The flowering herb of Pyrethrum Parthenium, Smith (Matricaria Pyrethrum, Linné; Chrysanthemum Parthenium, Persoon; Tanacetum Pyrethrum, Schultz).
COMMON NAMES: Feverfew, Featherfew.
Botanical Source.—Feverfew is a perennial, herbaceous plant, with a tapering root, and an erect, branched, leafy, round, furrowed stem., about 2 feet high. The leaves are alternate, petiolate, flat, bipinnate, or tripinnate, hoary green, the segments or leaflets inclining to ovate, decurrent, gashed, and dentate. The flowers are white and compound. The panicle is corymbose, sometimes compound; peduncles long-naked, single-flowered, and swelling upward. Flowerheads erect, about ½ inch broad, with a convex, yellow disk, and numerous short, broad, abrupt, 2-ribbed, white rays; often wanting; sometimes multiplied, and the disk being obliterated, constitutes a double flower. The involucre is hemispherical, imbricate, pubescent, with the scales scarious at the edge; the receptacle flat or convex, and naked; the achenia wingless, angular, uniform, crowned by a coronetted pappus, which is usually toothed, and occasionally auriculate
History.—This is a European plant, and is common to the United States; found occasionally in a wild state, but is generally cultivated in gardens, and flowers in June and July. It imparts its virtues to water, but much better to alcohol. Bees are said to dislike this plant very much, and a handful of the flower-heads will cause them to keep at a distance.
Chemical Composition.—J. Chautard, in 1863, obtained from this plant, by distillation with water, an oil which deposits upon standing in the cold, a laevorotatory camphor, pyrethrum-camphor (C10H16O), distinguished from ordinary camphor by its opposite optical rotation. Besides, the volatile oil contains an oxygenated liquid, and possibly a terpene hydrocarbon.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Tonic, carminative, emmenagogue, vermifuge, and stimulant. This agent is one of the pleasantest of the tonics, influencing the whole intestinal tract, increasing the appetite, improving digestion, and promoting secretion, besides having a decided action upon the renal and cutaneous functions. The warm infusion is an excellent remedy in recent colds, flatulency, worms, atonic dyspepsia, irregular menstruation, nervous debility, hysteria, suppression of the urine, and in some febrile diseases. In hysteria or flatulency, 1 teaspoonful of the compound spirits of lavender forms a valuable addition to the dose of the infusion, which is from 2 to 4 fluid ounces. The cold infusion or extract makes a valuable tonic. The leaves in poultice are an excellent local application in severe pain or swelling of the bowels, etc.
Related Species.—Parthenium integrifolium, Linné; Cutting almond. This plant, also known by the name of Nephritic plant, is indigenous and perennial, with an erect, striate, pubescent stem, from 3 to 6 feet in height. Leaves alternate, lance-ovate, hispid-scabrous, coarsely dentate-crenate, coriaceous, lower ones petiolate, upper sessile, sometimes clasping, 4 to 12 inches long, about half as wide. Radical petioles a foot long. Heads many-flowered, tomentose, corymbed; ray-flowers 5, somewhat ligulate, fertile; disk-flowers tubular, sterile. Involucre hemispherical, 5-leaved; scales in 2 series, outer ovate, dilated, inner orbicular; receptacle minute, conical, chaffy; achenia 5, obovate, compressed, cohering with 2 contiguous paleae. It is sometimes known as Prairie dock (W.). This plant grows in the middle and western states, in dry soils, flowering from July to September. The root is the part used. Its growth is singular; it issues from a head or caudex, at first small, but gradually increases in size, and terminates very abruptly, giving off other roots of a similar form, each being a distinct root, about the size and shape of a radish, but growing horizontally, and sending up stems from near the large ends of the principal roots, which are blackish outside, and bluish-gray within. According to analysis by Frank B. Meyer (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1881, p. 494), the bitterness of the drug is due to a crystallizable substance obtained by abstracting the powdered drug first with petroleum benzin, which removes a dark-green wax; then with ether, and taking up the ethereal extract with boiling water. The crystals turn deep-red with ferric chloride, and do not reduce Fehling's solution. The liquid preparations of the drug possess an agreeable orange-like odor. Diuretic. A cold infusion of the root, in wineglassful doses, 3 or 4 times a day, will be found very beneficial in heat of the urine, strangury, dysuria, gonorrhoea, gravel, and diseases of the kidneys and bladder generally. It is highly recommended by some practitioners in these diseases. Likewise said to be an aromatic bitter and stimulant. The flowering tops have been used as an antiperiodic. Two fluid ounces of their infusion have no unpleasant influence on the nervous system, and are said to be equal to 20 grains of sulphate of quinine (Houlton).
Parthenium Hysterophorus, Linné, is employed like feverfew. It resembles cutting almond, and is indigenous to Louisiana, Florida, and the West Indian Islands. It is a common weed in Jamaica. Dr. José R. Tovar, of Cuba, employed parthenin obtained from this plant, in cases of facial neuralgia with much success (Therap. Gazette, 1885, p. 359). M. Guyet (Proc. Amer. Pharm. Assoc., 1886, p. 416) points out the complex composition of this active constituent, which he states is not a definite body. Dr. Carlos Ulrici (see Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1886, p. 451, and Merck's Bulletin, Oct., 1888, p. 53) found in the drug five alkaloids, parthenicine being the active, bitter and crystallizable principle, quite readily soluble in hot water. Uncrystallizable parthenic acid is likewise present. Dr. Harry V. Arny observed that the plant is richest in the active bitter principle in the months of June and July, when about 1 per cent may be obtained therefrom in large crystals. It is not a glucosid as was first supposed, nor an alkaloid. A volatile oil containing a camphor was obtained by distillation with steam (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1897, p. 169). Small doses (3 grains) of the total active principle quicken, and larger doses (15 grains) retard cardiac movements. Large doses (50 grains) slow the respiration, reduce arterial tension, and bring down the temperature.