How to Grow Feverfew: A Medicinal and Visual Delight

Tanacetum parthenium

To many in the herbal medicine community, feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is known as a natural headache remedy.

But in the gardening community, this shrubby herb is appreciated as an attractive landscape plant.

A close up vertical image of a feverfew plant in bloom with daisy-like white flowers with yellow centers. To the center and bottom of the frame is green and white printed text.

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Continue on to learn all about growing feverfew in your garden. Here’s what I’ll cover:

Let’s learn more!

What Is Feverfew?

Masses of one-inch, white, daisy-like flowers with large yellow centers rise on spindly stems above parsley-like leaves.

A close up horizontal image of a large swath of feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) with yellow flowers growing in the garden.

Feverfew, which you might also see referred to as Matricaria parthenoides, Chrysanthemum parthenium, featherfew, febrifuge plant, featherfoil, midsummer daisy, flirtwort, or wild chamomile, grows anywhere from eight to 24 inches tall, with a width of about the same range.

This member of the aster family behaves like an annual in cooler zones, a perennial in some areas, and it can be evergreen in warmer southern climates.

A close up horizontal image of small white Tanacetum parthenium flowers growing in a garden bed.

Though it looks similar, it’s not to be confused with true chamomile, which you can read more about here.

Cultivation and History

While native to southeastern Europe, T. parthenium is now widespread throughout Europe, Australia, and North America, where it grows in USDA Hardiness Zones 5-10.

Used for many centuries in herbal medicine, it became popular in the 18th century after botanist and author John Hill referred to it in “The Family Herbal” as the most useful remedy for treating headaches.

A close up horizontal image of a white Tanacetum parthenium flower with a yellow center pictured on a green soft focus background.

Though its name may suggest an ability to lower body temperature, feverfew is instead mainly relied upon medicinally to treat and prevent headaches. It has also been used to relieve the symptoms of arthritis and digestive problems.

All parts of the plant that grow above ground may be used in medicines, but most commercial products use the leaves.

Numerous studies assessing the effectiveness of feverfew as a headache treatment have been conducted, and in 2005 a German study from H.C. Diener et. al. found that incidents of migraine headaches were reduced in patients who ingested feverfew extract.

Scientists are still working to identify the substance in the plant that offers the beneficial effects.

Propagation

You can start seeds indoors in late winter, or direct sow in your garden after all danger of frost has passed.

You can also transplant seedlings from a garden center or divide existing plants.

From Seed

Direct sow seeds after the last frost, barely covering them with quarter of an inch of soil. You can plant in rows a few inches apart and thin to a foot apart once plants are a few inches high. Keep the soil moist until germination.

To get an early start, you can also sow seeds indoors in spring, about five to seven weeks before the last frost.

Scatter seeds in flats filled with a well draining seed starting mix and tamp them down lightly, barely covering them as light aids germination.

Cover with a dome lid and set in a bright location, keeping it evenly moist until seedlings emerge. Expect germination to take 10 to 14 days.

Transplants

Transplants can be planted out in the garden after last frost, once at least two true leaves have emerged. Plant in holes as deep as the root ball, spacing plants about a foot apart.

Any garden soil is fine as feverfew is tolerant of poor soils. Water thoroughly after planting.

By Division

Feverfew roots consist of a deep taproot with many branching rhizomes.

To divide a mature plant, dig a circle about a foot deep and a few inches wider than the plant and lift it from the ground in spring or fall, using a shovel to cut the crown into three or four chunks.

Replant divisions 18 inches apart at the same depth as the roots were growing before and water well.

How to Grow

Plant it in full sun, or in an area that receives a bit of light shade.

Well-drained sandy or loamy soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.7 is perfect for these plants.

A close up vertical image of a large swath of flowering feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) growing in the garden.

Plants should be watered a couple of times a week in the absence of rain to keep roots moist throughout the year. Feverfew won’t tolerate dry conditions and prefers to grow in slightly damp soil, so you should provide adequate water for the soil to remain moist, though not soggy.

If the soil is fertile, there is no need to fertilize.

If you are growing in poor soils, you can apply a light, balanced fertilizer each spring, such as this all-purpose organic fertilizer from Down to Earth, available from Arbico Organics.

A close up square image of the packaging of Down to Earth All Natural Vegetable Garden Fertilizer isolated on a white background.

Down to Earth Fertilizer

Interestingly, this plant has a strong citrus-like aroma that repels bees, so don’t place T. parthenium near plants that rely on bees for pollination. Feverfew can self-pollinate and doesn’t require help from pollinators.

Growing Tips

  • Plant in full sun or part shade.
  • Best in well drained sand or loamy soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.7.
  • Water twice a week in the absence of rain to maintain even moisture.
  • Apply a balanced fertilizer in spring if growing in poor soil.

Pruning and Maintenance

Feverfew reseeds quite liberally and can even be considered invasive, so keep an eye out for an abundance of emerging volunteer seedlings, and remove them as necessary.

A close up horizontal image of a large swath of feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) in full bloom growing in a woodland location.

Deadhead spent blossoms or cut still-vibrant flowers for arrangements to keep up production of blooms. Deadheading also helps to prevent excessive self-seeding.

You can also cut back leggy stems, though you should never remove more than a third of the plant at once.

