Headaches are “one of the most common neurological complications in the general population”1 and a complaint that most of us will suffer with at least once during our lifetime. Although there are various medications that you can get on prescription or over-the-counter to ease a headache; they aren’t always necessary and headaches can sometimes be relieved ‒ wholly or in part ‒ through the use of certain herbs or spices.
In this article we’ll have a look at herbs and spices that you can use to help relieve common headaches like tension headaches. Some, like feverfew, have also been tested to use for the prevention or relief of migraines. Most of these plants are easy to come by and even grow in your own herb garden or in a pot on a windowsill if you wish.
Over a million cups of chamomile tea are drunk around the world each day – and it’s no wonder; not only can a cup of chamomile help us to sleep better, it can also help to relieve headaches thanks to its mild sedative effects.2 Chamomile also has anti-inflammatory properties that may help to relieve headache pain – not to mention that some good sleep often helps to reduce or even clear up a headache caused by tension or fatigue.
The tea, that’s made from the dried chamomile flowers, can also be served cold or over ice ‒ perfect for those extra hot summer nights! Oh How Civilized has some great chamomile tea tips and recipes that you can try to brew the ultimate cup of chamomile tea.
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium L.), which is also often called featherfoil and featherfew, also resembles daisies with their yellow centers and white petals. The plant has been used for many centuries (first in the Balkans and Europe and now across the world) as an aid to relieve fevers, migraine headaches, rheumatoid arthritis, nausea, and vomiting.
A review of various studies4 conducted on feverfew to find out whether it can be used to prevent or relieve migraine, has shown some positive results. Feverfew is taken in tea form, with the dried leaves steeped and the tea sipped warm. Loose tea and tea bags are available.
Rosemary is not a herb that you think of often when it comes to pain relief, but it does have some anti-inflammatory and stress-relieving properties that can help to relieve headaches.
Rosemary is often used in folk medicine to perk someone up, clearing some mental fog and fatigue when the oil is inhaled. Some of these properties may then also be felt through drinking some rosemary tea.5
Rosemary tea should preferably be brewed using fresh leaves. If you buy your rosemary fresh, be sure to rinse it well without crushing the leaves (and thereby releasing the oils) before brewing the tea.
Like chamomile, lavender is a very soothing tea and the two are often mixed for teas that can be taken before bed to help with sleep. Lavender tea is made from lavender flower buds – usually the English and French lavender varieties – and has a beautiful purple hue thanks to the color of the buds.
Tulsi Tea, or “Holy Basil”
Tulsi tea, also sometimes referred to as “holy basil”, is made from the tulsi plant that is closely related to culinary basil and from the same family as mint. It has anti-inflammatory effects and can also help to reduce anxiety.
The traditional culinary basil also has some analgesic effects and may bring some mild relief to headache sufferers. Try to rather use fresh basil leaves for the tea, whether from the garden or freshly bought.
Peppermint has been used to treat both headaches and migraine and have had success in each of these.
The menthol contained in the peppermint plant is naturally energizing and the plant (and therefore the tea) doesn’t contain any caffeine. This makes it a good choice for those for whom caffeine makes their headaches worse.
Besides having pain killing effects, peppermint tea also relaxes the body and this can be very beneficial for especially tension headaches6.
One of the best teas for nausea – including the nausea that sometimes accompanies migraines and headaches – is ginger tea. Whether made from dried ginger or (preferably) fresh grated or sliced ginger, this refreshing drink is taken warm and can be sweetened with honey or sugar.
Ginger is often used in conjunction with other teas and flavours, for example lemon and mint, and a little ground ginger can also be mixed into a mug of rooibos (red bush) tea for a warming, hot-toddy-like drink.
If you feel a migraine coming on, Migraine Again suggests drinking some ginger along with your usual pain or other prescription migraine medication. (Just be sure to speak to your healthcare worker about taking ginger along with these medications to ensure that there won’t be any negative effects from taking them together.)
The curcumin in turmeric has shown promise in modulating inflammation in a 2021 article7. This, in turn, can help to relieve headaches.
Turmeric, also called the “Indian Saffron”, is used in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine8 as well as having some religious significance.
Turmeric is usually mixed with ginger in tea form, making for a delicious, slightly spicy drink. The ginger may then also take care of any nausea accompanying the headache. You can also add lemon and honey if you like.
Lemon is usually used in conjunction with other herbs or spices – for example mint, ginger, turmeric, and even chamomile, to soothe and relax. You can also add some fresh lemon to a mug of rooibos (red bush) tea for a refreshing drink.
However, you don’t have to just add lemon to your tea – a delicious drink can be made with lemon, water, and a bit of honey. Sip the warm lemon water in the mornings or when you feel a headache coming on. The Daily Meal also notes that headaches due to gastrointestinal issues can be relieved by lemon water.
Headache from a cold or flu? Make your own “hot toddy” drink at home using ingredients like fresh lemon and ginger, honey, and even a bit of turmeric won’t go amis. Finally, add some loose leaf rooibos tea (or a rooibos tea bag) for some extra goodness. Plus, using only fresh ingredients will ensure that you get as much goodness from these ingredients as possible.
Willow bark – “nature’s aspirin”, as it’s sometimes called – contains salicin, which is closely akin to aspirin. This bark, then, has pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects on the body.
Although the bark can also be chewed to release the salicin (which converts into salicylic acid), having a tea made from bark is a lot nicer!
Tea from willow tree bark sometimes takes longer to make than when made from leaves or flowers, and the tea may be steeped for half an hour in some cases. However, always follow the instructions on the willow bark that you buy, as the fineness of the ground bark can have a big impact on the length of time required and therefore the amount of salicin that you ingest at any one time.
Rather than only treating the pain of the headache, the accompanying symptoms like stress, anxiety, and nausea can also be relieved by these herbal teas.
If you find that you’re getting a lot of tension headaches, it’s worth examining what the source of these headaches could be. Once you get the stressful situations or feelings under control, you should find that the tension headaches lessen or even completely go away.
Adding more mindfulness, like meditation, to your daily routine can also help a lot to curb headaches and stop some of them from even happening in the first place.
- 1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3731875/
- 2) https://www.spandidos-publications.com/mmr/3/6/895
- 3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3210009/#ref5
- 4) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11276299/
- 5) https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/rosemary-tea#How-to-make-rosemary-tea
- 6) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27106030/
- 7) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31241007/
- 8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92752/
Carin Marais is a fully bilingual language practitioner (English/Afrikaans) and a copy and content writer for a wide variety of digital and print channels. She has worked with both local and international companies on subjects as diverse as health and mindfulness, finance, beauty, décor, pets, food, and agricultural implements.