Headaches Herbs and Aromatherapy

by Diana Badger with Jeanne Rose
for The National Association for Herbs & Aromatherapy

http://www.jeannerose.net/products.html - stress

From the nagging throb of the temples like one's head is in a vice, to the incapacitating agony of a migraine or stress headace...practically everyone is familiar with some sort of headache pain, yet most are not aware of the many natural alternatives to conventional pain killers for headache relief.  Headaches being far more common than even the common cold, it is not surprising that in the European Community countries, about 85 percent of over-the-counter analgesics are bought for headache treatment.

What too few know is that long-term use of these painkillers may in itself cause headaches or even lead to liver and kidney damage. Essential oils and herbs offer a much safer and more uplifting alternative.

Headaches can be treated by a range of different oils and herbs, depending on the specific origin of the headache. While many headaches are related to stress, their cause can sometimes be more precisely identified as connected to liver disorder (as is often the case with migraines), sluggish digestion, insomnia, cold & flu, upper respiratory allergies, caffeine withdrawal, eye strain, or menstruation, among others. For most effective headache treatment, it is therefore advisable to determine the headache origin, as the various oils and herbs recommended work according to different mechanisms.

Widely popular and perky peppermint oil (Mentha x piperita) is one of the more traditional aromatherapy remedies:  apply it as a compress or straight, one or two drops to the back of the neck. Researchers at the neurological clinic of Universitat Christian Albrechts in Kiel , Germany recently determined its effectiveness in a double blind, placebo-controlled randomized crossover trial involving 32 healthy subjects. A significant reduction in pain was noticed, as well as positive mood alteration and cognitive performance improvement. This confirms Peppermint's reputation for being analgesic, uplifting and mentally clearing. Rosemary CT cineol works with Peppermint. These oils are in our Travel Kit.

For a more sensual approach, the honey-rich aroma of Jasmine flower oil (Jasminum officinale) can be used to quickly coax away the headache blues and leave one feeling relaxed and soothed. Application can either be straight to the temples-- apply a drop to one thumb, press two thumbs together, then place thumbs on temples for 10-second pressure point message, and finish by massaging your temple and forehead with your fingers; or diluted in a massage oil (works well blended with Rosemary [Rosmarinus officinalis] hydrosol). Another 'sweet' remedy is a simple infusion of Violet flower/leaf (Viola odorata), particularly if the headache stems from sleep troubles. Sniffing the absolute is also recommended, but as this oil is so incredibly pricey, the infusion is much more practical. This oil is in our Love & Romance Kit.

A lesser-known remedy for headaches is an herbal infusion that was used by the Pomo Indians native to the western United States, that of Yerba Santa leaves (Eriodictyon californicum). Also called Holy Herb or Mountain Balm, this herb as long been a popular remedy for colds and asthma as well.

Following are a few other herbal headache remedies, taken from Herbs & Things: Jeanne Rose's Herbal, that combine several herbs or oils together, and hence work through the synergistic combinations of the plants.

     Headache Pillow: Stuff a pillow with 2 oz. each of Lavender flowers, Marjoram leaves, Betony leaves and Rose petals, and 1/2 oz. Cloves, mixed.  Inhale and your headache will go away. Put a little in a small leather bag and carry it with you for on-the-spot relief. Available from 415-564-6785 for $25.

     Headache & Sinus Inhaler: In a small phial put equal amounts of Lavender Oil, Marjoram Oil, Peppermint Oil, and Rosemary Oil, say 10 drops each and 5 drops Clove Oil. Carry with you when traveling, seems especially effective against 'smog headaches'! Inhale whenever necessary. This formula is available by special order from 415-564-6785 for $25.

       Migraines:  For relief of the more severe pain of migraine headaches, several essential oils derived from familiar culinary oils are effective through inhalation: Anise seed oil (Pimpinella anisum), Coriander Oil (Coriandrum sativum), Ginger oil (Zingiber officinale), or Marjoram Oil (Origanum majorana).  Another treatment that is more traditional is the ingestion of several fresh leaves of Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium), or the infusion of 3-4 fresh leaves removed from the top of the plant. Feverfew herb can also be used as a tincture. The essential oil mixture if available from 415-564-6785 for $25.

