All the Dirt on Gardening
Feverfew, or wild quinine, is as carefree as other members of the aster-daisy family, making it a sweet addition to a sunny, herb or cottage flower garden. Also called American feverfew, it is a native perennial found in prairies, and rocky woods. The name Feverfew comes from the Latin febrifugus which means putting fever to flight.
Tanacetum parthenium, feverfew, was originally found in southern Europe. The different varieties vary from 1 to 3 feet tall with flowers from late spring through late summer.
Because of the coarse texture and scented leaves, wildlife such as rabbits and deer rarely eat the plants. They are also free of significant disease and insect problems. Many gardeners have planted feverfew to shelter toads that in turn eat garden pests such as snails and slugs.
When shopping for plants and seeds, carefully watch the names because they are easily confused by nurseries. This plant’s names include Parthenium integrifolium, Matricaria parthenium, Chrysanthemum parthenium and Tanacetum parthenium.
Adding to the confusion, Tanacetum vulgare is tansy and Tanacetum ptarmiciflorum is Dusty Miller or silver lace bush. Those are both are attractive plants, but they are not feverfew.
Feverfew is easy to grow in full sun and is tolerant of most soils including clay or dry, rocky, ground. Crafters grow wild quinine for dried flower arrangements and the fresh flowers are used as filler in cut flower bouquets.
The virtues of Feverfew plantings include the fact that their roots improve soil fertility and filter groundwater.
The seeds can be sown indoors 8 weeks before the last frost in zones 4 to 8. Here in zone 7, that would be around mid-February, so add the seeds to your winter order if you plan to put them out in the spring.
Although the seeds require a period of damp and cold to get started, feverfew is easy to germinate and grow. For best results, plant the seeds in containers and put the containers outside wither they will stay moist and cold for 4 weeks. Then bring them in to a 65-degree room where the seedlings will start growing. Plant them outside after they have two sets of true leaves and all frost danger has passed.
To grow them outside from seed, plant seeds in a prepared bed after mid-April. Press the seeds into fine soil where they will sprout in two weeks. Thin the seedlings to 6 inches apart when they have three sets of leaves. Most varieties grow best the second year after they are established in your garden.
Feverfew has a long history of being used medicinally. It was used by the Romans to treat malaria and during WWI and WWII, it was used to treat malaria when the supply of Cinchona bark (quinine) was low because of the Allies being cut off from the Netherlands and the Philippines.
Quinine gives tonic water and bitter lemon their distinctive flavor. At bars, the soda gun that dispenses tonic water has a “Q” on the button.
Feverfew is widely recognized as a treatment for headaches, particularly migraines. Native Americans used the leaves, roots and flowers to help a variety of ailments including insect bites, swelling, and rheumatism. Feverfew tincture is used for blood detoxification.
For many years, Wild Quinine has been sold as Echinacea purpurea because of their similar medicinal benefits.
Easy Wildflowers (www.easywildflowers.com), Park Seed (www.parkseed.com) and Swallowtail Garden Seeds, www.swallowtailgardenseeds.com).
Other garden-worthy varieties
Tanacetum Crown White (www.harrisseed.com) has pompoms of white cutting flowers.
T. Parthenium Gold Ball (www.paseseeds.com) has clusters of double gold cutting flowers.
T. Parthenium Snow Ball (www.thompson-morgan.com) has single white cutting flower clusters.
T. Parthenium Tetra White Wonder (www.selectseeds.com) blooms the first year, with double flowers.