Stability of Feverfew and its Active Principle Parthenolide: An Elusive Antimigraine Herbal Medicine


  • Jose M Prieto-Garcia Liverpool John Moores University



Sesquiterpene lactones, Chemical stability, Herbal medicines, Microbial degradation, Storage



Feverfew is a traditional herbal remedy for the relief of arthritis, migraine, toothache, and menstrual difficulties. It is widely accepted that parthenolide, a sesquiterpene lactone, is its main active principle. However, the decrease of parthenolide in commercial preparations is a well-known process with no technical solution so far.


To review the evidence for the mechanism of the degradation of parthenolide and similar sesquiterpene lactones.


Systematic review.

Results and Conclusion

In conclusion, and without discarding any degradation of parthenolide into non-identifiable fragments, the fate of this compound in dry, powdered feverfew is to undergo a covalent binding to plant proteins resulting in a biologically inactive adduct - in accordance with the direct and indirect data found in the literature. This process seems to be virtually unstoppable, and temperature and light do not seem to be playing a significant role under normal storage conditions according to some authors. In the presence of a high level of humidity, parthenolide may undergo an acid-induced cyclisation giving rise to a guaianolide-type sesquiterpene lactone, a class of compound that is commonly found in Feverfew. Microbial degradations are not likely to play an important role if the formulation complies with Pharmacopoeial microbiological quality requirements. The experimental and clinical data in the literature do not report on any increase in the toxicity of stored feverfew.