Migraineur’s Guide to CAM: plant-based medicine

Herbalism is still the primary health care for most of the world. It is only in developed countries that pharmaceutical drugs have taken the lead. Most of the world relies on experts in herbal medicine whose teachings have been passed down through generations. In Western countries, Herbalism is not regulated as a healing practice by government agencies. There are schools that specialize in teaching both Western and Traditional Chinese Herbalism but none have accreditation. That doesn't mean the information taught is substandard or inaccurate. It just means that the quality of education will vary from school to school. As with any other health care specialty, take the time to educate yourself. Don't just assume all herbalists are the same.

Personal Experience:
Herbalism is my specialty. I’m about two-thirds of the way through a Master Herbalist training program with The School of Natural Healing based in Utah.  I have training in the cultivation, harvesting, ethical wild crafting, preparation, and use of Western botanicals for health benefits. I can prepare custom-made ointments, salves, teas, infusions (not to be confused with medical infusions such as DHE, Solu-Medrol, etc.), tinctures, capsules, lotions, and other health and beauty aids. I also have training in medicinal juicing. My training includes the use of herbs and wholesome foods to maintain and restore health in a wide variety of situations.

As an ethical herbalist, I must remind you that herbs were humanity's first medicines and are still the primary source of health care to much of the world's population. They are not benign and often interact with OTC and prescription medications. Responsible use of herbs includes a thorough understanding of their actions on the body. 

For example, Ginkgo Biloba is a popular herb widely available at most health food stores and pharmacies. It has a reputation for enhancing memory. But did you know that it also thins the blood? Because of this action, it should be discontinued before any surgical procedure and avoided by those who are already taking daily aspirin or prescription blood thinners.

So please use caution when mixing herbs and medicines. Herbs are medicine, too. Centuries before the development of all the medicines we take for granted today, herbs were the only medicine available. If you aren’t properly trained, please consult with an herbal expert before deciding to add herbs to your treatment regimen. As always, discuss any changes to your treatment regimen with your doctor prior to adding or stopping medications (including over the counter or herbal remedies).

Bach Flower Essences are extracts (liquid) of a specific group of plants to facilitate emotional and mental healing. Bach flower essences are particularly known for their use to calm the nerves and restore emotional balance. Like Homeopathy, Bach flower essences are chosen based on an individual’s traits and responses rather than on a particular symptom. Unlike homeopathy, practitioners will blend up to 7 different remedies together (one from each area) to form a unique combination for each individual. There are 38 remedies, divided into 7 different areas, each addressing a specific emotional, mental, or social issue. There are several guide books available that describe each of the remedies and their indications for use.

Personal experience:
I have had good success using Bach Flower Essences in combination with therapy, particularly to facilitate processing of intense, overwhelming negative emotions. I recommended them to any client who was dealing with anxiety, trauma, or grief.

In my own family, we have used numerous Bach remedies to help soften the emotional adjustment during times of high stress or after trauma.  We used several remedies to help our son after he sustained a traumatic brain injury at eight years old.  They are also helpful for both parent and child after a meltdown or tantrum.

Aromatherapy is the practice of using essential oils to facilitate and enhance the body’s natural healing process. An essential oil is derived from medicinal plants whose volatile oils are extracted and bottled for use. Most people think of aromatherapy as the use of scents to relax the mind and body. However, true aromatherapy is much more than a pretty smell. In fact, it is rarely about the smell at all. Despite the claims of some companies, essentials oils should never be applied directly to the skin or ingested. They should be diluted in carrier oil (almond, jojoba, or grape seed oil) and then applied to the skin or diffused in distilled water or oil and breathed in. Many massage therapists are trained to use aromatherapy as part of their practice.

Personal Experience:
I was first introduced to aromatherapy when I purchased a MigraStick. It is a small hollow tube with a metal ball covering one end and a twist-off cap. It contains Lavender and Peppermint essential oils mixed in distilled water. At the first sign of headache pain, I would rub this little stick on my temples, forehead, or wherever it hurt. Although it rarely aborts an attack, I still make sure I have one in my toolkit because it can really cut down the intensity in just a few seconds.

Some other uses I discovered were:

  • Clary Sage and Lavender mixed in Jojoba oil worked great as a massage oil for inducing labor and keeping it going. For a week before my granddaughter was born, the whole house smelled of this oil.
  • This same blend in a diffuser helped to calm Baby Girl’s colic
  • Eucalyptus oil added to a vaporizer is wonderful to relieve sinus congestion.
  • Lemongrass added to the rinse cycle kills odors and leaves my linens smelling fantastic.
  • Orange oil added to distilled water is a great household disinfectant.
  • Tea tree oil has been used at our house for blemishes, as an insect repellant, to treat and prevent head lice. It’s also antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral.

My newest aromatherapy discovery is another blend of oils diluted in distilled water.  One evening I was doing some research and experimenting with different oils when I stumbled on to a great mixture to treat cluster headache attacks. I mixed Lavender and Peppermint (of course!) with Orange Oil, Lemon Oil, and Eucalyptus. I added this mixture into a bottle of distilled water and attached a nasal spray lid. Viola! Now I finally have a nasal spray that’s free of harsh Capsicum.

That’s the beauty of aromatherapy. You can safely use the essential oils in so many different ways.1-4

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