Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Feverfew, Tanacetum parthenium

Feverfew,Tanacetum parthenium
Double flowering Feverfew,Tanacetum parthenium 'Plenum' syn 'White Bonnet'

Feverfew is one of those plants which has been grown both as an ornamental garden plant and medicinal herb for centuries throughout the world, far and wide from its native habitat of the rocky and scrubby hillsides of the Balkan Peninsula. In Australia it is equally at home in sub-tropical Queensland and cooler temperate climates of the south. The vernacular name Feverfew is derived from the Latin words febris.....a fever, and drive away, hence it was first known as febrifuge for its tonic and fever dispelling properties. There has been much confusion as to its position in the botanical world and at various times has been included in genus' Chrysanthemum, Pyrethrum, Matricaria and Leucanthemum and finally Tanacetum. It often confused with and substituted for the insect repellent plant Pyrethrum daisy which is in fact Tanacetum cinerariifolium. The botanical name is derived from Greek, tanacetum from athanasia meaning immortality, because the flowers are long lasting; and parthenium because it was used to save the life of a man who fell from the Parthenon when it was being built. This fact according to the Greek biographer and moralist Plutarch and perhaps an urban myth.
As a medicinal herb, Feverfew is used today in the treatment of rheumatism and for those suffering migraine headaches but in centuries past it was used specifically for women's health and well-being. In the 18th century, a decoction of leaves was given to women as a cure for hysteria and large quantities were simmered in water and then used as a sitz bath for ladies' private parts. The real cure for hysteria did not come till the late 19th century with the invention of the vibrator. This aspect of cultural history currently under the spotlight, in the Sydney Theatre Company production of the play In the Next Room by Sarah Ruhl.
Feverfew is seldom grown as a commercial nursery plant but seed is usually available from organic seed suppliers and plants always turn up at Church fetes, which is where I picked up the double flowering form. The golden leafed varieties are worth seeking out as they brighten shady gardens and are undemanding as to growing conditions.The cultivar 'Golden Moss' often makes an appearance in floral clocks and as an edging bedding plant for its acid yellow leaves and neat appearance. All varieties could be described as short lived perennials but once established they self seed and replace themselves without ever becoming weedy. It will grow anywhere but prefers well drained soil preferably enriched with some compost. In partial shade the foliage becomes larger, greener and more fern like. At this time of year I cut my plants back hard as the foliage is often marked and damaged by leaf miner, the only pest which seems to affect it. Under ideal growing conditions, plants can reach 60cm and the mass of tiny white daisy flowers on tall stems make it a terrific cut flower.


  1. Beautiful perennial! Would most likely never survive my poor draining conditions but thanks for the education on it.

  2. very nice. you should check out Leucanthemum 'old court' as well.