Originally, feverfew was a native plant of southeastern Europe, but is now common throughout Australia, Europe, and North America. It is a moisture-loving perennial, and in the photo is my personal plant in year 2 (so it can certainly survive a Midwest winter). It can grow up to 2 feet (60 cm) tall, and white flowers with yellow centers that bloom all summer long – which makes it an attractive border plant. It is usually free from pests and diseases, and in fact is historically known as a plant that repels undesirable insects.
The aboveground parts (leaves, flowers, etc..not roots) that are used in herbal medicine. Since the first century, feverfew has been used in the treatment of headaches, as well as used for treating inflammation, arthritis, menstrual discomforts, fever, and other general aches and pains. It has been show that feverfew stops white blood cells from absorbing the amino acid thymidine, which reduce the rate of inflammatory chemical (leukotriene) production as well as fatty acid byproduct production which are essential to the production of those leukotrienes. This is a benefit to those suffering from lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.
For those who suffer from migraines, feverfew is thought to reduce the production of seratonin. Seratonin is involved in the constriction of blood vessels and the release of pain-causing chemicals. A clinical trial in England found that taking feverfew for four months reduced the frequency and severity of migraine attacks, as well as reducing the accompanying vomiting and visual distortion. However, the duration of the migraine was not affected.
Human consumption: If you want to take feverfew as an herbal remedy, it should be consumed in a capsule form of the freeze-dried herb. People who are allergic to ragweed maybe be allergic to this herb as well. Pregnant women should avoid taking feverfew as it can cause uterine bleeding. Nursing mothers should also avoid taking feverfew because its active components can be transmitted through breast milk which may cause allergies in the child. If you are on any blood-thinning medication, such as warfarin (Coumadin), you should not take feverfew. Though there are no reports of detrimental interaction with this class of drugs, it is theoretically possible. Fresh leaves may cause dermatitis and mouth ulcers if eaten, so be cautious.
On another note, the flowers are often used for crafts and in floral arrangements.
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Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is a great perennial herb to use as a natural pest-repellent. It is also commonly known as Common Tansy, Bitter Buttons, Cow Bitter, Mugwort, or Golden Buttons. Its leaves have a fernlike appearance, and the scent is similar to that of camphor with hints of rosemary. The leaves and flowers are said to be poisonous if consumed in large quantities. The plant’s volatile oil is high in thujone, a substance found in absinthe that can cause convulsions. Some insects, notably the tansy beetle, have evolved resistance to tansy and live almost exclusively on it.
Irish folklore of the mid-1800s suggests bathing in a solution of tansy and salt as a cure for joint pain. Bitter tea made with the blossoms of T. vulgare has been effectively used for centuries as an anthelmintic (vermifuge). Tansy cakes were traditionally served during Lent because of a superstition that eating fish during Lent caused intestinal worms. Note that only T. vulgare is used in medicinal preparations; all species of tansy are toxic, and an overdose can be fatal. The dried flowering herb of Tanacetum is used ethnomedically to treat migraine, neuralgia, and rheumatism, and as an antihelminthic, in conjunction with a competent herbalist to circumvent any possible toxicity. Formerly, tansy was often used for its emmenagogue effects, but rumors have implicated tansy in cases of miscarriage. Pregnant women should avoid this herb.
In England, bunches of tansy were traditionally placed at windows to keep out flies. Sprigs were placed in bedding and linen to drive away pests. Tansy can also be used as a companion plant in the garden, especially with cucurbits like cucumbers and squash, or with roses or various berries. It is thought to repel ants, cucumber beetles, japanese beetles, squash bugs, and some kinds of flying insects, among others.
It is also used by some traditional dyers to produce a golden-yellow pigment. The yellow flowers are dried for use in floral arrangements.
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One of my new favorite herbs is lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). The leaves emit a lemon scent when bruised, and they also taste distinctly lemony. The plant will die down in the winter, after blooming from June through October, but is classified as a perennial so it should come back in the following growing season (Note March ’09: Both of my lemon balm plants are coming back, so it is, in fact, a perennial!). The London Dispensary in 1696 stated: ‘An essence of Balm, given in Canary wine, every morning will renew youth, strengthen the brain, relieve languishing nature and prevent baldness.’ And it’s been claimed that ‘balm is sovereign for the brain, strengthening the memory and powerfully chasing away melancholy. Balm steeped in wine comforts the heart and driveth away melancholy and sadness.’ Drive away melancholy and sadness…part of that could depend on how much wine you steep it with 🙂 .
It has properties that attract beneficial insects like bees, yet acts as a repellent for unwanted insects. The only culture required is to keep them clean from weeds and cut off the decayed stalks in autumn, and then to stir the ground between the roots.
Herbal benefits: It induces a mild perspiration and makes a pleasant and cooling tea for feverish patients with the flu. To make the tea, pour 1 pint of boiling water upon 1 oz. of herb, infuse 15 minutes, allow to cool, then strain and drink freely. It is also good for headaches and in small amounts it has mild sedative properties – larger amounts tend to be stimulatory. I like to mix a tsp of Valerian root with a few leaves of lemon balm (bruised) before bedtime. It also makes a nice tea when mixed with fresh peppermint leaves.
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Dad has been asking about how to keep pesky insects at bay. And after I quickly squashed his hopes of using harmful chemicals..I told him I’d put together a list of the various plants and herbs that are said to have pest and insect repellent properties. First on the list, we have Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium).
It can be used as a low-growing ground cover, as it spreads rapidly. Below is a picture of mine that I have in a pot. I started with just a little container that you buy at the nursery (see the circle), and in just a few weeks it’s exploded into this (see below)! I’m going to have to do some transplanting! It’s easily grown from seed, and doesn’t need a ton of water (but dislikes drought) – so water occasionally. And it loves the sun, so make sure it gets at least a couple hours of sun a day!
It’s in the mint family, hence its fast-growing and spreading properties. It has flea-repelling properties, so it’s good for those with pooches and kitties. Please note that this is a toxic plant to pets if ingested. So, if you have pooches, plant it in a pot (or somewhere they won’t be tempted to munch on it)..but if not, plant it where you want ground cover and/or insect control.
Now regarding human consumption: It’s highly aromatic, yet has a pungent and less agreeable flavor than spearmint or peppermint. I wouldn’t recommend walking by and picking off some leaves to nibble on. In days of old, a tea was made to relieve colds (sweetened with nectar) and menstrual derangements. I personally haven’t tried this, but before the days of med’s the herbalists typically knew what they were doing. Culpepper (a famous herbalist) has written about pennyroyal that “a garland of Pennyroyal made and worn about the head is of great force against the swimming in the head and the pains and giddiness thereof. It is also beneficial in cases of spasms, hysteria, flatulence and sickness, being very warming and grateful to the stomach. The infusion of 1 OZ. of herb to a pint of boiling water is taken warm in teacupful doses, frequently repeated, and the oil is also given on sugar, as well as being made up into pills and other preparations.”
For tips on making teas from fresh herbs, see SOP: Tea.
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