By Christopher Hobbs (Excerpted from the National Headache Foundation Newsletter)

Feverfew is Tanacetum parthenium, a member of the daisy family. However, it is sometimes obtained under the name of Chrysanthemum parthenium. It is easy to confuse the medicinal variety of feverfew with chrysanthemum or even other varieties of feverfew — though none of these are toxic, so a mistake would not be injurious.

Drs. Johnson, Hylands and Hylands (1983) did several studies on the use of feverfew for headache. One of these was a double-blind study on twenty patients who had eaten fresh leaves of feverfew daily as a migraine preventative for at least three months prior to the study. They had a history of common or classical migraine for at least two years’ duration with no more than eight attacks a month at the time of the test. No subjects were used who had taken certain medications within one month before the test.

The average dosage for patients prior to the test was around 60mg/day. During the test, the fixed dose was 25mg per capsule of freeze-dried feverfew leaf. The freeze-dried herb was chosen because it is most like fresh leaves. Preparations like powdered extract or air-dried herb may be too old or have been heated to 100 degrees Celsius., possibly making it inactive.

The result of this test was that the patients now receiving the placebo had “significant increase in the frequency and severity of headache, nausea, and vomiting” while the feverfew group “showed no change in frequency or severity of symptoms of migraine.” Johnson, et al. (1985) concluded that feverfew does in fact prevent migraine attacks. Most people need to take feverfew for many months before fully realizing the beneficial effects.

A low starting dose of 50mg a day is recommended because the potential for side effects is then reduced. One problem is that freeze-dried feverfew capsules are not standardized in manufacture and different preparations may vary in the active ingredients.

Feverfew is currently receiving a great deal of interest in the United States although most headache experts still regard its use as experimental. The recent reports of research indicate that continually taking feverfew extracts may decrease the symptoms of migraine headaches.

Recently there has been a commercial product developed that utilizes a standardized dose of feverfew based on the activity of the purported active agent, along with therapeutic amounts of vitamin B-2 and Magnesium. This may be a more suitable formulation than others of feverfew.