In areas where it is growing as a perennial, you can cut down the foliage to ground level in the fall, and mulch heavily to protect the roots during cold winters.

Cultivars to Select

T. parthenium, the species plant, is readily available from your local plant nursery or online.

A close up vertical image of a seed packet with text to the left of the frame and a hand drawn illustration to the right.

T. parthenium

You can purchase organic heirloom seeds from Botanical Interests.

Double White

‘Double White’ features fully double, creamy white flowers with yellow centers.

A close up horizontal image of Tanacetum parthenium 'Double White' pictured on a soft focus background.

Plants grow to a mature height of 24 inches tall.

White Bonnet

‘White Bonnet’ is a double-flowered cultivar with frilly white petals surrounding a yellow center.

A close up horizontal image of Tanacetum parthenium 'White Bonnet' flowers growing in the garden pictured on a soft focus background.

Ideal for cottage gardens or container growing, expect a mature height of 18 inches.

Managing Pests and Disease

This white and yellow beauty is relatively disease free, but you should still keep an eye out for the occasional problem.

Aphids can occasionally plague feverfew. If they become an issue, spraying off plants with a hard stream of water from the hose often does the trick.

For severe infestations, you can try a homemade insecticidal soap by mixing one tablespoon of pure liquid soap and two teaspoons of cooking oil into a quart of water to spray on foliage whenever you notice signs of aphids.

Slugs can also make holes in the leaves. You may notice wilted foliage and a slimy residue where slugs have been. You can remove them easily by handpicking at dusk or after rain.

Diatomaceous earth or coffee grounds sprinkled around the base of plants will also help to deter slugs.

Aster yellows disease can also be a problem. The only cure for aster yellows is prevention. Use diatomaceous earth or insecticidal soap to kill the bugs that spread this bacterial disease. Infected plants must be pulled up and discarded.

Finally, feverfew is sometimes susceptible to powdery mildew if planted in a shady area, but this can be easily avoided by selecting a location that receives full sun.

Harvesting

Leaves can be harvested any time during the season, and flowers can be harvested as soon as they start blooming. The essential oils in the plant are highest just as flowering is beginning.

A close up horizontal image of a freshly harvested bunch of feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) flowers set on a wooden surface.

Pick flowers in mid-morning after the dew has dried. When harvesting the leaves, never pick more than a third of the plant at once.

You can also harvest the seeds to save for future plantings. Once the plant is done flowering and seed heads have dried, cut the stems and hang them upside down in a paper bag for a few days in a dark, dry location.

You can learn more about how to harvest feverfew in our guide.

Preserving

You can use the flowers fresh in tea or dry them for later use.

If you have a dehydrator you can dry the leaves and flowers on a low setting. Otherwise you can hang the stems in bundles and hang them upside down in a dark, dry location for several days.

Remove the dried flowers and leaves from the stems and store in a tightly sealed jar in a dark cupboard.

You can make a tincture of the fresh or dried leaves and flowers by infusing them in a jar of alcohol. Store the jar in a dark location for several weeks, shaking it daily. After about six weeks, you can strain out the plant material.

Feverfew tincture can be used as a remedy for headaches. Always talk to a health care professional before using herbal products.

Quick Reference Growing Guide

Plant Type:Short lived perennial herbTolerance:Poor soil
Native to:Southeastern EuropeWater Needs:Moderate
Hardiness (USDA Zone):5-10Maintenance:Low
Season:SummerSoil Type:Sand or loam
Exposure:Full sunSoil pH:6.0-7.0
Time to Maturity:80-90 daysSoil Drainage:Well-draining
Spacing:12 inchesCompanion Planting:Mint, vegetables
Planting Depth:1/4 inch (seeds)Avoid Planting With:Plants that require bee pollination
Height:8-24 inchesFamily:Asteraceae
Spread:8-24 inchesGenus:Tanacetum
Common Pests and Disease:Aphids, slugs; aster yellows, powdery mildewSpecies:Parthenium

Cures a Headache and a Dreary Garden

Whether you have a headache or just want to fill an empty spot in your landscape, cheerful feverfew is a plant worth considering.

A close up horizontal image of Tanacetum parthenium flowers growing in the garden.

Remember its bee-repelling properties, though, when you plant it! You don’t want to rob neighboring plants of their much-needed pollinators.

Have you grown this plant? Are you now considering it? Tell us all about it in the comments section below.

Check out these articles next to discover more easy to grow beautiful and medicinal flowering herbs:

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!

6 thoughts on “How to Grow Feverfew: A Medicinal and Visual Delight”

    • This is correct, in a way – feverfew was previously categorized as Chrysanthemum parthenium, and it’s related to wild mums, commonly used as an herb in Chinese medicine. The genus names on some plants have changed in recent years, with advances in botany based on genetics rather than visual observation, and other factors.

      Reply
    • If you want to be safe, you can plant feverfew a few feet away from a bee garden. Keep in mind that while feverfew may repel some bumblebees and honey bees, it attracts local bees and other pollinators, so it’s a good choice for attracting a range of pollinators.

      Reply
    • Hi Ginny –
      Feverfew makes a wonderful ground cover in areas with full sun to part shade. Hosta does best in full shade to part shade. If you are growing in a partially shaded location, they may be good companions, as both have a preference for rich, well-draining soil.

      Reply

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