Chronic headaches? Herbs can help!

Kate wrote us to ask: What can you recommend for someone who has daily headaches specifically behind her left eye. She’s a secretary and uses the computer all day.
To determine the most effective strategy for preventing and alleviating daily headaches, some detective work in determining a possible cause is first in order.
Some candidates:
Check your eyesight – are your eyes straining to read the computer screen?If there is pain behind one eye, in particular, take specific note of whether that eye seems to be working harder than the other. If you find you are having trouble reading the screen, possible solutions include: moving the monitor to a more comfortable height and distance (either closer or farther, depending on the issue), setting the monitor resolution and/or font size to something larger (see your local IT support for help on this), or visit your optometrist for an evaluation and potential eyeglass prescription update. Additionally, while you are working on the computer, try to give your eyes a break every hour by focusing on something far away (out a scenic window is great) for a few minutes.How much water are you drinking? Dehydration can sometimes cause headaches.If you find yourself with a dry mouth, urine that is more yellow than clear, or you are drinking less than 4-8 cups of clear liquids a day, you may be dehydrated.What is your daily food schedule? Hunger and/or low blood sugar could also contribute. Be sure you are not skipping meals, ideally including healthy proteins and fats as well as moderate carbs in each one. Avoid foods with excessive processed sugar.
To help you in your detective work, you may like to keep a diary of when symptoms occur, how severs they are, and what you were doing at the time.
From an herbal perspective, once you’ve ruled out the possibilities above, there are a couple of classes of herbs that may help, depending on the cause of the headache.
Nervines: these are herbs that can help relax the mind and calm the body. For a headache associated with muscle tension and anxiety, passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), California poppy (Eschscholtzia californica) – NOT an opiate, though a related plant, and linden (Tilia spp.) may fit the bill.
Adaptogens: indicated for stress-related issues.Think ‘mental exhaustion’ or an extended ‘fight or flight’ feeling. Holy basil, (Ocimum sanctum, also called Tulsi) or ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) are nice, calming adaptogens that make a good afternoon tea.
For the pain, itself, feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is indicated both in preventing and reducing severity of headache. Try a tea of the dried flowers, which resemble a daisy. For a more concentrated dose a hydroalcoholic extract may be more effective. Renowned Australian herbalist, Kerry Bone, recommends 3-5 milliters/day of a 1:5 tincture for prevention. He notes that it may take several months for the prophylactic effects to take hold, after which the dose can be reduced to 1-2ml/day. CAUTION:some people are allergic to plants in the daisy family, such as feverfew. Proceed with care if you might be in this category.
Essential oils: depending on the nature of the headache, sometimes aromatherapy can help. Peppermint and lavender oil are both good candidates for relieving headache pain. Dilute a drop or two of either oil in a small amount of a carrier oil (almond, jojoba, apricot) in the palm of your hand, then rub gently on your temples and inhale. CAUTION: do NOT rub the concentrated oil directly on your skin for risk of chemical burn.
I hope these tips help you explore the root cause of the headache and get you back on track. If they persist or worsen, however, see your physician to rule out a more serious condition.
Bone, K., & Mills, S. (2013). Principles and Practices of Phytotherapy: An Herbal Medicine Approach. Philadelphia: Elsevier.
Donna Koczaja, M.S., RH(AHG) graduated from Maryland University of Integrative Health (formerly Tai Sophia Institute) with a Master of Science in Therapeutic Herbalism and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Clinical Herbalism. She earned Registered Herbalist status from the American Herbalists’ Guild in 2018. Originally educated as a mechanical engineer, she combines the rigor of her original scientific training with the traditional healing art of herbal medicine to partner with her clients to uncover the root cause of their underlying health issues. Also a Master Gardener since 2008, her primary interest is in inspiring others to improve their health and sense of wellbeing through the joys of gardening and the power of natural medicine.
Donna currently practices as the professional herbalist at the MUIH Natural Care Center (410-888-9048×6614) in Laurel, Maryland. Read more about her, what she does, and why she does it at, or contact her directly at or 240-353-8754.

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