How to Harvest Feverfew

Always searching for a natural treatment to help alleviate pesky migraines? The answer may be found in feverfew, a plant with a famous history of soothing stubborn headaches.

A close up of a cluster of white feverfew flowers, with bright orange centers, contrasting with the green of the leaves in the background. To the center and bottom of the frame is white and green text.

An ancient medicinal, this perennial herb has made a resurgence in modern herb gardens for its useful therapeutic properties, particularly as a migraine remedy, as well as for its attractive daisy-like flowers that conveniently repel pests.

Read on to learn how to harvest and use feverfew.

What Is ­­Feverfew?

This tender perennial is a member or the aster family, though it is often grown as an annual in cooler climates. It has light green hairy leaves and dense clusters of daisy-like flowers at the tops of its stalks.

The lovely little flowers look very similar to chamomile blooms, and the two are often confused.

A close up of a flowering Tanacetum parthenium plant, growing in the garden in bright sunshine. The white petals contrast with the yellow centers and the green leaves.

To learn more about growing feverfew, check out the full guide here.

History

Feverfew has a long history of use in traditional and folk medicine for treatment of many ailments such as headaches, fevers, rheumatoid arthritis, joint pain, toothaches, insect bites, and stomach aches.

A close up of a feverfew plant, in full bloom with its white and yellow flowers growing in the garden in light sunshine.

Native to southeastern Europe, its use was widespread among early European herbalists.

It was named “parthenium” – now part of its botanical name Tanacetum parthenium – by ancient Greeks.

The name parthenium is derived from either the Greek word παρθένος (parthenos), meaning “virgin,” or παρθένιον (parthenion), an ancient name for a plant.

As legend goes, the herb was used to save the life of someone who had fallen from the Parthenon during its construction in the fifth century BC.

Freshly cut Tanacetum parthenium flowers, with their white petals and yellow centers in a white vase on a wooden surface. A white cloth with a red stripe is draped around the vase and the background is wood in soft focus.

In 1772 John Hill referred to feverfew in his book “The Family Herbal.” He described the plant as “surpassing anything previously used against headaches.”

As a result of this, the herb came to be known as the aspirin of the 18th century.

Now widely cultivated throughout the world for its beauty as well as its medicinal properties, this beneficial herb is making a comeback!

Medicinal Use

Long used by herbalists and traditional healers as a remedy for migraines, the scientific community has seen a recent increase in research to investigate its effectiveness and use as a treatment or preventative.

Caution

In some cases, feverfew may cause side effects such as digestive pain, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, asthma, dizziness, tiredness, and menstrual changes.

Pregnant women should avoid taking feverfew, as it may cause early contractions. What’s more, research to ensure it’s safe for breastfeeding women is insufficient.

People with allergies to ragweed or other related plants from the Asteraceae or Compositae plant families — such as daisies, marigolds, and chrysanthemums — should avoid it. The active ingredient parthenolide can cause contact allergic dermatitis in some people when used on the skin. Consumption of the fresh leaves and flowers may cause canker sores and swelling of the mouth in some individuals.

Consult your doctor or healthcare professional before administering any herbal treatments, as herbal supplements may interact with certain medications and are not suitable for everyone.

The main active ingredient is parthenolide, which is found in the leaves but not the stems, though it also contains flavonoids including luteolin, tanetin, santin, and jaceidin.

Several studies have been conducted that point to its effectiveness in reducing migraine frequency or duration – as opposed to an instant cure – in patients who regularly take a supplement containing an extract of the active ingredient.

A close up of white feverfew flowers with contrasting yellow centers, growing in the garden in bright sunshine. The background fades to soft focus.

Health Canada recommends a daily dosage of 125 milligrams of dried leaves containing at least 0.2% parthenolide for the prevention of migraines. But obviously, in our own homes we’re not able to test for the specific levels of active ingredients!

According to David Hoffman in his book “Medical Herbalism: The Science Principles and Practices of Herbal Medicine,” with chemical properties that may inhibit eicosanoides, leukocytes, and platelet aggregation, feverfew may be used to prevent blood vessel constriction that can trigger migraines.

Medical Herbalism: The Science Principles and Practices of Herbal Medicine

If you’re interested in reading more, you can find this book on Amazon.

This remedy seems to be reliant on a cumulative, building effect in helping to prevent migraines.

According to Rosemary Gladstar in her book “Herbs for Stress and Anxiety,” available on Amazon, using feverfew is “not a ‘quick fix’; it is more effective as a preventative than as a curative during the acute stages of the migraine.”

She goes on to say that best results are achieved in those who eat a few leaves or take capsules daily, over a period of 3-4 weeks.

A border of feverfew plants growing next to a concrete walkway in bright sunshine. The white petals contrast with the yellow centers and green leaves. The background is a stone wall.

