FEVERFEW: A HERBAL REMEDY FOR MIGRAINE?
"Some of the world's most effective medicines began their
careers as herbal remedies: digitalis came from foxglove, aspirin
from willow bark, and morphine from poppy blossoms. Potentially
the newest plant to cross over from folklore to mainstream
treatment is a member of the chyrsanthemum family known as common
feverfew or, botanically, Tanacetum parthenium.
"The name 'feverfew' indicates the belief, dating from the
middle ages, that the herb was a good treatment for fever and
certain other ailments, including arthritis, psoriasis, and
headaches. In modern England, eating feverfew leaves has become
a familiar method for prevention migraine attacks, and there is
now some reason to think that the folklore about feverfew has a
grain or two of truth to it. Some people for whom the usual
migraine treatments have not been very effective have turned to
feverfew. The typical users eats 1-4 fresh leaves a day. Food
is usually taken at the same time to mask the leaves' bitter
taste. Tablets and capsules containing dried feverfew have also
begun to appear in...health food store shelves.
"To evaluate the remedy, a group of British researchers
designed a controlled study. However, they did not feel free to
give feverfew to people who had never taken it, because the agent
has not gone through animal studies, as is appropriate before a
drug is tested in people. But they hit on a human test of
feverfew that was both rigorous and ethical. Many of the
patients seen in the City of London Migraine Clinic had already
been dosing themselves with feverfew for long periods of time as
a way to reduce migraine attacks. So, instead of setting up a
test in which the drug was GIVEN to subjects, investigators from
the clinic set up a test in which feverfew was TAKEN AWAY.
"The doctors identified patients who were dosing themselves
with feverfew and asked them to participate in a study. During
the research period, the subjects would take their medication
either as freeze-dried herb or as a placebo (presented in
identical-looking capsules). After a period on one preparation,
they would switch to the other, and then repeat the two stages
again. In this type of "double-blind crossover" test, neither
researcher nor subject is told which treatment is being given.
However, patients easily guessed when they were receiving placebo
because the frequency of headache and nausea virtually tripled,
and severity also increased markedly. These results support the
claim that a daily dose of something contained in feverfew may be
effective in preventing migraine attacks.
"The people studied had no serious ill effects while taking
feverfew, but that was to be expected, as they had been taking
the herb for some time. People who had tried the plaint and then
quit because they couldn't tolerate would have been excluded from
this study. Feverfew is capable of producing rather marked
allergic reactions; some people who try it develop sores in the
mouth or, less commonly, a generalized inflammation of the mouth
This first test of the effectiveness of feverfew must be
regarded as preliminary. It will no doubt lead to more thorough
testing, as it should. Even if feverfew pans out as preventive
medicine for migraine, it probably will not prove to be the
'answer.' But it may join the growing list of effective
treatments for a very unpleasant disorder."
Quoted from the April 1986 edition of the Harvard Medical
School Health Letter, reporting on research appearing in the
British Medical Journal, August 31, 1985.