This chapter is an extract from book: Headaches Begone! A Systemic Approach To Healing Your Headaches.
Chapter 8. End Migraines & Headaches using Herbs, Spices, Seeds & Nuts
In this chapter, you will discover that Mother Nature has an incredible amount of plant-based solutions to help with any type of headache. I could probably write multiple tomes of just herbal solutions for migraines and headaches, as there are literally hundreds of such helpful plants out there.
Before diving into the specific herbs, let’s talk first about the different kinds of preparations you can expect to find in the herbal medicine chest.
Different Types of Herbal Preparations
When working with herbs, you need to first understand which preparations have the best influence on your body. Herbal infusions, decoctions, tinctures, essential oils should be considered first since they provide the best absorption of the plant essence and therefore have the best healing effect on your body. Herbs whose essence hasn’t been extracted, especially in pill forms, should be considered last, as you’d probably need to take a lot more of those to receive the same benefits, and your body will need to work extra hard to do the processing work.
This another term for a steeped tea preparation. Plants’ leaves, flowers and occasionally seeds are usually used for this preparation method. Other plant parts require the decoction preparation. You can use any parts of the plant in making an infusion, but it’s better to use the decoction preparation method for roots, barks and seeds. If you use the infusion method for large and hard parts of the plant, you’ll want to grind them before adding them to your tea.
When preparing an infusion, you add boiling water to your herbal mix, cover it and let it steep for at least 5-20 minutes. For some herbs, the recipe may require many hours of steeping. After straining the liquid, the infusion is ready to be drunk.
You can add more boiling water into the used mix and let it sit longer and you will get another batch of infusion later on, albeit a weaker one.
Typically, you want to prepare and drink the infusion right away. You can refrigerate it for a day or two, but not much longer, as by that time most of its medicinal properties will no longer be there and it might start to ferment.
If the medicinal part of the plant is in its roots, bark or seeds, you’ll need to make a decoction. The infusion method will not be able to produce an efficient extract of the plant essence.
To prepare a decoction, you first crush or grind the ingredients. Strive to get the ingredients whole and process them just before making the decoction. Pre-ground ingredients are OK, but their shelf life is much shorter due to the oxidation process. After some time, powdered plants’ healing properties can be greatly reduced and even completely disappear.
In the decoction making process, like in the infusion making process, you put the crushed herbs into boiling water, but instead of steeping the herbs, you simmer them on low heat for at least 20 minutes. If you decide to work with large chunks, simmer the mixture for an hour and even longer. If you use a crockpot/slow cooker, you could leave them simmering even longer.
Once you are happy with the decoction’s strength, strain, bottle and store in the fridge. Depending on the herbs and how sterile your equipment is, a refrigerated decoction could last for many months.
Decoctions are usually much more concentrated than infusions and therefore you’d need to take much less of it. This is a bonus if the flavor of the herb is very unpalatable. If the taste is unpleasant, you can mask it by mixing it in a glass of juice just before drinking it.
Herbal tinctures are typically made by soaking the finely chopped or ground herbs in alcohol in a tightly closed container. The alcohol needs to be at least 80%. The brew time is about 4-6 weeks. When ready, strain the liquid and store it in dropper bottles.
Tinctures are typically taken by squeezing a few drops and sometimes a dropperful under your tongue.
Tinctures are much more potent than decoctions and can keep for years.
Essential oils are produced by aromatic plants. Those oils are extracted from the plants and collected commonly by methods such as distillation (usually steam distillation) or expression (cold pressing), though there are other methods as well. Essential oil extraction is a science of its own.
Essential oils can be used by applying them to compresses, through steam inhalation (adding a few drops to hot water and inhaling it) or by using essential oil diffusers.
Most essential oils are not to be consumed orally. Some can be consumed after a strong dilution.
You may decide to have a consultation with an aromatherapy expert if you aren’t sure which oils would suit your situation best.
Growing, harvesting, processing and making your own herbal infusions, decoctions, and tinctures might appear unappealing to you, so of course you could buy them instead. But knowing just the basics about what each process entails will help you make an intelligent choice when you do your shopping. If you need to buy expensive tinctures on a continuous basis, you may want to consider making your own, as the cost of making your own could be up to 10 times lower compared to purchasing it.
Ideally, you want to grow your own plants, or buy them fresh and whole. When you buy herbs, try to get the organic kind, as pesticides in the non-organic kind could contribute to your headaches.
