Feverfew, botanical help for migraine sufferers

On Monday  I wrote about nutritional aids for migraine sufferers.   Help may also exist in the form of a botanical supplement known as feverfew (botanical name – Tanacetum parthenium).  Feverfew is a bushy, hardy, perennial plant from the Sunflower (Asteraceae) family.


For many hundreds of years feverfew has been used to treat and prevent migraines.  The effectiveness of this plant for the alleviation and prevention of headaches and migraine is believed to be attributable to the fact that it contains the natural plant chemical parthenolide.  Parthenolide is an active natural plant compound which seems to have an effect on serotonin release in the brain as well as having an effect on inflammatory chemicals.  This may be important since inflammation of brain blood vessels has been implicated in migraine.

Early studies (1,2,3) found that feverfew was effective in reducing the frequency, severity and duration of migraine attacks.  It may, however take several weeks for benefits to become apparent.  Two more recent, but small, studies (4,5) have also found feverfew to be beneficial to migraine sufferers and a recent review study (6) concludes with the authors recommending the use of feverfew in the preventative treatment of migraines.  Larger studies with feverfew are certainly warranted. 

The safety of this plant for use in migraine sufferers has also been assessed.  A large review study found that there were no serious side-effects to using feverfew in the treatment and prevention of migraine headaches (7).

Feverfew can be taken as a supplement, a tincture and is sometimes available as a tea.  If you regularly suffer from headaches or migraines then you may wish to try feverfew for a few months to see if it helps prevent attacks or reduce their frequency and intensity.  If you are taking migraine medication always check with your prescribing doctor before starting to take feverfew and always follow manufacturers dosage guidelines.  Please also read the post written about nutritional aids for migraine sufferers, a change of diet in addition to the feverfew supplements may bring some helpful relief.

(1) Murphy JJ, et al.  1988.   Randomized double-blind placebo controlled trial of feverfew in migraine prevention. Lancet 1988;ii:189-192
(2)Johnson ES, et al.  1985.   Efficacy of feverfew as prophylactic treatment of migraine. BMJ 1985;291:569-573
(3)  Palevitch D, et al.  1997.  Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) as a prophylactic treatment for migraine: A double-blind placebo-controlled study. Phytother Res 11:508-511
(4) Shrivastava R et al.  2006.  Tanacetum parthenium and Salix alba (Mig-RL) combination in migraine prophylaxis: a prospective, open-label study.  Clin Drug Investig. 2006;26(5):287-96.
(5) Diener HC et al.  2005.  Efficacy and safety of 6.25 mg t.i.d. feverfew CO2-extract (MIG-99) in migraine prevention–a randomized, double-blind, multicentre, placebo-controlled study. Cephalalgia. 25(11):1031-41.
(6)Sun-Edelstein C and Mauskop A.  2009.  Foods and supplements in the management of migraine headaches. Clin J Pain. 25(5):446-52.
(7) Pittler MH, Ernst E.  2004.  Feverfew for preventing migraine. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004;(1):CD002286.
Written by Ani Kowal