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Feverfew, Evil Humors, Yets and Cotton Mather

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Posts: 991
Location: Blue Ridge Mountains
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Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is a most unassuming herb; it basically looks like a little daisy or chrysanthemum.  The name derives from its use as a febrifuge, by the ancient Greek physicians.  Feverfew is a bitter herb that is particularly useful for migraine headaches and arthritis.  Plants for A Future states:

Feverfew has gained a good reputation as a medicinal herb and extensive research since 1970 has proved it to be of special benefit in the treatment of certain types of migraine headaches and rheumatism. It is also thought of as a herb for treating arthritis and rheumatism. The leaves and flowering heads are anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, aperient, bitter, carminative, emmenagogue, sedative, stimulant, stings, stomachic, vasodilator and vermifuge. The plant is gathered as it comes into flower and can be dried for later use. Use with caution, the fresh leaves can cause dermatitis and mouth ulcers if consumed. This remedy should not be prescribed for pregnant women. A tea made from the whole plant is used in the treatment of arthritis, colds, fevers etc. It is said to be sedative and to regulate menses. An infusion is used to bathe swollen feet. Applied externally as a tincture, the plant is used in the treatment of bruises etc. Chewing 1 - 4 leaves per day has proven to be effective in the treatment of some migraine headaches.

The first mention of Feverfew in recorded history may have been by the Greek herbalist, Dioscorides, writing on Pyrethrum:

Pyrethrum is a herb which sends out a stalk and leaves like wild daucus  and marathrum, and a tuft like dill. The root is long, about the thickness of the big finger, similar to hair curled round, extremely burning and hot to one who tastes it. It draws out phlegm; as a result boiled with vinegar and used as a mouthwash it helps toothache. Chewed, it expels phlegm; and rubbed on with oil it produces sweats, is helpful for long-lasting chills, and is excellent for chilled or paralytic parts of the body. It is also called dorycnion, pyrinon, pyroton, pyrothron, or arnopurites; the Magi call it purites, and the Romans, salivaris.

Saint Hildegard von Bingen wrote of Feverfew:

Feverfew is of moderate heat and somewhat dry.  It is absolutely balanced and has good vital energy.  It is a good food for healthy persons, since it diminishes putrid matter in him, and creates clear understanding.  It restores strength to an ill person whose body is almost completely failing.  Providing good digestion, it lets nothing pass through the body without being digested.  A person who has a lot of phlegm in his head will find it diminished if he eats feverfew frequently.  Eaten often, it expels pleurisy and provides a person with pure humors.  It gives him clear eyesight.  In whatever way it is eaten, whether dred or in food, it is beneficial for both sick and healthy people.  If a person eats it frequently, it will chase illness from him and keep him from getting sick.  When it is eaten, it draws moisture and saliva from the mouth.  Because it draws out evil humors, it restores health.

Well, what more could you ask for than that?  As I write this article, I have a head cold and feel rather full of “evil humors”!

Gerard identified three types of Feverfew and described their virtues as:

A. It is a great remedy against the diseases of the matrix; it procureth women's sickness with speed; it bringeth forth the afterbirth and the dead child, whether it be drunk in a decoction, or boiled in a bath and the woman sit over it; or the herbs sodden and applied to the privy part, in manner of a cataplasm or poultice.

B. Dioscorides also teacheth, that it is profitably applied to Saint Anthony's fire, to all hot inflammations, and hot swellings, if it be laid unto, both leaves and flowers.

C. The same author affirmeth, that the powder of Feverfew drunk with oxymel, or syrup of vinegar, or wine for want of the others, draweth away phlegm and melancholy, and is good for them that are pursy, and have their lungs stuffed with phlegm, and is profitable likewise to be drunk against the stone, as the same author saith.

D. Feverfew dried and made into powder, and two drams of it taken with honey or sweet wine, purgeth by siege melancholy and phlegm; wherefore it is very good for them that are giddy in the head, or which have the turning called vertigo, that is a swimming and turning in the head. Also it is good for such as be melancholic, sad, pensive, and without speech.

E. The herb is good against the suffocation of the mother, that is, the hardness and stopping of the same, being boiled in wine, and applied to the place.

