’t help it. Every time I work with Feverfew Tanacetum parthenium, I think of this song made famous by Peggy Lee. Whether I’m weeding around it, harvesting, or just talking with it, the compelling beat and lyrics run through my head.
The common name, Feverfew, is (according to Maud Grieve) a corruption of “Febrifuge”, the therapeutic action for which it’s famous. In other words, it brings down fevers. Lately, it has become a popular solution for migraine sufferers … perhaps because it’s also an anti-inflammatory (you know what that means, right?) and a vasodilator (dilates blood vessels). I’ve read that if you put three fresh leaves on a piece of bread and eat it as soon as you feel a migraine coming on, it’ll stop the pain.
Anyhoo, this perennial relative of Tansy smells just as bitter (the bees avoid it) and has been known as a bitter tonic for centuries. The preferred dosage is the equivalent of 1-3 fresh leaves per day … freeze the leaves for use out of season. (You can use dried – it’s just not quite as effective.) In addition to fevers and migraine, it’s recommended for heavy periods, nervousness, and as a general tonic.
Perhaps because of the bitter smell, a tincture of Feverfew diluted in cold water is said to be an excellent insect repellant. (I need to try this one. I’ve tried everything else and I’m still bug lunch.) Applying the tincture neat to bug bites will calm the itch. (I can attest to this.)
While the leaves are the preferred part of the plant for medicinal use, the flowers do have their own application: an infusion of the flowers taken cold may help tinnitus. While the stalks & leaves look nothing like Chamomile, the flowers look very similar – small, daisy-like with white petals and a yellow center. How to tell them apart? Feverfew centers are flat; Chamomile centers are rounded.
Cautions: do not use when pregnant; may cause allergic reactions in people sensitive to the Asteraceae family; may interfere with aspirin and other anticoagulant medications.
The best use of Feverfew in a magical sense is for protection … and in this case, protection of your health. It’s said that planting the flower around your house will purify the area and ward off disease. Gerard recommended binding the plant to one’s wrists to ward off ague (fever with alternate chills & sweating); Cunningham suggests carrying the herb on you not only to ward off colds & flu but accidents, as well.
A friend of mine covers Ms. Lee’s song and always ends it with, “I have a fever”. Maybe I should bring him a few leaves from my garden? 😉