Feverfew Folklore

Now that spring has sprung (at least in my neck of the woods) I thought it might be interesting to learn about some flower lore that goes back as long as the seasons. In particular, Feverfew. If you don’t recognize the name ‘feverfew’ you might know it by the handful of other names it goes by like featherfew, featherfoil, devil daisy, flirtwort, bachelor's button, maid's weed, midsummer daisy, missouri snakeroot, nosebleed, prairie-dock, vetter-voo, wild chammomile, or matricaria. Its scientific name is Tanacetum parthenium.

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Feverfew is a woefully short-lived plant that is native to southeastern Europe but can be found as far-flung as Australia, Greece, Egypt, and North America. In fact, there are records of the Feverfew plant being used in Ancient Greece and Egypt to cure ailments like menstrual cramps, inflammation, and general pain.

In Medieval Europe, especially during plague years, the feverfew flower was an essential part of cottage gardens. Local lore said that planting feverfew flowers by the house, especially near the door, would help protect those inside from the disease. Interestingly enough there is some data to support that this may have actually worked. While the plant’s magical qualities are up for debate it is believed that the rats that carried plague did not like the smell or taste of feverfew and avoided munching on it...so, planting it by the front door may not have been a bad idea at all for those wary of the plague.

In addition to safeguarding against aches, pains, and perhaps even the plague feverfew was also known as a cure for elf-shot. If you’re not familiar, elf-shot was a common ailment in Europe and especially in England. It was believed that elf-shot was caused when invisible, ne’er do well elves shot invisible arrows into a person or animal. The invisible arrows would shoot localized and intense pain to wherever they stuck. Today, it is believed elf-shot might have been what we call today ‘muscle stitches’ or even arthritis. It is believed the spear-shaped leaves of the feverfew flowers are natural markers of cures against elf-shot.

Because of its links to curing aches and pains, it is also believed to be a powerful cure for those suffering from heart-sickness or rejection in love.

Today, there has been a fair amount of research done in how feverfew is used to treat migraines. According to the NCCIH, “Some research suggests that feverfew may help to prevent migraine headaches, but results have been mixed. However, evidence-based guidelines from the American Academy of Neurology and the American Headache Society suggest that a feverfew extract may be effective and should be considered for migraine prevention.”

The above image is of feverfew. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license by Zeynel Cebeci.