F. The decotion of the same is good for women to sit over, for the purposes aforesaid.

G. It is used both in drinks, and bound to the wrists with bay salt, and the powder of glass stamped together, as a most singular experiment against the ague.

Matrix, by the way, is an old term for the womb.  As any man knows, women have many mysteries… I am reminded of an old Justin WIlson story:

There was this Cajun who was a real know-it-all, you know the type… he got somethin’ to say and an answer for everything, even if he ain’t heard the question.  So this fella decided to have some fun with him.  He asked him, “You think you know everything, don’t you?”  “Man,” he answered, “If there is somethin’ to know I damn sure know it, I guarantee!”  “Okay you smart guy, where is a lady’s yet located?”  “Huh, what you mean her yet?”  “I mean what I done and said smarty Alec, what and where is her yet?”  “A woman ain’t got no body part called a yet!”   “I bet you $20 that It says right here in this Times Picayune newspaper that she does,” he told him.  “Okay, you show me,” he replied.  The man read the headline, “Woman shot in robbery - the bullet is in her yet…”

Now that we have pondered the mysteries of of the female, lets see what the ever mysterious astrological herbalist Culpepper had to say of Feverfew:

Venus commands this herb, and has commended it to succour her sisters (women), to be a general strengthener of their wombs, and to remedy such infirmities as a careless midwife has there caused; if they will be pleased to make use of her herb boiled in white wine, and drink the decoction, it cleanses the womb, expels the afterbirth, and does a woman all the good she can desire of an herb. And if any grumble because they cannot get the herb in winter, tell them, if they please, they may make a syrup of it in summer; it is chiefly used for the disease of the mother, whether it be the strangling or rising of the mother, or hardness or inflammation of the same, applied outwardly thereunto. Or a decoction of the flowers in wine, with a little nutmeg or mace put there, and drank often in a day, is an approved remedy to bring down women's courses speedily, and helps to expel the dead birth and after-birth. For a woman to sit over the hot fumes of the decoction of the herb made in water or wine, is effectual for the same; and in some cases, to apply the boiled herb warm to the privy parts. The decoction thereof, made with some sugar or honey put thereto, is used by many with good success to help the cough and stuffing of the chest, by colds; as also to cleanse the reins and bladder, and helps to expel the stone in them. The powder of the herb taken in wine, with some oxymel, purges both choler and phlegm, and is available for those that are short-winded, and are troubled with melancholy and heaviness, or sadness of spirits. It is very effectual for all pains in the head coming of a cold cause, the herb being bruised and applied to the crown of the head: as also for the vertigo; that is, a running or swimming of the head. The decoction thereof drank warm, and the herb bruised with a few corns of bay-salt, and applied to the wrists before the coming of the ague-fits, does take them away. The distilled water takes away freckles, and other spots and deformities in the face. The herb bruised and heated on a tile, with some wine to moisten it, or fried with a little wine and oil in a frying-pan, and applied warm out-wardly to the places, helps the wind and cholic in the lower part of the belly. It is an especial remedy against opium taken too liberally.

This herb, though not much used in the present practice, deserves the notice of physicians. It is bitter and detersive, and therefore makes a good ingredient in decoctions and infusions for the agues and obstructions of the first passages; it is full as efficacious against worms of the intestines as wormwood, and its unplesant foetid smell bespeaks it useful in hysteric disorders.

Mrs. Grieves wrote of Feverfew’s medicinal uses:

Aperient, carminative, bitter. As a stimulant it is usefulas an emmenagogue. Is also employed in hysterical complaints, nervousness and lowness of spirits, and is a general tonic. The cold infusion is made from 1 OZ. of the herb to a pint of boiling water, allowed to cool, and taken frequently in doses of half a teacupful.

A decoction with sugar or honey is said to be good for coughs, wheezing and difficult breathing. The herb, bruised and heated, or fried with a little wine and oil, has been employed as a warm external application for wind and colic.

A tincture made from Feverfew and applied locally immediately relieves the pain and swelling caused by bites of insects and vermin. It is said that if two teaspoonfuls of tincture are mixed with 1/2 pint of cold water, and all parts of the body likely to be exposed to the bites of insects are freely sponged with it, they will remain unassailable. A tincture of the leaves of the true Chamomile and of the German Chamomile will have the same effect.

