Pain that occurs over various parts of the head is called a headache. It is one of humanities most common
afflictions. In the United States alone, up to 50 million people seek medical help for headaches every year, and about half a billion dollars
is spent on headache remedies annually.
Most headaches are caused by fatigue, emotional disorders, or allergies, with only about 2%
of all headaches resulting from organic disorders. These include:
- diseases of the eye, ear, nose, throat, and sinuses
- brain tumors
Brain tissue itself is insensitive to pain, as is the bony covering
of the cranium. Headache pain results from the stimulation of such pain-sensitive structures as the membranous linings of the brain (the meninges)
and the nerves of the cranium and upper neck. This stimulation can be produced by inflammation, by the dilation of normal or abnormal
blood vessels of the head, or by muscle spasms in the neck and head.
Headaches brought on by muscle spasms are classified as tension
headaches; those caused by the dilation of blood vessels are called vascular headaches. Amore specialized classification, by the
International Headache Society, further divides headaches into 14 categories for research purposes! A system that helps the
phytotherapist select the appropriate remedy, would sub-divide headaches under these groupings:
environmental – caused by pollutants, body posture, lighting and sound etc.
- stress – whether it be physical, emotional or mental
- dietary – possible allergy to certain foods or additives, e.g. xanthine containing foods
- organic – disease such as
There is an abundance of plants that might be considered
specific “headache” herbs. Unfortunately they don’t always work for all people!
If a clear cut underlying pathology
exists, that should be the focus of treatment. If none has been found, herbs should be selected that will ensure good elimination, support liver
function and address any specific health needs the patient might have.
There are many essential oils
which can be used to relieve headaches. Particularly effective oils are Lavender, Rosemary and Peppermint, either separately or in
combination. Lavender can be rubbed on the temples, or made into a cold compress and applied to the temples, forehead
or the back of the neck. Equal parts of Lavender and Peppermint may be even more effective, for Lavender has the ability to enhance the
action of other oils when it is used in blends. It is also worth noting that whilst Lavender is a sedative, Peppermint is a stimulant, and that
many commercial headache remedies combine a stimulant (usually caffeine) with one or more analgesics. This is because many of the pain
killing drugs have a slightly sedative and sometimes even a depressant effect, and the caffeine is included to counteract this. By
using Lavender and Peppermint a similar effect is produced without the dangers inherent in synthetic drugs.
If the headache is caused
by catarrh or sinus infection, inhalations with Lavender, Peppermint, Rosemary or Eucalyptus will usually be very effective in both relieving
the headache and clearing the congestion that is causing it. All these oils are antiseptic, and will combat the nasal infection as well as giving
immediate relief of symptoms.