If you’d like to learn how to make your own herbal preparations, you may want to start with the book “Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine” by David Hoffmann.
The steam inhalation method can be easily done with the help of a cooking pot and a medium size bath towel.
- Boil some water in a pot and add to it the herbs you’d like to inhale, or a few drops of the essential oil of the desired herb. If the herbs are unprocessed, simmer them on low heat for a few minutes. You want to bring the upcoming steam to a point where the smell of the herb is relatively strong.
- Place the steaming pot on a table.
- Place a towel over your head, sit at the table and position your face over the pot.
- Inhale the scented vapours for 5-10 minutes. If the steam is too hot, keep your face further away from the pot. You can also control the intensity by making gaps in your towel to get cold air in.
Since you’re dealing with boiling hot water, be very careful that the towel doesn’t get entangled and pulls the pot off the table, causing it to spill it and potentially burn you. If you want to use a safer approach, you may want to consider purchasing a safe usage steam vaporizer or nebulizer.
Besides getting the desired herbal essence into your body, it’s almost guaranteed that your nostrils will get unplugged in the process if they are congested when you start the inhalation method.
You can repeat this procedure several times through the day.
To make a compress you take a clean cloth, briefly soak in a herbal preparation, wring it well and place it over the ailing area of the body. You may need another cloth or a tape to gently secure it in place.
The herbal preparation can be a diluted tincture, water with added essential oils, infusion, etc.
Depending on the situation, a compress can be cold or hot.
To make the compress more effective, make the skin in the desired area more permeable by washing it with soap; this will remove your body oils. A hot bath or a sauna is another excellent way of improving your skin’s permeability.
Please research the safe dosage and preparation forms for any herbs you intend to consume. Most are beneficial in small doses, but large doses could cause a lot of temporary discomfort and even be dangerous to your health.
Some herbs can interact with other medicines and supplements, so make sure to look into potential conflicts.
Pregnant and nursing women should be extra cautious and study the herbs well before consuming any.
If in doubt, consult a professional.
Here are several recommended books on medicine-herbs-supplements interactions:
- “A-Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions” by Alan R. Gaby
- Herbal Contraindications and Drug Interactions: Plus Herbal Adjuncts with Medicines by Francis Brinker
- “Don’t Eat This If You’re Taking That: The Hidden Risks of Mixing Food and Medicine” by Madelyn Fernstrom, John Fernstrom
Herbs, Spices, Seeds & Nuts
Aloe vera helps prevent and alleviate tension-type headaches. It contains anti-inflammatory salicylic acid, acemannan and glucomannan, which help relax tight muscles.
- Drink Aloe vera juice. If the juice is too bitter, mix it with other juices to mask the taste. The recommended daily dose is a 1-2 ounces (30-60ml).
- Slice open a fresh Aloe vera leaf, remove the pulp and spread it over your forehead and face. Let it absorb, cooling your face and reducing the headache.
Almonds contain salicin, which is used in many painkillers.
- Eat a few handfuls of almonds
For some, especially for those with migraine headaches, almonds could be a trigger, in which case don’t eat them..
Allspice is a berry of Pimenta dioica. It is also known as Jamaica pepper, myrtle pepper, English pepper or newspice. As it contains eugenol, allspice has analgesic and anaesthetic properties. It numbs the nerves and provides relief from headaches.
- Drink it as a tea
- Make a compress with allspice essential oil mixed in water and apply to the forehead
Anise (Pimpinella anisum), also known as aniseed, helps with stress-related headaches.
- Crush the seeds, mix with water and make into a paste. Apply to where it hurts and let its essence absorb
- Use anise oil in an aromatherapy diffuser
Basil (tulsi) has antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties, and it works as a muscle relaxant, and therefore helps with migraine headaches and headaches induced by tight muscles. Blended with lavender, it provides excellent muscle relaxation.
- Chew on a few fresh basil leaves, along with 4-5 black peppercorns
- Massage your forehead with basil essential oil mixed in a base oil or water
- Perform steam inhalation with basil essential oil
- Drink basil leaf tea
- Make a compress from basil leaf tea. Add witch hazel to the tea for better migraine relief
Betel leaves (Areca catechu, paan) are used in Ayurveda for treating migraines and other kinds of headaches. The leaves have analgesic and cooling properties and act within a few minutes.
