Don’t Underestimate this Powerful Plant Family

Published on 23 May 2024 at 18:36

Don’t Underestimate this Powerful Plant Family


You may have seen this weed blooming late spring and on through summer, along roadsides or wild in fields. It looks like a tiny daisy.  In fact, it is Fleabane.  A member of the Aster family, it includes over 23,600 species---sunflowers, daisies and dandelions are included.  It is the largest plant family in the world!  However, for years I have been throwing Fleabane in with Feverfew and thinking it is the same thing.  Only recently did I find out that yes, they are related, and look quite alike, but they are different and have different healing abilities.


Fleabane (Erigeron spp.) is a native species that grows across North America and is naturalized through Europe.  Species within this genus are often called weeds and are annual, biennial or perennial.  However, we herbalists know how special this weed can be, so a lot of people are beginning to cultivate it.  It has many uses.  The bright daisy like flowers range from white to yellow to shades of pink and blooms June to late fall.  Traditionally, dried fleabane was kept in early American settlers’ homes because it can act as an insect repellent.  It was treasured by Native Americans as an astringent, diuretic (so good for kidney stones), and expectorant.  It heals wounds, helps with pain. 


Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) blooms summer to frost.  This tiny daisy-like bloom is famous for being able to treat migraine and studies are being done to prove its effectiveness.  It has also been used to treat fevers and other inflammatory issues.  You can apply it topically for a toothache, use it as an antiseptic.   


But for both, perhaps the greatest thing of all is that they both (and their family members) are magnets for bees and butterflies supporting the cycle of life and keeping the fields and woodlands abuzz.  I remember as a child I used to pick bouquets of these flowers and present them to my mom. She always made a big deal of putting them in a vase with water and setting them in the kitchen for all to see. I’ve always been drawn to them.  When you live close to nature, you get a feel for what is good for you.  I discover they are anti-inflammatory, so maybe it is time I take the time to get to know it more closely.


If you are interested in using fleabane, be sure to use caution and stay away from it if pregnant or nursing.  It has been used for stimulating and normalizing menstrual flow is why.   Otherwise, if you want to harness the power of this plant, a tincture works well.  To do so, fill a jar half-full and cover with vodka (at least 80 proof), seal and allow to sit in a cool, dark place for 4-6 weeks.  Strain out the liquid and discard the used plant material.  Place the strained liquid into a clean jar (with a dropper if you have it).  To use as an anti-inflammatory, put 5 to 10 drops in water every morning for several weeks.  See how you feel and if you need it, repeat the dosage.  Or keep the tincture on hand for cuts and scrapes, to apply to an aching tooth until you can get to the dentist.  For feverfew tincture as a headache remedy, make the tincture in the same way using feverfew instead, but add lemon balm leaves, which will make it even stronger.


How to tell the difference between the two oh-so-similar weeds? Fleabane is larger than feverfew with composite flowers surrounded by short, petal-like white to pinkish flat rays. It grows 3-4 foot.  Feverfew is shorter, growing up to 2 feet.  Leaves are deep cut and fernlike, with a distinctive smell when crushed.  It has a strong, bitter smell, while Fleabane’s scent is much milder.  Feverfew’s flowers are a little more spaced out than Fleabane too.  As always, always use a reliable plant identification guide, or a knowledgeable herbalist to help. And have much fun discovering the healing powers of this powerful plant family.




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