Many herbal medicines can provide relief from migraine headache. The herb feverfew is especially useful for this purpose. It is being used extensively in Europe for the prevention of migraine attacks. Feverfew contains parthenolide, the plant's active ingredient, that inhibits the brain chemicals that dilate blood vessels and cause a migraine. Thus, feverfew has some of the same anti-inflammatory effects as aspirin, without aspirin's side effects. The herb must be taken for several weeks before the effects are felt. So, it is useful as a preventive medicine and not for combating the pain when the migraine is already in progress.
Clinical studies with feverfew have focused on the treatment and prevention of migraine. A double-blind study of patients who reported that they had been helped by feverfew was performed at the London Migraine Clinic. A test group was given a placebo to determine if their symptoms worsened. They did, increasing in both the frequency and severity of the attack.
Another clinical study involved migraine patients who had been using feverfew for several years. Seventeen patients were given either feverfew (50 mg daily) or placebo. Eight patients, who remained on feverfew, experienced continued relief of migraines over a six month period. The nine receiving placebo had an almost three-fold increase in migraines. Many of these headaches were incapacitating, along with other symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia and muscle and joint soreness. This has prompted some concern at the abrupt cessation of feverfew therapy.
A second study enrolled 72 migraine sufferers. They received either 82 mg of feverfew daily or a placebo.
Treatment with feverfew for four months led to a decreased incidence and severity of migraines. Feverfew also led to less vomiting attacks and fewer visual disturbances during migraine attacks. Adverse events were mild (primarily mild gastrointestinal upset and nervousness) and did not result in discontinuation of treatment.
These studies indicate the efficacy of feverfew as a useful tool in the long-term management of migraines.
Recommended Dosage of Feverfew
Appropriate dosing of feverfew leaf for migraine prevention is based on parthenolide content. A recommended daily dosage of 125 mg of a dried feverfew leaf preparation containing a minimum of 0.2% parthenolide is often prescribed for migraine prevention. This translates to a daily parthenolide dosage of at least 250 mcg. This is considered the minimum amount for efficacy. Unpublished studies indicate that 100 mg. per day of feverfew extract at .7% parthenolide content may be more desirable.
Please note that feverfew will work effectively only if you take it every day - not just when you get a migraine--and only if you take enough of it. This is because feverfew functions mainly as a preventive, so it won't help much once you already have a migraine.
Note the expiration date on the bottle. Parthenolide is relatively unstable; the closer the product gets to the expiration date, the less likely it is to find enough parthenolide for the product to be effective.
Do not use feverfew if you are pregnant or lactating or for children under the age of two years.
Other Recommended Herbs for Migraine
Ginkgo biloba increases blood circulation. Use up to 240 mg, daily
Use a standardized extract containing 24-percent ginkgoflavone glycosides and 6-percent terpene lactones.
Ginkgo biloba has been shown to offer some promise for the management of migraines in two small French clinical trials. The daily dose ranged from 120 to 240 mg. May be beneficial in preventing migraine due to its ability to inhibit platelet activating factor. Can cause minor headaches when initially taken. This effect subsides usually within the first week of use.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) contains constituents that inhibit platelet aggregation. Ginger tea works, for a migraine headache in the front of the head. One case study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology reported on a 42 year old female migraine sufferer who found relief taking 500 to 600 mg of ginger powder mixed with water every four hours for four days.
The patient was instructed to begin ginger at the onset of visual aura. The authors report improvement within 30 minutes of beginning ginger. They also note that continued use of ginger by the woman led to decreased frequency and intensity of migraines.
140 to 210 mg of kavalactones
Has a mellowing effect that may be helpful for the treatment of stress-related migraines.
300 to 500 mg
Use a standardized extract.
Has traditionally been used for relaxation at bedtime, but may be helpful in reducing the incidence of recurring headaches due to stress.
Do not drive a vehicle while under the effects of this herb.
Black willow (Salix nigra): In decoction
Jamaican dogwood (Piscidia erythrina): In decoction for migraine accompanied by insomnia or dysmenorrhea.
Black horehound (Ballota nigra): For nausea and vomiting. Combines well with meadowsweet and camomile in infusion.
Damiana, kola, sarsaparilla, ginseng: Recommended when migraine is due to fatigue, lassitude, and general debility.
Fenugreek: infusion, steep 5-15 minutes, take 1 cup during the day, hot or cold
Peppermint: oil, 5-10 drops, 3 times daily; fluid extraction, 1-2 tsp., 3 times daily; infusion, steep 5-15 minutes, take 6 oz., 3 times daily
Rosemary: infusion, steep 5-15 minutes, take 2 oz., 3 times daily; oil, 1-3 drops, 3 times daily; external: Rub diluted oil (1 part rosemary with 10 parts vegetable oil) on forehead and temples. Also use as a nasal vapor bath.
Camomile tea helps prevent migraines.
Lavender: Rub some lavender oil on the temples and fore, head. Lavender has antispasmodic and cooling properties.
Marjoram, St. John's wort, fennel or caraway seed tea with 1 tsp. of honey is helpful for relieving symptoms.
Mix equal amounts of agrimony, wormwood and centaury. Pour boiling water over 1 tsp. of this mix, steep five minutes, strain and drink unsweetened.
Apply a hot herbal compress to the back of the neck. Use camomile, St. John's wort or lemon balm infusions.
Chinese Herbal Remedy for Migraine
Combine all of the herbs and grind them into a fine powder with a mortar and pestle. If the left side of your head hurts, sniff a small amount of this powder into your right nostril. If the right side of your head hurts, sniff it up your left nostril. If both sides hurt, put it up both nostrils. Do this no more than three times per day.
This formula is especially effective for people who are constantly on the run and have very stressful jobs. Cnidium, mastic, and myrrh and polygala root enhance the circulation of blood and energy to the brain. Asarum and gypsum help the medicine penetrate where it is needed, while trichosanthes root is added to pull out the bad energy.
Myrr contains chemicals that stimulate the circulation, making it very effective for the treatment of headache. Mastic is a form of resin from the mastic tree. It is known to stop pain and swelling, and achieves especially deep penetration when combined with the circulation-stimulating effects of myrrh.
Also See Herbal Medicine
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