Headaches are one of those things that nearly everyone gets, but nobody wants. They come in many different forms and affect people in numerous different ways. Given that every headache and person that they affect are different, there is no cookie-cutter way to relieve a headache. However, if you seek out an herbal remedy for your headaches, an herbalist will likely be able to create a health care regime that is right for your body and for your type of headache(s).
One of the most common kinds of headaches that I encounter in my practice as an herbalist is tension headaches. Since I deal primarily with pregnant and postpartum women, their tension headaches typically are caused from lack of adequate rest, breastfeeding stress, pressure from pregnancy, and numerous other problems associated with those two stages of life. My go-to treatment for many of these women tends to be lemon balm (Melissa) and chamomile.
I once had a case study in which the client was a single mom suffering from anxiety and tension headaches. She was working full time, while pregnant, while also caring for her other children. Needless to say, this particular client was stressed, tired, and tense. After I evaluated her, I determined her anxiety, in addition to the pregnancy, was playing a big role in her tension headaches. I recommended that she begin taking a dropperful (½ teaspoon) ginkgo tincture two to three times a day for two weeks. I also recommended chamomile and lemon balm tea (see instructions below for making any kind of herbal infusion) an hour before she went to bed or took a nap . Within two weeks, her tension headaches were gone, she was sleeping well throughout the night, and her anxiety had returned to a manageable level.
How these herbs for headaches work
When you combine lemon balm and chamomile, they both work together to help calm frazzled nerves, reduce tension (including tension headaches), and they both help you to sleep well through the night without acting as a sedative. They’re both considered very safe during pregnancy, which is why they’re my favorites to recommend for my pregnant and breastfeeding clients.
Ginkgo, while not often used to treat headaches, is an incredible herb to help with moderate levels of anxiety and depression. Used in conjunction with chamomile and lemon balm, it can make for an excellent combination of herbs to help treat the main issue (anxiety/depression) as well as the symptoms that the main issue is causing (headaches, tension, etc.).
In another case study, I had a client that was dealing with debilitating migraines. The migraines were interfering with her ability to work, drive, and even being able to play with her children. She had been on numerous prescription medications, tried yoga, gone vegan, and numerous other things to help her condition, but to no avail. After asking her a series of questions, I soon learned that, within the last year, she had been dealing with vaginal dryness and irregular periods. Eventually, I determined that, at the age of 38, my client might be in the early stages of menopause. Once again, I want to use herbs to work with the primary issue (menopause), as well as herbs to work with the other issues she was having (migraines).
Headaches and migraines can actually be quite common during menopause, but if not treated, they can become overwhelming for the person dealing with them, as they were in this case. For this client, I quickly recommended nourishing herbal infusions to help her through menopause. These herbs were stinging nettles, oatstraw, red clover, and dandelion, dried or fresh. An infusion consists of an ounce of herb turned into a strongly brewed tea, steeped anywhere from 4 hours to overnight, depending on the herb. Once it has finished steeping, and the dried or fresh plant matter has been strained, it can be sipped on throughout the day.
Each of those work in some way to nourish the body and mind as a whole, especially the female body. She also began using violet leaf compresses on her head and neck anytime she felt like a migraine was beginning to fester. A violet leaf compress can be made by brewing a strong violet leaf tea (or an infusion), dried or fresh leaf, and putting the plant material into a cloth and placing the cloth against the area needing it.
Along with a diet high in calcium, my client began to see her symptoms improve within two months. A few months later, her doctor also concluded that she was in the early stages of menopause.
When it comes to treating headaches with herbs, or with anything for that matter, it is always important to determine the underlying cause of the headaches. Both examples I gave were of two women in very different stages in life, both requiring different herbs and methods of treating their issues.
Headaches are never going to be the primary problem. They may be the most irritating problem, or the only one that the person dealing with them notices, but they’re always going to be just a symptom of an underlying problem. That’s why it is so important, when working with herbs, to try to look at the bigger picture. Is the person under a great deal of stress? Is their body going through a natural age-related change? Has there been a head injury? How’s their diet? Do they have any allergies? All of these questions, and many more, play a huge part in determining what could be the real issue at hand.
It is important to treat headaches when working with someone dealing with them, as they can become extremely debilitating, or they can cause other issues down the road that will lead to more complications. That is one of the wonderful things about herbs. You can, with many herbs, combine them in order to treat both the main condition, as well as the symptoms that condition may be causing.
As always, before dabbling in herbal medicine, consult with a trained herbalist, a midwife trained in herbal medicines, or another professional with herbal knowledge before going all ‘mad scientist’ on yourself.