There have also been some studies done looking into the anti-inflammatory properties of this plant, though results are as yet inconclusive.

The herb also makes an excellent natural insect repellent. Its strong and bitter scent works wonders to keep unwanted bugs and biting insects such as mosquitoes out of the garden and off your skin!

When to Harvest

Both the leaves and flowers can be harvested and used medicinally.

The ideal time to harvest is around the start of flowering – generally in early to mid-summer – though the leaves can be harvested any time throughout the season.

The plant has the highest levels of essential oils as it begins to flower, but before it’s in full bloom.

A close up of Tanacetum parthenium leaves, with little water droplets on them. Flower buds are just visible. The background fades to soft focus.

Flowers should be harvested when the plant is in full bloom to maximize yields.

The seeds are not edible, but you might like to harvest some to save for planting next year.

To do this, wait until the plant has finished flowering, and allow the seed heads to dry. Cut the stems and hang upside down in a paper bag in a cool, dry location for a few days. Shake the bag and separate out the tiny seeds.

How to Harvest

Plan to harvest on a warm, dry day.

Wait until mid-morning, after the dew has dried off. Choose healthy foliage, discarding any parts that look damaged or diseased.

Cut foliage and flowers cleanly with gardening shears or a sharp knife, leaving the bottom two-thirds of the plant intact.

A close up of freshly harvested Tanacetum parthenium flowers with white petals and yellow centers, in a wicker basket with a rustic woven cloth next to it on a white background.

Be sure to leave some blooms and foliage behind – gather only about a third of the plant at one time, so it can continue growing. A few weeks later, you can harvest again.

This plant will continue to produce flowers from July to the end of September.

Preserving and Using Feverfew

This herb can be used fresh or dried. It can be brewed as a tea, taken as a tincture, made into capsules, or used to make homemade insect repellent.

To air dry, tie several cut stalks into bundles and hang upside down in a dry, dark place for up to a week.

A close up of a bunch of white feverfew flowers, with stems and leaves, tied into a bunch with rustic string on a white background.

You can also use a dehydrator or oven set at 140°F.

Using a low heat will help to preserve the essential oils – you want the leaves to be dry and crumbly before you store them, but not so dry that they fall apart when you pick them up!

Once dried, remove leaves and flowers from the stalks and store in a tightly sealed glass jar in a dark pantry. Use the dried leaves and flowers to make a tea to prevent headaches.

The tea can also be cooled and applied to the skin as an insect repellent, or used on pets as a natural flea rinse – provided, of course, that you’re not allergic or sensitive to it. Always test on a small area of your skin before use, and consult with a medical professional if you’re in any doubt that it’s safe for you to use.

Add about a quarter of a cup of fresh leaves and blooms – or 2 tablespoons dried – to a cup of boiling water, allow to steep for five minutes, then strain and cool.

Flying insects generally hate the pungent smell of the growing plant, so if you’re plagued by mosquitoes try planting in pots on your patio – even the cut flower stems in a vase can deter flies.

A close up of dried feverfew leaves and flowers in a terra cotta bowl on a white background.

Some migraine sufferers choose to eat the leaves as a preventative treatment. I’ve known of instances where gardeners with chronic migraines like to eat a few leaves every day, disguised in a sandwich or salad to mask their bitter flavor.

Caution is advised when eating the fresh leaves. Some people can develop canker sores after consuming the fresh leaves or liquid. To avoid this, this herb is often taken in capsule form.

It’s No Headache

This powerful herb is certainly a handy one to have on hand, especially as it is so easy to harvest and preserve. Whether for its medicinal value, insect repellent properties, or intrinsic beauty, feverfew is a plant that is worth knowing how to grow, harvest, and use.

A close up of white feverfew flowers with their contrasting yellow centers on a soft focus dark background.

Do you have experience harvesting and using feverfew? Tell us your stories in the comments below!

If you’re interested in growing herbs in your garden, you’ll need these guides:

© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. With additional writing and editing by Clare Groom and Allison Sidhu.

The staff at Gardener’s Path are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice intended to assess, diagnose, prescribe, or promise cure. Gardener’s Path and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet or using plant-based remedies or supplements for health and wellness.

About Heather Buckner

Heather Buckner hails from amongst the glistening lakes of Minnesota, and now lives with her family on a beautiful homestead in the Vermont Mountains. She holds a bachelor of science degree in environmental science from Tufts University, and has traveled and worked in many roles in conservation and environmental advocacy, including creating and managing programs based around resource conservation, organic gardening, food security, and building leadership skills. Heather is a certified permaculture designer and student herbalist. She is also a fanatical gardener, and enjoys spending as much time covered in dirt as possible!

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