The feverfew plant – which belongs to the tanacetum genus and is a member of the asteraceae family – is indigenous to Eurasia, but has an extensive distribution around the globe. This herb, which may be either perennial or biennial, is known for its ability to grow in even the worst soils, but requires a good deal of water drainage and sunlight to thrive. Feverfews are fast growers and can reach between a compact 9 inches, to a moderately tall 2 feet in height. The leaves of this plant are heavily serrated and bear a slight citrus scent – though they are notoriously bitter in flavor. They also hold small but thick flowers that are bright white and similar in appearance to daisies.
Known by at least eleven other names, the feverfew plant is one of the best loved medicinal herbs around. During the early 1990s, it was discovered that feverfew’s active ingredients – tanetin and parthenolide – were highly effective in either preventing or decreasing the release of the polymorphonuclear leukocytes that can cause inflammation and rheumatoid arthritis. These ingredients are also said to inhibit the release of prostaglandins and serotonin, which can aid in stopping a migraine before it begins. In addition to migrainess and arthritis, the feverfew plant can also help in treating fevers, rashes, dysmenorrhea and breathing conditions. Because this plant is such a potent curative, it also comes with some side effects. Herbalists urge pregnant women to avoid the herb, as it is a strong emmenagogue; it may cause digestive upset, skin irritation and withdrawal symptoms if taken over a long period of time. Despite the fact that all of the studies that have been done on this plant are more recent, the use of the feverfew plant as a medicinal agent is not modern. The ancient Greek physician, Dioscorides, favored this plant in treating a number of ailments – including headaches. Over time, its many uses were discovered by well known doctors and herbalists, and even took a small place in superstition. For example, if the name of the patient was spoken aloud while a feverfew was gathered in the left hand, the patient’s fever would soon break.
Not surprisingly, the feverfew is often meant to symbolize healing; however, it is also representative of protection. As a gift, these pretty shrubs are most commonly given as potted plants, and are usually traded between close family members – often to express a wish for the recipient to get well, or simply feel that they are being watched over.