Headaches are a fact of life, unpleasant as they are, I don't know of a single person who's never had the unpleasant experience of the occasional headache. Most people just reach for the aspirin or ibuprofren when one comes on, which may help certain kinds of headaches. But what about Migraines? Or Dehydration headaches? Or chronic headaches with no apparent cause?
First off, to work with headaches, you have to understand the different kinds of headaches that people get.
Tension headaches, probably one of the most common, stem from stress and tension that builds up in the shoulders and neck, which can stress nerves, tissues and circulation into the head. Tension headaches are usually indicated by, tension, and will often repond to therapies which relax the tension and improve circulation to the brain and head. You can also tell a headache with deficient circulation to the brain if the sufferer declares it is better with heat or pressure. They will often hold their head in between their hands.
Full, hot headaches can stem from tension as well, but are characterized by a full, throbbing feeling in the head. Often in people who are tense, but hot and angry as well. This kind of headache is common with any sort of stuck liver energy, as the heat, blood and qi from the core rise up into the head and cause redness and emotional outbursts. Usually the sufferer of this kind of headache doesn't want to be touched, as pressure will aggravate the pain. These headaches can also stem from dehydration, and some kinds of migraines. Usually they will respond to cooling, draining and relaxing therapies.
Migraines and other chronic headaches are a bit difficult to classify simply. There can be many reasons for migraines and other chronic headaches, both known and unknown. For some certain foods or substances will bring on a migraine or a headache. Food intolerances are a huge causative factor in migraines and chronic headaches, and I know several people who's migraines resolved after removing the offending food. Dairy, gluten, soy or corn are often suspect. But some people will also get migraines from chocolate, nightshades, perfumes, or food additives like MSG. Migraines usually, but not always have a stage of deficient circulation to the head, and include visual disturbances. Some therapies for migraines work best at this breif stage, if you can catch it right away. Then they progress to a more full and throbbing sort of pain. At this stage of a migraine there are few treatments that help. Even most perscription drugs for migraines work best at the beginning phase.
There also sinus headaches, which can be treated with natural methods, but you best check out Jim McDonalds protocols for those, as he has much more experience with that.
Headaches might also be related to deeper more serious conditions like neurological disorders, tumors or infections like meningitis and the like. These should be ruled out if headaches don't respond to other therapies or come back time and time again. A headache with a stiff neck and fever should always be checked for bacterial meningitis, which is a serious illness which must be attended to.
Valerian- valerian is a classic for pain with deficient circulation in the head. Usually the person will tend towards cold and pale, and may feel dizzy and very tense. Valerian tincture usually aids this kind of headache, especially in conjunction with other relaxants and circulatory stimulants. Keep in mind valerian probably isn't good for someone who has a full throbbing headache, whose face is flushed. It might just make it worse.
Lavender- a supreme remedy for stress and tension, relaxing and calming and slightly stimulating to circulation. You can sip on lavender tea, or use a warm cloth with lavender oil on the neck and shoulder muscles to aid in relaxation. Lavender is a gentle warming herb, and is indicated when the person isn't already hot and bothered. At least if using the tea or tincture. If you choose to use the essential oil or a compress, it is less likely to aggravate heat.
Rosemary- rosemary is a lovely herb for headaches of a cold, deficient nature, as it has a special affinity for increasing circulation to the head. But rosemary has the added benefit of helping to release stuck liver chi, when combined with other cooling and draining herbs.
Wood Betony- wood betony is one of my favorite herbs, for all sorts of things, including headaches from stuck liver chi rising into the head. It helps relax the constraint in the liver, and relaxes the whole body, including vascular and circulatory tissues in the head, and tense, tight muscles in shoulders and neck, at the same time increasing circulation and even flow of chi through the body and head. Wood betony is of a neutral temperature, neither too cold nor extremely hot, and can probably be used in people of either tendency. I also find wood betony to be very grounding and calming, settling to the airy, vata, frantic tendency of some people. It also very nicely influences thedigestive/gut area, and think it may be of use in headaches resulting from poor digestion from food intolerances. Wood Betony with Scullcap is a favorite combo of mine for all sorts of stress induced conditions, including tension headaches.
Black Cohosh- this is a supreme antispasmodic herb, and helps to release tension and spasm that can create both deficient or full excess headaches. This rememdy is Darin's favorite. It's a nice cooling and draining herb, but also seems to relax the vasculature of the head. I always think of this herb for the gloom and doom type of person. Headaches with depression, or hormonal PMS depression related headaches can respond very well to Black Cohosh. Wood betony and black cohosh are another great pair for headaches, especially if there is tension and heat.
Clematis - Clematis vine, the wild Virgins Bower, is a wonderful remedy for the impending migraine. It is dialating to the brain lining, and allows blood flow into the area. It is most effective for migraines at the very beginning stage. I've used it for non migraine headaches also, and find it very helpful, if used at the beginning. I've always used a fresh plant tincture for this, and don't think the dry plant will be of much help. It is very acrid and pungent herb when fresh, and that property is what you are after with this one. That dissapates very quickly when dried.
Willow/Populus- Willow bark or populus, the well known painkilling herb of 'nature's asprin" fame is very useful for the hot, full, throbbing headache which begs for cooling and draining. Combine this with other cooling draining herbs like dandelion, and antispasmodics and relaxants like black cohosh and wood betony or scullcap. I'm sure the salicylates in the bark of these species also help with pain relief in their anti-inflammatory properties, but don't find them as useful in the cold deficient headache. The relaxants and circulatory stimulants are more appropriate. Tincture of tea of bark, leaves or buds could all be used, but I find that bark is the best form for headache releif. Buds which are full of resin have an affinity for the respiratory tract and GI tract.
Dandelion- dandelion doens't act directly on a headache, as far as I know, but it is a useful herb to include in formulas for hot, full headaches which need draining and cooling off. Dandelion is also a great liver cooler, and headaches stemming from stuck liver chi with heat can also be helped by inclusion of dandelion in the formula.
Coffee- Is a well known vasodialator, that is effective for some types of migraines, and headaches. If you catch it at the beginning, a cup of coffee can be helpful. Though this usually works better for those who don't drink coffee as a regular beverage, just because the body is accustomed to the caffiene and may not respond as dramatically as a body with little tolerance to caffiene. But caution with this one, as it can make some migraines worse.
Magnesium- Some types of chronic headaches and migraines respond well to a regimen of magnesium supplementation. This isn't really an acute remedy, but may help overall as you are working with the root cause of migraines and headaches. It is a supreme antispasmodic and vital in addressing muscle tension and spasms. It is also a nutritional factor in moderating inflammation in the body on all levels. It's certainly worth a try, considering most americans are magnesium deficient.
hydrotherapy-I find hydrotherapy to be one of the best therapies for headaches. For a full throbbing headache a cool cloth over the eyes and forehead offers immense relief as it helps to drain the overfull head tissues. Even better is to accompany that with a warm foot bath, to help draw blood and chi to the feet and away from the head. And vice versa for a cool, deficient headache, a warm compress on the shoulders and over the eyes can bring blood and chi to the area. A tepid bath all over can help relieve heat and fullness, and alternating warm and cool showers is also beneficial for increasing circulation overall throughout the body and head.