I seem to have a special gift for obtaining terrible headaches, a fun hobby I’ve had since grade school, and not for any one reason, but a huge variety: neck tweaks, migraines, hormonal, tension, kidney-related. Here’s a few of my experimental findings from my own pain as well as treating others.
The herbs used tend to be limited to my personal favorites and local plants, which explains while I’ll leave out certain popular headache herbs.
Headaches are generally quite changeable symptoms of a deeper problem. So, while these herbs can work very well for the pain, especially if you choose an herb specific to your imbalance, they’re not cures. It’s very important to find the underlying reason (like constipation, allergies, an imbalanced constitution, stress, nervous system disorders, hormones, poor digestion and just about anything else) for the headache and treat that.
Lavender: A great overall headache remedy that works for tension and neck tweaks and even for hormonally caused headaches.
Skullcap: A specific for those I’m so tense I can’t breathe kind of headaches, where your neck is spasming and you’re getting ready to scream at the next person who speaks to you. Other indicators are if you grind your teeth (asleep or awake) or have lots of jaw tension pain or find that your fists are constantly clenched.
Sage: Great for digestive headaches caused by an overindulgence or too much animal fat. Also one of the better herbs for hormonally caused headaches, especially with hot flashes. In a larger dose, it works great for tension headaches too.
Licorice: Specific for kidney yin deficiency caused headaches, it will probably work well for general adrenal insufficiency headaches as well. And for some people, it works on all headaches, all the time. It’s contradicted for people with a tendency towards water retention and general bogginess.
Peony: For crazy neck spasms, general tension and sensory over stimulation. I’ve found it to work wonderfully for PMS headaches (and it helps the cramps and moodiness too). A great and underused herb (see Michael Moore’s Medicine Plants of the Mountain West for an in-depth discussion, or just wait until I get around to doing a full post on Peony). Keep in mind it’s a rather cool herb so if you have a tendency to feel cold and find your headache aggravated by cold, then choose a warmer herb and combine peony with something warmer like ginger.
Mugwort (Artemisia spp. ): Best for what I call “liver headaches” when your body just doesn’t want to digest the food in your belly, especially when there was a high fat content. You feel nauseous, bloated and heavy. I like Mugwort tinctured in ACV (Apple Cider Vinegar) for this. Also works remarkably well as an oil for external use on neck pain (and tendinitis for that matter).
Poplar/Cottonwood: Ah yes, all that wonderful salicin and populin, that relieves all sorts of pain. It’s specific for hot, flushed kind of headaches. I also combine it with whatever specific headache herb is called for to potentiate the mix. Contradicted in people with aspirin reactions or those on anticoagulants.
Vervain: My favorite for disorienting PMS or neck tension headaches… when it’s really called for, you only need a very small dose of the fresh plant tincture. In fact, I find that if I take more than I need, it will actually aggravate the tension (anyone else found this?) The tincture works so well that I’ll often get shivers from the rapid release of my neck muscles, makes me feel like a limp fish (in a happy way).
Ginger: For cold headaches, and those caused by external influences such as viruses. Also seems to work really great for headaches caused by circulatory congestion and cold, stuck sinus infections. Also works well as a migraine preventative by keeping blood vessels dilated.
Clematis: A migraine and cluster headache specialty, but will often work in other headaches as well. Michael Moore says that it has a vasoconstricot effect on the brain lining but a dilating effect on the veins. Try both the tea and the tincture to see which works best for you.
Dandelion: Another heat clearing herb specific to liver/digestive headaches, or where there’s lots of damp heat stagnating in the body.
Goldenrod: Externally, the oil on the neck and skull can relieve intense muscular pain. It’s actually quite a remarkable plant this way, works on arthritis, pulled or strained muscles, better than more popular herbs like SJW or Meadowsweet for these purposes in my experience. Internally, for sinus infections and allergy headaches related to stuffiness.
Ambrosia (ragweed): Sinus headaches with stuffiness.
Rose Petal: for hot, damp, congested headaches that are often accompanied by feverishness, hot flashes, gas and bloating.
Mullein Flower & Root: For all kind of neck/back induced headaches, also great for tension and digestive caused headaches. Actually, this is an excellent herb for just about any kind of pain. The temperature feels pretty neutral to me, so you cool it down or warm it up with other herbs according to your constitution and kind of pain.
Jamaican Dogwood: Ok, I don’t usually like herbs this exotic, but I’ve found this plant specific for toothache headaches in those people for whom just about NO nervine or pain reliever will work. This is a strong sedating herb, so no heavy machinery ok?
Elder Flower: Deep, hot, tense headaches. If the tincture doesn’t work, try a cup of the tea.
Black Cohosh: I’ve don’t know Black Cohosh very well, but I’ve learned that the indications are dull, aching, cold kind of pain, possibly with depression (doom and gloom type). According to Michael Moore, Baneberry has identical indications, but again, I haven’t used it.
Yarrow: Another great one for digestive headaches. Also good for toothache caused headaches (try the root), it’s also good for stagnant, dull aching headaches.
Oregon Grape Root: For those hot, gooey, face exploding kind of sinus infections that result in terrible headaches. Another one for congested liver headaches.
Osha: Headache with altitude sickness, inability to get enough oxygen.
PS A big thanks to Henriette for her sweet words about my blog.