In a world of traffic, tight deadlines, and high-speed everything, here’s how to escape the thump of a throbbing head without resorting to painkilling drugs.

1. Cluster headache

A study published in Headache shows that extracts of kudzu plant root (Pueraria lobata) decreased the
frequency, duration, and intensity of attacks, by 56, 31, and 69 percent, respectively. Kudzu is rich in
isoflavones - plant compounds with weak oestrogen-like activity – which may be one way it relieves headaches.
It also increases cerebral blood flow, which is another reason for its success.

2. Stress headache

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is profoundly calming and relaxing. Rub the oil into the temples, add it to
bath water for a soothing soak, or drip it on a cotton ball and place it inside a pillowcase to treat insomnia.
When essential oils are massaged into the body, or added to the bath, they are infused into the bloodstream,
where they act as a natural painkiller. Lavender was used extensively during World War I when medical supplies
became scarce, to prevent infection and relieve pain. Dried lavender flowers can also be made into a tea and
sipped to ease nervous tension.

3. Migraine

An extract of butterbur root (Petasites hybridus) shows potential as an effective and well-tolerated migraine
preventive, with a study in Headache showing a reduction in patients’ frequency of migraine attacks of between
50 and 63 percent, and a whopping 91 percent of patients reporting substantial improvement after four months of
treatment. Butterbur works in two ways: one, it lowers the inflammatory chemicals leukotriene and prostaglandin
E2, which eliminates headache symptoms, and two, it is a natural beta-blocker, meaning it controls normal blood
flow to the brain and therefore the blood pressure and spasmodic capillary action which causes migraine. Ginger
has an anti-inflammatory effect on prostaglandins, hormone-like substances that contribute to migraines.

The remarkable efficacy of feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium), in not only reducing migraine frequency but also
pain intensity and duration, is due to its main constituent parthenolide, which inhibits the release of
serotonin, histamine, and other inflammatory substances that make blood vessels spasm. Feverfew is best taken
in capsule form or by eating two fresh leaves daily.
Caution: Feverfew should not be taken with blood thinners, such as warfarin. Women who are pregnant or
breastfeeding should not use herbs or essential oils for headache prevention.

D-I-Y: Aromatherapy relief

A Cephalagia study confirms that topical application of peppermint oil (Mentha piperita) has a relaxing effect
on smooth muscle, and is effective in treating stress headaches. It is also an excellent remedy for daytime
use, because it refreshes and energises, rather than sedates.
Gently massage 1-2 drops of the oil into temples, forehead, and back of the neck. Depending on the headache’s
severity, the oil can also be massaged into the scalp, base of the neck, and shoulders. Or, put a few drops on
a tissue and inhale until the headache subsides.

Toni Green is a Newcastle-based naturopath, herbalist, and iridologist.