Tanacetum parthenium – otherwise known as feverfew, featherfew, featherfoil, or bachelor’s button – is a herbaceous perennial plant that is a proud member of the daisy family (asteraceae). It is very often confused with matricaria flower, because of their remarkably similar flower pattern.
Feverfew plants are a wonderfully easy to care for ornamental plant. You may have never heard of it under this name, as it is often referred to as a chrysanthemum parthenium or pyrethrum parthenium in nurseries.
The term, “feverfew”, is actually derived from the latin term, febrifugia. This word means “fever reducer”! Why did it get this name you ask? The feverfew plant has a very long history as a medicinal plant, and has been in use this way for centuries.
Feverfew is known to have high anti inflammatory activity, making it a wonderful herbal medicine for those who are keen on naturopathy.
So whether you’re looking for a beautiful garden specimen, or a magical herb to help with migraine prevention or insect bites, this wonderful flowering plant could be the next contestant for your green space.
What does Feverfew Look Like?
Feverfew flowers are known for being very similar looking to a classic daisy. These conspicuous flowers are about 3/4 of an inch across, with a yellow inner disc surrounded by outer ray florets of white.
Flowers are borne in lax corymbs. A corymb is basically a flower growth pattern where the outermost flower stems are longer pedicels than the innermost. This creates a flat top where all flowers grow up to a common height.
These flowers usually bloom between late summer and mid fall, between July and October. They are a vital source of nectar for pollinators late in the flowering season.
Feverfew leaves are variously pinnatifid. If you’ve never heard of the word pinnatifid before, you are not alone.
This is basically a leaf pattern very similar to that of a fern — where a single leaf is comprised of several small leaflets that are evenly arranged along a flower stem.
Leaves are a lovely light yellow/green color, and they are known to have a delicate citrus scent when they are crushed!
Feverfew plants are herbaceous perennials. This means that they will continue to bloom year after year. They grow into a small bush-like habit that can be up to 28 inches in height.
These plants are excellent at seed spreading. Their tiny, lightweight seeds are easily wind dispersed and new specimens can very quickly cover a large area. In certain areas, feverfews are actually considered as an invasive species!
Where is Feverfew Native to?
The feverfew is a native plant to Eurasia, with its specific growing range extending from the Balkan Peninsula to the Caucasus mountains.
Outside of their original native range, they have become naturalized throughout Europe, North America, and Chile.
When growing wild, they can be found growing pretty much anywhere where there is soil and sun. They are cold hardy in zones 5 through 10.
How do you Propagate Feverfew?
Now that you’re a little bit acquainted with the feverfew plant, it’s time to learn about just how easy it is to grow one of your own! It is best to propagate a feverfew plant through sowing seed.
Seed can be sown either outdoors or indoors. If you’re starting yours indoors, get a set of small, peat pots filled with loamy soil that is nice and moist.
Feverfew seeds need sunlight in order to germinate, so sprinkle them gently on top of your peat pots, then tap the bottom of the pot so that the seeds settle nicely.
When it comes to watering, use a spray bottle instead of pouring water directly onto the seeds, as this can easily dislodge them during this vital germination period.
Place your peat pots directly in front of a sunny window (or underneath a grow light). It only takes about 2 weeks for germination, where they will then be ready to be transplanted outdoors.
*If starting your seeds outside, wait until mid to late spring (after the first frost) but so that the ground is still cool.
Pick a Spot
Once your feverfew seedlings are about 3 inches tall, they will be ready to move outside. Sometimes the trickiest part of planting is knowing the exact right place for your plants!
When it comes to feverfew, they need to be planted in an area that receives full sunlight. This means that they receive a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.
You can simply take those peat pots and plant them directly into the soil — planting them about 12 inches apart from one another is a safe distance.
From here on out, feverfew care is pretty simple. While your plants are still taking root, continue to spray the young seedlings instead of pouring water.
Once the plant is well established, they should be receiving about 1 inch of water per week, if there hasn’t been any rain. Otherwise, feverfew can take care of themselves!
What are the Growing Conditions of Feverfew Plants?
Feverfew plants truly are not picky specimens. They can tolerate nearly any soil type as long as it remains moist and well drained.
They seem to prefer loamy soil, so if you have access to that, your feverfew specimens will thank you for it!
Feverfew plants love water. They tend to avoid growing wild in regions that experience long periods of dry spells.
The key for water maintenance is that soil remain moist, but never soggy. Simply poke a finger into the soil to see what the moisture level is at — just because it looks dry on the surface, doesn’t mean it’s not moist lower down!
Feverfew is a sun loving species. Though they can tolerate partial shade, they absolutely prefer to exist in full sunlight — this means a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight every day.
Another reason to love a feverfew is because it is wonderfully cold hardy. They will not perish if they experience frost or freezing, they simply go dormant in the winter! They are hardy through USDA zones 5 through 10.
The most high maintenance aspect of the feverfew plant (which truly is not that much maintenance) is pruning.
The plant should be cut back straight to the ground in autumn. Don’t worry, they will grow back with enthusiasm the following spring.
If you’re looking to keep tight control over your feverfew patch, you can try to deadhead the flower heads before they go to seed. This way, the patch will remain confined to where it was first planted.
Feverfew only needs to be fertilized if the soil on your property happens to be particularly poor and low in nutrients. This can be done by either incorporating the existing soil with organic compost, or applying a basic fertilizer during the growing season of the plant.
At the end of the day, there isn’t much that the feverfew can’t handle. Though it doesn’t particularly like drought, it will not perish entirely.
Just remember that these plants prefer to exist in moist soil that is well drained, and that they are intolerant to full shade!
How is a Feverfew Plant Used?
The feverfew has been a long-time loved medicinal herb all across the world. The plant got its name because of its beneficial medicinal properties! What began as a tradition, is now a way for folks to avoid using pharmaceutical medications through herbal remedying.
Feverfew contains parthenolide, which is the active ingredient present in the branded product name Glitinum (very popular over the counter medications in Nordic countries). Feverfew extract is available, which is dried flower, and dried leaf of tanacetum parthenium enriched with hydroalcoholic extract (hydrophillic flavonoid).
Feverfew contains sesquiterpene lactone (SL) which are essentially sesquiterpenoids (type of flavonoid) that contain lactone rings. Sesquiterpene lactone is found in many members of the asteraceae family. This flavonoid functions the same way that hemoglobin does in the blood it delivers oxygen molecules to cells.
To boil all of that down, feverfew has some seriously high anti inflammatory activity. It has been known to help with the following ailments:
- insect bites
- allergic reaction and allergic contact dermatitis (prophylactic treatment)
- migraine prevention and reduces pain intensity
- help with migraine headache, migraine prophylaxis, and migraine attacks
- rheumatoid arthritis and arthritis
- aids with liver health
Feverfew is especially effective when it comes to people who experience serious migraine attacks. A study showed that patients who took feverfew extract experienced significantly fewer attacks than before the study. Even those who took a placebo experienced benefits.
Before common folks ever knew of the medicinal properties of the feverfew plant, it was planted as an ornamental variety. Depending on the cultivar, they can come in a number of different shapes, sizes, colors, and growth patterns.
The genus is highly valued because these herbaceous perennials are wonderfully easy to care for, they have tidy foliage, quaint and charming flowers, and attract pollinators to a garden.