Headaches can vary in cause and intensity from mild tension to searing pain. Stress and other causes make the muscles of the face, neck, and head contract. This contraction reduces blood supply and produces pain. Down through the centuries, every culture developed a wide variety of water treatments, plant remedies, and pressure point therapies to treat headaches.
About twenty-five hundred years ago, Darius the Great ruled over the powerful Persian empire that spread from the Aegean Sea to the Indus River. Darius built roads as well as the first known post houses–places for travellers to stay as they travelled his kingdom to trade. Understanding the tense rigors of the road, the post house offered its visitors hot, wet compresses for their headaches. The Persians knew wet heat applied to the head relaxes painful scalp muscles and speeds fresh circulation to constricted areas. This ancient Persian remedy works for today’s headaches, too.
Directions: Fold a small towel until it is several layers thick. Dip it into very hot water. Wring the towel out and apply it (as hot as is comfortable) to the neck and temples. Keep the heat in by covering the wet towel with a slightly larger dry towel. Place new hot towels to the neck and temples every five minutes to achieve relief.
For headaches, many Hungarian villagers long ago made a conserve or jam of rosemary and sugar.
Directions: Combine fresh tops of rosemary with three times their weight of sugar. Use a teaspoon at a time in rosemary, clove, or woodruff tea.
In Hawaii, Awapuhi kuahiwi, which we call gingerroot, grows wild all over the islands. Hawaiian healers relieved headaches by applying gingerroot juice or pounded root and coarse salt to the head.
Directions: Cut a piece of gingerroot and squeeze out some juice. Apply it to any part of the head that hurts. Gingerroot is available at oriental grocery stores and by mail.
Describing a system of finger pressure based on Chinese acupuncture points, the American doctor William Fitzgerald wrote nearly a century ago, that “Headaches and neuralgias of purely nervous origin … usually subside under this pressure within a few minutes.” According to Fitzgerald, the hands are a microcosm of the entire body. He divides the body into ten zones which correspond with the ten fingers.
Directions: To find the zone controlling a headache, put the hands up to the face, palm side facing away from your body. This means the thumbs are near the nose, and each pinky is at the extreme outer edge of the face near the ears.
The finger over each zone influences that zone. If the headache is in the center or near the eyes, for example, you will press the joints of both thumbs. If the headache is at the edge of the left side of the head, press the left pinky.With the finger of the opposite hand, deeply press the two joints of the finger or fingers that correspond to the area of the pain. (You can never go wrong by pressing an extra joint or two.) The most important factor is the extent of the pressure.
Fitzgerald advised Winding fat rubber bands over each of the finger joints if you haven’t accomplished headache relief. Unwind after a few minutes or if it’s uncomfortable. Repeat this winding and unwinding of the rubber band over the same and other joints until the pain disappears.
People with circulation or heart problems should avoid this technique.
This simple foot bath relieved resistant headaches in many European villages. Foot baths divert congestion from the head by drawing the blood to the feet. This immediately eases many headaches.
Directions: Run hot water into a basin or in the tub. Use one of the following in the water: a tablespoon of essence of pine, four tablespoons of strong thyme tea (thyme is also an old Egyptian headache remedy), or two tablespoons of powdered mustard seed. Check to see that the water isn’t too hot, then place your feet in the water for five to ten minutes. The fatigue and tension that can cause a headache will usually disappear.
Early Greek physicians utilized at least two types of mint for headaches. By the eighteenth century, the plant had worldwide use as a stimulating tonic.
Directions: To prevent headache pain in ancient times, the Greeks recommended drinking peppermint tea each morning and evening. They also found that binding the wet tea leaves in a cloth to lay across the forehead during a headache eased pain. Later during the Renaissance, Italians sometimes stuffed a fresh mint leaf in the nose to cure a headache.
Throughout Europe and the Near East, the leaves and flowers of sweet basil (Ooium basilioum) are used as a nerve tonic and stimulant. For headaches, the ancient Egyptians sometimes used basil, but if they didn’t have basil, they substituted marjoram.
Directions: For headaches from nausea or vomiting, crumble a handful of fresh basil or two tablespoons of the dried herb into a cup of boiling water. Steep, strain, and drink as needed. Or make the tea and add two tablespoons of witch hazel extract. Then soak a cloth in the mixture, wring it out, and apply as a compress to the forehead and temples.
To offset headaches, especially those due to eye strain, ancient Indian Ayurvedic doctors recommended massage and firm pressure to the nose, eyebrow, and temple area.
Directions: Place the tips of both index fingers at the tip of the nose. Stroke up the midline of the nose to the top. With both fingers, pinch the area between the eyebrows. Apply gentle to strong pressure under and above the eyebrows, first on the right side, then the left.
Chinese pressure points were developed several thousand years ago and are still in use today to relieve headaches.
Directions: For general headache, pinch the skin between the eyebrows between your index finger and your thumb. Then pinch the skin in the midline of the back of the neck. For a stress headache, apply pressure on the crease of the inner wrist in line with the smallest finger. Use the right or left hand depending on where the headache originates. For stress headaches on the top of the head, apply deep pressure on the center bottom of the feet, just under the padded part. For migraine headaches, deeply press the Ho Ku point on the bone at the edge of the web between the index finger and the thumb. Then, with two thumbs, deeply press the point at the top of the neck in line with the ears, just on either side of the center of the skull.
We modern people love instant relief for headaches, so it is interesting to find an old Siberian remedy which is praised for relieving a headache in two hours.
Directions: Pound one large onion and mix it with two pinches of coarse salt and one teaspoon of olive oil. Put this onion paste on a cloth and drape it over the area that hurts. The paste will draw out the pain.
Sage is a remarkable and versatile healing herb, used throughout the world as a tea and medicine. The Danes combine sage and egg for a traditional headache remedy.
Directions: Cook a handful of sage leaves in water until they get mushy and sticky. Mix them with one beaten egg and apply directly to forehead and temples.
The Umeboshi salted plum is one of the oldest healing secrets of the Japanese people. Modern studies show that the ume plum alkalinizes the bloodstream and thus rebalances the body. The present-day Japanese use ume pickled plums to prevent a wide range of health problems, and many believe that the eating of this plum influences longevity.
Directions: For headaches, the ume is used in two ways: as a plaster to the temples and as a food medicine. Purchase umeboshi plums and plasters at Asian markets, in select health food stores, or by mail.
Horseradish is a stimulating herb when eaten internally and brings blood to the surface of the skin when applied topically. To cure a headache, the Finns utilized horseradish’s ability to draw blood from other parts of the body.
Directions: Grate some horseradish and apply in a cloth or gauze bandage to the bend of the elbow and the back of the neck.