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A Long Row to Hoe

(A Gardener's Letters)
by Ken Beattie
by Ken Beattie


Ken Beattie has hosted a number of gardening-related programs for WTN.

Ken is currently working with the Canadian Wildlife Federation and is also the author of an informative gardening book series.

July 30, 2006

Dear Sis,
One early spring day, we had some friends visiting us from Germany. The woman was quite taken with the rather sprawling patch of Feverfew that she spied from the deck in the rear gardens. She mistakenly thought that it was Cammomile an easy stretch actually. The ruffled foliage and daisy-like flowers with yellow button centers, resembles Cammomile indeed. 
I scurried indoors, rifled through a number of reference texts to find the botanical name of Feverfew. As our guest spoke as much English as we did German, my thought was to use the Latin, a universal descriptor. My references suggested that to be botanically (semi) accurate, Tanacetum parthenium was often referred to as Chrysanthemum parthenium and this scared me indeed. This is the plant that some organically based insecticides are made from, and here it is in my spring garden as an edible herb. Confused by the cross reference, I dug deeper and realized that yet again, the name change was the whim of some frustrated taxonomist.
Our friends were thankful for the information regarding the healing properties of this delightful herb too. One of the women was suffering a cruel migraine and appeared to be in severe agony. I was familiar with Feverfew's ability to reduce migraine onset, but not entirely sure how it would help one already in progress. The literature that I found suggested that fresh leaves ingested would act as a muscle relaxant, reducing muscle spasms and therefore helping with the headache. After a few nibbles of what seemed to be a bitter few leaves, our guest retired to the guest room. Lo and behold, the Feverfew worked, she was able to rejoin us for dessert. 
So Sis, when you get one of those dandy headaches or the results of working too long or too hard, try munching on a few Feverfew leaves. I would caution you however, the fresh leaves can cause ulceration of the mouth and I guess, if you are sensitive, a skin rash too. I read that only three or four leaves is sufficient to control migraine onset.
Growing Feverfew is hardly an effort at all. They seem to propagate like the rabbits of the herb world. I started with three individual plants, now I have a regular patch. I grow them in a nice sunny location, as with most herbs, and in very deep, fast draining soil. They form a great mat-like habit that really is a living mulch. The foliage is curly and deeply serrated or lobed, not unlike the florist chrysanthemum. Their stems are slightly ridged and somewhat downy with oodles of branches which forms the basis of its rosette appearance. Leaves tend to be a vibrant green but some species are variegated and others quite yellow. `Aureum' has golden green leaves which makes it stand out in the shadier sections of the herb garden. None of the species grow much taller than 12 inches and they can be kept shorter with regular pinching or clipping. 
The flowers are daisy-like structures, great for floating in a punch bowl or spring drink on the deck. The flat centers are what is the distinguishing characteristic between them and Chamommile.
Feverfew is an excellent plant to chase aphids and other soft bodied insects away. Simply make a tea using 25 -40 leaves in a gallon of hot water. Strain the leaves out and use the spray on any plants in the vegetable or flower garden.
Dried leaves have been used as a deterrent for moths and steeped as a tea Feverfew is touted as a mild disinfectant. Cosmetically, it has been recommended since the 17th Century as a foil for freckles and age spots. 
Some herbalists prescribe Feverfew tinctures, teas or decoctions for such varied ailments as arthritis, insomnia, mild laxatives and after tooth extraction to abate infections. Clear skin, active bowels, nimble joints and a good night's sleep. Sign us up Sis, this is the herb of the 21st Century indeed.


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