Planted round dwellings, it is said to purify the atmosphere and ward off disease.

An infusion of the flowers, made with boiling water and allowed to become cold, will allay any distressing sensitiveness to pain in a highly nervous subject, and will afford relief to the face-ache or earache of a dyspeptic or rheumatic person.

None other than Cotton Mather, the outspoken and bigoted Puritan minister, recommended chewing Feverfew to relieve toothache.  When not writing fiery sermons and accusing Catholics of witchcraft… having them prosecuted, tortured and killed, it seems Mather was an amateur plant breeder and made some exploration of herbal medicine.

The Lost Book of Herbal Remedies tells us:

Migraines and Tension Headaches: Taking feverfew regularly works well as a preventative for migraine headaches, as does butterbur. It must be taken regularly to work. Feverfew may work in a few ways: as an anti-inflammatory, by inhibiting smooth muscle contraction, as an analgesic, and by inhibiting blood platelet aggregation. It may also help via other mechanisms still being studied. Use the flowers and leaves fresh or dried. To prevent migraines, chew 1 to 4 leaves per day, or drink 1 cup of Feverfew Leaf Tea daily, or use a daily tincture. For people with migraines simply keep dried leaves or a feverfew tincture on hand with you. If mouth sores develop from chewing leaves regularly, switch to a powdered or tinctured form. The tea, leaf, or tincture may also be used as a treatment for tension headaches. Fevers, Cold and Flu Pain (and Colic): Feverfew gets its name from its traditional use treating fevers. Hot Feverfew Tea helps break a fever and treats the aches and pains associated with cold and flu. It is anti-inflammatory and analgesic. For colic in babies and young children, try just a few drops of a cold infusion. Menstrual Cramps and to Regulate the Menses: Feverfew is both a uterine stimulant and a pain reliever and is particularly good at relieving painful menstrual cramping and in bringing on menses. Feverfew shouldn’t be used if you are pregnant, as it can stimulate uterine contraction and directly affect the baby. Harvesting: Harvest feverfew leaves and flowers shortly after the flowers appear in early summer. Dry a supply for future use. You can also powder the dried leaves and encapsulate them.

It seems that Feverfew is a much under-utilized herb in our time, given all of its uses.  It is a fairly common roadside “weed”, rarely given the respect it deserves.  It certainly has made for interesting research this morning... and it gave me an excuse to tell an old Justin Wilson story, which is always a good thing!  

Author: Judson Carroll.  Judson Carroll is an Herbalist from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. His weekly articles may be read at http://southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/

His weekly podcast may be heard at: www.spreaker.com/show/southern-appalachian-herbs

He offers free, weekly herb classes: https://rumble.com/c/c-618325

Buy his new book: https://py.pl/d1YsC

Read about Look Up: The Medicinal Trees of the American South, An Herbalist's Guide: https://southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/2021/06/paypal-safer-easier-way-to-pay-online.html

Don't forget about The Herbs and Weeds of Fr. Johannes Künzle.  

Click here to read about  The Herbs and Weeds of Fr. Johannes Künzle: https://southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/2021/05/announcing-new-book-herbs-and-weeds-of.html


The information on this site is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or condition. Nothing on this site has been evaluated or approved by the FDA. I am not a doctor. The US government does not recognize the practice of herbal medicine and their is no governing body regulating herbalists. Therefore, I'm just a guy who studies herbs. I am not offering any advice. I won't even claim that anything I write is accurate or true! I can tell you what herbs have "traditionally been used for." I can tell you my own experience and if I believe an herb helped me. I cannot, nor would I tell you to do the same. If you use any herb I, or anyone else, mentions you are treating yourself. You take full responsibility for your health. Humans are individuals and no two are identical. What works for me may not work for you. You may have an allergy, sensitivity or underlying condition that no one else shares and you don't even know about. Be careful with your health. By continuing to read my blog you agree to be responsible for yourself, do your own research, make your own choices and not to blame me for anything, ever.
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Yay!! Feverfew arrived in my garden this year and it looks like it is the exact prescription for many ailments we are battling at the moment. Long live weeds!!!

I wonder if feverfew is good for yetitis...
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