Feverfew is a plant whose flowers look similar to chamomile's, and indeed, both herbs belong to the chrysanthemum family. But unlike chamomile, feverfew is a shrub with large, cut-out leaves. It is also one of the best home remedies out there for migraine headache pain relief. This page will provide you with more information about feverfew and tell you how to get rid of migraines by using it.
Both feverfew and chamomile help to control spasms. However, chamomile is used most often to treat digestive problems, and feverfew holds a hallowed spot in the annals of folk medicine as a remedy for headaches -- especially stubborn ones.
English herbalist John Gerard declared in 1633 that feverfew is "very good for them that are giddie in the head." A century later, herbalist John Hill noted that "in the worst headache, this herb exceeds whatever else is known."
How Feverfew Works
Feverfew contains compounds called parthenolides, which appear to help control expansion and contraction of blood vessels in the head. When you begin to get a migraine, your brain releases the neurotransmitter serotonin, and your blood vessels constrict. Feverfew appears to counteract your brain's order by causing blood vessels to dilate. Thus, feverfew enhances the "tone" of blood vessels, as does magnesium, which is also considered to be a helpful nutrient for controlling migraine headaches.
In addition, feverfew appears to neutralize chemicals called prostaglandins, some of which are linked to pain and inflammation. Because it stops production of inflammatory chemicals, feverfew also has a history as a treatment for arthritis.
But no one really knows why feverfew performs in these ways. In 1978, scientists speculated in the British medical journal Lancet that feverfew might share some properties with aspirin. Two years later, Lancet published a study that appeared to confirm this theory. Parthenolides, however, appear to block prostaglandin production earlier in the process than does aspirin.
Among feverfew's main constituents are substances known as sequiterpene lactones (parthenolides are among them). Like aspirin, these chemicals inhibit platelet aggregation (the clotting of blood cells). In several studies done in test tubes, feverfew extracts have slowed the formation of clotlike substances on collagen (fibrous tissue).
In 1985, scientists theorized in the British Medical Journal that feverfew might contain chemical substances that encourage smooth muscle cells to be less responsive to the body chemicals that trigger migraine muscle spasms.
A Bit of Feverfew History
While scientific research continues to expand our knowledge of how feverfew works, it was word of mouth that originally got scientists to notice the herb.
In the late 1970s, the wife of the chief medical officer of Great Britain's National Coal Board suffered greatly from migraine headaches. A local coal miner heard about the woman's problem and told her he had also been a long-time migraine sufferer until he started chewing a couple of feverfew leaves each day.
How the miner originally heard about this folk remedy is a mystery, but the woman tried it anyway and noticed almost immediately that the frequency and severity of her headaches decreased. After taking feverfew for 14 months, her migraines stopped completely.
Impressed by his wife's recovery, her husband relayed the story to Dr. E. Stewart Johnson of the City of London Migraine Clinic. Johnson was intrigued and decided to test feverfew on his patients. He started out by administering feverfew leaves to ten migraine sufferers at the clinic. At the end of the trial, three of the patients reported that their headaches had been cured. The other seven noted significant improvement in their symptoms.
Johnson then decided to test feverfew on a grander scale. He gave the herb to 270 migraine patients who had had little success from using conventional medicines. Johnson separated the patients into two groups. One group was given feverfew; the other received a placebo (dummy pill). The results of the test were dramatic.
Seventy percent of the patients who took feverfew said they believed that the herb had diminished the intensity and frequency of their attacks. Most of the people in the placebo group continued to suffer from migraines.
Lancet later published the results of a rigorous clinical trial in which researchers gave 72 migraine patients either a dummy pill or a capsule a day of powdered freeze-dried feverfew (each capsule contained the equivalent of two medium-size feverfew leaves). None of the patients in the study knew whether they were taking the dummy pill or the feverfew pill.
The researchers discovered that feverfew eliminated migraine headaches in 24 percent of the patients who took the herb, and the rest of the subjects in the feverfew group experienced much milder migraine attacks.
Patients who were taking the dummy pill, however, suffered a variety of migraine symptoms during the six months of the study; those side effects included headaches, nausea, and vomiting. The symptoms were so severe that two of the subjects who were taking the dummy pills guessed that they were taking the useless medicine, left the study, and demanded to take feverfew. Once they did, their headaches stopped.
A review of all existing double-blind trials conducted up until 2004 concluded that feverfew has not been convincingly demonstrated to prevent migraines better than placebo. This is due, in large part, to the smaller size and somewhat poor quality of feverfew studies. Until larger, better trials are conducted, feverfew proponents have to trumpet the historical evidence themselves.
Can Feverfew Help You?
If you suffer from migraine headaches, don't throw away your prescription medicines. They may prove to be invaluable to you if you suffer a severe migraine attack. But if feverfew's clinical track record impresses you, you may want to talk to a holistically oriented physician about taking the herb to prevent your headaches from occurring. That seems to be how feverfew works best.
However, herbalists also maintain that feverfew can help to lessen the intensity of migraine attacks that have already begun. You and your doctor will have to experiment with the herb to determine how it works best for you and how you should take it.
You can buy feverfew as a tea or in tablet or tincture form, probably at your local drugstore or health-food store. But many herbalists say that feverfew works best if it is taken when fresh. Feverfew isn't difficult to grow, so you may want to consider adding it to your backyard garden or cultivating it in a pot on your patio.
Then just harvest a few of the leaves every day and add them to salads or sandwiches.
If migraines have been keeping you down, you may just find that using feverfew, a natural home remedy for migraines, makes the best lunch you'll ever eat.
For more information on headaches and pain relief, see:
- To see all of our home remedies and the conditions they treat, go to our main Home Remedies page.
- Visit our main Herbal Remedies page for information on all of our herbal remedies and the conditions they treat.
- Find easy treatments you'll likely have around the house for other types of headaches at Home Remedies for Headaches.
- Find out how to use herbs for natural headache pain relief at Herbal Remedies for Headaches.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:Eric Yarnell, N.D., graduated from Bastyr University where he is now an assistant professor of botanical medicine. He is co-founder of the Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine in Vancouver, BC. He serves as president and is a founding member of the Botanical Medicine Academy. Dr. Yarnell is chief financial officer of Healing Mountain Publishing, a provider of natural medicine textbooks, and vice president of Huron Botanicals. He previously served as chair of the department of botanical medicine at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and helped edit the Journal of Naturopathic Medicine. His published works include The A-Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions, Clinical Botanical Medicine, Naturopathic Gastroenterology, Naturopathic Urology and Men's Health, and The Natural Pharmacy. In his private practice he focuses on men's health, urology, and nephrology.
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS:
Jeffrey Laign is a writer and editor with a special involvement in herbs and natural healing. An author of many magazine articles and books, including The Complete Book of Herbs, he has also been managing editor for Health Communications, Inc.
Silena Heron, N.D., has been a naturopathic physician with a family health-care practice. A nationally recognized specialist in botanical medicine, she has taught throughout the West and Canada. She was founding chair of botanical medicine at Bastyr University and on the faculty for six years. Dr. Heron was the founding vice president of the Botanical Medicine Academy, an accrediting organization for the clinical use of herbal medicines.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.