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Headaches & Migraines
by Gillie Whitewolf

Headaches come in many forms - from the sudden axe-like attack to the slow and seemingly endless, throbbing kind; the groggy fuzzy kind to a searing full on Migraine, with flashing lights and nausea. They also have a variety of causes - stress, nervous tension, digestive upsets, sinus or catarrh infection, food additives, alcohol... and so the list goes on. Headaches which are centered behind the eyes can suggest a digestive disturbance, whilst those which start at the back of the neck and creep forward and generally tension related. Pain or sensitivity around the eyes or nose can be a sinus problem. When it comes to treating a headache, finding the root of the problem is going to be the most valuable piece of research you can do. Then you can go about curing the problem most effectively.

My first choice for treating a headache does tend to be Lavender oil massaged into the temples - or even better, Lavender and Peppermint oil in ice cold water in which a cloth has been soaked, wrung out and applied as a cooling compress to the forehead and nape of neck [see compress section below]. The Lavender is a sedative whilst the Peppermint is a stimulant. In your average headache pill you will usually notice caffeine amongst the ingredients, in this more natural alternative the Peppermint is acting as the stimulant, but with less of the side effects caffeine can cause. There are many other types of remedies, from inhaling essential oils to soaking in a herbal bath; applying a compress to relaxing with a footbath - and there are a number of delicious herbal teas which can step in to handle most types of headaches.

Herbal Teas
Headaches linked with digestive upsets can be eased by a cup of Chamomile, Lavender, Limeflower, or Peppermint tea - even sipping plain ol' warm water may help.
Nervous tension headaches may benefit from calming Lemon Balm, Limeflower or Marjoram tea.
If you've over indulged on the alcohol the night before an infusion of Lavender flowers makes an ideal cuppa for calming the throbbing pain of a hangover. It also soothes the digestive system and assists the liver.
Thyme tea will ease both the headache and the queasy stomach associated with hangovers.
Rosemary tea can be used to great effect in the morning when you wake up with a stuffy head - you could also try a brisk walk and get some fresh air into your system [preferably in the countryside, but not everyone has that luxury!], or splashing your face, head and nape of neck with cool water. [Rosemary tea should not be drunk too often and is not suitable for epileptics. Do not use during pregnancy].
Wood Betony has long been prized as a herb which cures all pains and aches of the head, partiularly as a preventative tea for those disposed to nervous headaches.

Herbal Baths
Soaking in a warm bath with the addition of essential oils or a strong herbal infusion will allow you to take a bit of quality time out for yourself. If stress or anxiety has caused your headache then some relaxation will do you the world of good. If you have herbs to hand, make up a strong infusion [just like you would for a pot of tea], strain and add the infusion to your bath water - Lavender and Rosemary are both good choices - the Rosemary will help refresh your mind and throw off a groggy headache, and Lavender is one of the best relaxation herbs - particularly if you're having a bed-time bath, try blending it with Marjoram. Any of the herbs mentioned in the Herbal Tea section above will be suitable for a herbal bath.
If you prefer essential oils, be sure to dilute them first in a base / carrier oil [almond, jojoba, vegetable oil etc...] or some milk. About 6 drops of essential oil will be sufficient for an adult bath [no more than 3 -4 drops for chidren]. If the headache is a result of stress or anxiety you may find Patchouli suitable, if your anxiety is linked to the weather [S.A.D] try Grapefruit to lift your mood. If your headache is part of a cold or infection try antiseptic oils such as Lavender, Peppermint, Rosemary or Eucalyptus - which will help to relieve headaches, clear congestion and fight the infection. Bergamot is another useful oil for relieving headaches, as well as lifting the mood.

Steam Inhalation
To shift headaches caused by colds, catarrh or sinus infections try adding Lavender, Peppermint, Rosemary or Eucalyptus oils to a bowl of very hot water. Place a towel over the back of your head to keep the steam in, lean over the bowl and breath in the steam. If you find the heat too much, you can add a drop or two of essential oil to a tissue and inhale as and when you feel the need. Chamomile is another useful oil for soothing inflammations and sinus problems.
The use of an oil burner with any of the previously mentioned oils can be used effectively if a steam inhalation is not practical, or desired.

My favourite headache remedy is an ice cold compress placed on my forehead or nape of neck [or better still, alternated between the two]. Fill a bowl with ice cold water, add a few drops of Lavender or Peppermint oil, or both [like the Gaia's Garden 'ice' headache remedy], soak a cloth, wring it out and place directly onto forehad or nape of neck. Resoak the cloth as it warms up.
An ice cold compress of witch hazel is another alternative, or try an infusion of Chamomile flowers [or a few Chamomile teabags], soaking a cloth in the infusion and applying as above.
Raw cucumber slices placed on the brow can ease a headache caused by too much sun, with the added benefit of soothing over-exposed skin.
Some headaches, and migraines, are a result of not enough blood reaching the head. If you suffer from these kinds, try a warm compress with Marjoram, which wll cause the blood bessels to expand slightly. If your headache is the type caused by too much blood to the head try one of the cold compress' or a hot footbath :

A strong infusion of Lavender, Rosemary, Limeflower, Peppermint or fresh Ginger can be added to a hot footbath to dissipate heat and help draw the blood from the head.

Massaging a little Lavender oil on and around your temples can help relieve a headache - you may wish to dilute it in a suitable carrier oil, but for emergencies Lavender can be used neat, in small amounts.
Headaches caused by tension, stress, or over-work can respond well to a head, neck and back massage - if you have a willing partner ask them to try and relax your muscles with a massage using oils such as Lavender, Marjoram, Chamomile - or if you have a favourite oil try that one. [Be careful of Ylang-Ylang, too much of this oil can actually trigger a headache].

About 10 years ago or so Feverfew hit the market as a Migraine break-through and is readily available in pill form in healthfood shops. Fresh Feverfew leaves have been recommended slapped between two slices of bread, but the fresh leaves can cause mouth ulcers, and the herb shouldn't be used as a tea / infusion. If you want to try Feverfew, the capsules and pills found in healthfood shops are probably the wisest choice,

However you choose to treat your headache, the best method is a preventative. Ensure you have a good nights sleep and allow yourself to rest [this doesn't mean being lazy, sitting around all day doing nothing can lead to headaches too]; drink water; avoid too much caffeine and junk foods filled with additives, colourings and preservatives; take regular exercise - yes, a brisk daily walk counts as exercise; find some time to relax - try Yoga, Tai Chi, Meditation, or just some time off for yourself to chill out; and try to avoid being stuck inside in a stuffy room which has little or no fresh air circulating - your body needs oxygen! Computer screens can lead to headaches too so remember to take regular breaks! [note to self...]
With Migraines the culprit is quite often a trigger food - dairy products, food additives, red wine, chocolate, wheat, sugar - keep a food diary and see if a pattern emerges. [Red wine and red peppers are my trigger foods - thankfully not chocolate!]. Once you've found the culprit cut it out from your diet and see how the situation improves.

If you suffer from persistant headaches or migraines, or they are a result from a fall or blow to the head, be sure to tell your doctor or healthcare professional immediately. All to often headaches are dismissed - remember to listen to your body, and treat it well.

The herbal remedies mentioned in this article are not intended to replace professional advice. Any medication you are on should also be taken into consideration - always check with your healthcare professional if you are on prescription drugs before taking herbal remedies.


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