- Chew on a few fresh betel leaves
- Extract juice from fresh betel leaves. Put a few drops of the juice into the nostrils and rub on the temples
- Using a grinder, make a paste from the fresh leaves and apply onto the forehead and temples for 30 minutes
Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) is a mild sedative that can aid in the treatment of headaches caused by stress, anxiety and depression. Its anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties can help with headaches due to menopause or menstruation.
- Take one 250-300mg capsule of black cohosh extract or drink one cup of black cohosh tea before the onset of a severe headache or migraine.
- Take black cohosh root tincture – 10 drops has been reported to be equivalent to two aspirins.
Note: large doses of black cohosh may cause headaches. It should be consumed only infrequently.
Black sesame seeds (Sesamum indicum) are a major source of magnesium and calcium, which help reduce the likelihood of developing migraine and tension headaches.
- Sprinkle some on your rice, noodles, salad, cereals or desert.
- You will get a better absorption if you grind them just before adding them to your food. Alternatively, soak them overnight.
Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) contains a flavonoid rutin and is rich in antioxidant properties. It helps with headaches caused by inflammation.
- Use buckwheat essential oil (massage, inhalation, compress)
- Eat a pinch of raw buckwheat seeds
Butterbur (Petasites hybridus extract), also known as sweet coltsfoot, contains petasin and isopetasin, which reduce muscle and tissue spasms and also reduce inflammation of affected blood vessels.
- Take about 50-75mg of standardized butterbur extract twice a day.
You need to take this plant on a consistent basis, and it takes several months before you will notice a significant difference.
Do not consume any part of the Petasites plant other than specific products commercially prepared. The plant’s carcinogens and pyrrolizidine alkaloids can damage your liver. Make sure your supplement says it has PA-free butterbur root.
Also beware that natural butterbur leaf can be toxic. Research before taking any raw forms.
California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) has sedative, analgesic and antispasmodic properties and is good at relieving tension headaches.
It may cause a headache if used in excessive quantities.
Cassia seed (Semen cassiae) (jue ming zi) is used in TCM to treat headaches caused by the flaming-up of the liver-fire.
- Drink cassia seed decoction
- Drink tea prepared from fried cassia seed
Cassia seed is often combined with other Chinese herbs as per TCM prescriptions.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) contains nepetalactone, which makes it a sedative and relaxant. It is good at soothing headaches.
Cayenne pepper (Guinea spice) is reported to provide relief for migraine, sinus and cluster headaches. Cayenne pepper immediately equalizes blood pressure throughout the whole body, which removes constriction of blood vessels in the head, and thus resolves headaches related to blood vessels constriction.
- Drink 1/2 teaspoon of powdered cayenne pepper mixed in 1/2 cup of milk or water. According to Dr. Christopher, the goal should be to be able to eventually take a full teaspoon of cayenne daily (mixed with water). Research Dr. Christopher’s “cayenne pepper tea” for details
- Put a small amount of cayenne pepper powder on the tip of your tongue, wait about 30 seconds, and then drink a glass or two of pure cool water.
- Snort 1/4 of a teaspoon of cayenne pepper powder up the nostril on the side of the head where the headache is (or in both nostrils if the headache is on both sides). There will be a sharp burning pain briefly and then the headache will most likely be gone in about 5-15 minutes. It works because capsaicin, one of the active components of cayenne pepper, desensitizes the sensory neurons within the trigeminal nerve branches, and eliminates headaches. Research “Intranasal capsaicin” to read the recent scientific studies. For some people, the headache comes back in an hour or so. If that happens to you, repeat the process. If snorting isn’t your thing, use swabbing instead. Mix a bit of cayenne pepper with a little bit of water, dip a cotton swab into the mix, and after you make sure you can see cayenne pepper on the cotton swab, gently touch the inside of the nostrils. Just as with the snorting method, you will briefly experience a sharp burning sensation.
- Put some cayenne pepper or hot sauce under your tongue and hold it for 5-10 minutes to let the pepper absorb. Then spit it out and rinse your mouth. The advantage of holding it under the tongue is that it doesn’t burn the tongue and gets absorbed faster.
- Mix 1/2 teaspoon neem powder, 1 teaspoon moringa powder and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper in 1/2 glass of water. Drink it. Drink more pure cold water.
- End Migraines & Headaches using Herbs, Spices, Seeds & Nuts (Part 2)
- End Migraines & Headaches using Herbs, Spices, Seeds & Nuts (Part 3)
Or read the complete book: Headaches Begone! A Systemic Approach To Healing Your Headaches.