Latin Binomials of Essential Oils and Herbs Used for Headaches

Essential Oils:

Chamaemelum nobile
(Roman Chamomile)  

Citrus limon  (per.) (Lemon)  

Coriandrum sativum (Coriander) [migraine] 

Jasminum officinale  (Jasmine -- Moroccan is preferred)

Lavandula latifolia (Spike Lavender) [sleep, stress]

Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm) [stress]

Mentha x piperita  (Peppermint) [digestive]  

Ocimum basilicum  (European Basil)  [nervous]

Origanum majorana (Sweet Marjoram) [congestive, menstrual, migraine]  

Pelargonium graveolens (Geranium) [congestive]  

Pimpinella anisum (Anise) [migraine]

Rosmarinus officinalis  (Rosemary)  

Viola odorata (Violet flower and leaf) [sleep]

Salvia sclarea (Clary Sage) [stress]

Zingiber officinale (Ginger) [cold &flu, migraine]  


Infusions of singles or blends


Chamomile (C. nobile or M .recutita) flowers

Elder flowers (Sambucus nigra)

Eriodictyon californicum (Yerba Santa)

Linden flower tea or compress (Lime blossom) Tilia europaea

Rosemary flower/leaf (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia)

Stachys officinalis or S. betonica or Betony officinalis B Betony) [head congestion]

Tanacetum parthenium (Feverfew) [migraine]

Viola odorata (Violet flower and leaf)


For more information about the uses of Aromatherapy and Herbs, take one of the wonderful Aromatherapy Seminars and Classes of Jeanne Rose which are available throughout the United States and by home-study. Call 415-564-6785 and request a catalog and a Calendar of Events and courses.



Definition of Terms:

Aromatherapy: healing with essential oils (from plants) through the sense of smell by inhalation or through other applications of these therapeutic volatile substances.

Compress: an application technique using a cloth soaked in a combination of water, vegetable oil, or a bland lotion to dilute and spread herbs or essential oils over an area of skin. The size of compress, number of drops of essential oils, and amount of solvent used depends on the size of the area treated.

Essential Oils: volatile materials contained within plant cells and derived by physical processes from the plant. Some essential oils are not in the living tissue but are found during its destruction.

Hydrosol: the water from the distillation process, which contains water-soluble parts of the plant material and micro-molecules of essential oil, has strong taste, strong odor and a pH of less than 5.

Infusion: the extraction of the active properties of a plant substance by steeping or soaking it, usually in water. Use 1-2 tsp herb material per cup water that is just under boiling point. Steep for 3-5 minutes. Strain and drink.

Inhalation: a method of treating mental and physical problems through the breathing in of the volatile, essential oils of aromatic and medicinal plants rather than the drinking of the herbal tea or the ingestion of the oils. Standard methods include inhaling the essential oil undiluted through a room diffuser, or diluted in bath or massage oil.

Tincture: an alcoholic solution containing medicinals or aromatics; usually about 50% alcohol. To make a tincture at home, infuse 1-4 oz. of chopped herbs or plant materials directly into 1 cup of 150 proof alcohol such as vodka or brandy. Shake daily for 10 days, strain and use, usually 20-40 drops 3x/day.

The Herbal BodyWorks has an Aromatherapy First-Aid Kit for Travel and Minor Emergencies for $25. Includes the six basic oils for all home needs. Call 415/564-6785.


Damian, Peter & Kate. Aromatherapy: Scent and Psyche. Rochester , Vermont : Healing Arts Press. 1996

Mailhebiau,Philippe. Portraits in Oils: The Personality of Aromatherapy Oils and their Link with Human
Essex , England : C.W. Daniel Co. 1995.

Rose, Jeanne. The Aromatherapy Book: Applications & Inhalations. Berkeley : North Atlantic Books. 1994.

         -------       Herbs and Things: Jeanne Rose's Herbal. New York : Perigee Books. 1972             

Price, Shirley and Len Price. Aromatherapy for Health Professionals. London : Churchill Livingstone. 1995.

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