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Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium [Latin]) is a close relative of the dandelion and marigold, and produces flowers that look like tiny daisies. It gets its name from its traditional use as a fever reducer, but is prescribed by modern herbalists to treat migraine headache.

Many studies have shown that feverfew can both prevent and treat migraines. Feverfew inhibits the body’s production of inflammatory prostaglandins that can cause the blood to thicken and the smooth vascular muscles to tense, both conditions can lead to a migraine.

In one study of 57 migraine sufferers, feverfew was shown to ease common symptoms of migraines, including nausea, head pain, and sensitivity to light and noise. In another study involving 300 migraine sufferers, feverfew was successful in reducing migraine symptoms in people that had not responded to prescription medications. Feverfew’s relaxing effect on the smooth muscles in the body may help ease intestinal and menstrual cramps as well.

Preliminary laboratory research suggests that feverfew extracts can help control the body’s inflammatory response in people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis; some studies have shown that this herb actually mimics the anti-inflammatory effects of corticosteroid cortisone and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Feverfew is considered by some herbalists to be an effective treatment for allergic reactions as well, and often recommended it for treatment of hay fever and seasonal allergies.

Feverfew grows wild in Europe and North and South America. It is attractive and easy to grow, and makes a nice addition to the garden—it is even said to repel bees. Its leaves can be eaten fresh or dried, although some people have reported that chewing the leaves caused them to develop mouth sores and tongue inflammation. Feverfew is also available at the health food store in capsules, tinctures, and tablets. The typical dosage is three 300-milligram capsules or 30 drops of tincture daily.

Feverfew does have a traditional use as a promoter of menstruation, so pregnant women should avoid it. Also, initial studies have shown that feverfew may interfere with blood clotting, so people taking blood thinners or vitamin E supplements may want to avoid this herb as well.

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