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

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.
View References
  1. American Herbalists Guide. Available at: http://www.americanherbalistsguild.com/. Accessed January 2015
  2. The Original Bach Flower Remedies. Available at: http://www.bachflower.com/. Accessed January 2015
  3. The Bach Centre. Available at: http://www.bachcentre.com. Accessed January 2015
  4. Natural Association for Holistic Aromatherapy. Available at: https://www.naha.org/. Accessed January 2015

Comments

View Comments (4)
  • Tammy Rome author
    4 years ago

    Beth,

    Thank you for writing in with your concerns and I’d like to address them. I was asked to write several articles on the different types of CAM so that our readers would have basic knowledge of each should they consider trying one or more option. Nothing about this series is intended to endorse any type of CAM.

    Because of my extensive experience with CAM, both as a health food store owner, practicing Herbalist, and Reiki Master, I do have the necessary qualifications to speak with authority on a great deal of CAM options. Even then, I do not necessarily endorse or encourage their use without consulting a health care provider. However, very few medical doctors are well-versed in the use of CAM. You are fortunate if you have one who is.

    With each modality, I try to share some personal experience if I have it. My personal experience is just that — personal. Just because I am having success with a remedy doesn’t mean I think everyone should try it. It’s just what works for me.

    Since you asked about my experience, I provide a little more detail. First, the oils I use are always diluted in a carrier oil or distilled water. In the case of the nasal spray, I used sterile distilled water. Additionally, I do not spray it directly up the nose into the nasal cavity. I spray it a lot like my neurologist taught me to use Zomig Nasal Spray. Once inserted into the nostril, I turn the tip of the bottle away from the midline, against the outer side of the nostril and pump out ONE spray. The oils hit the membrane and are absorbed into the blood stream through the thin mucous membrane of the interior nostril. I never sniff, so the blend never touches the sinuses or the throat. I usually hold a tissue to that side of my nose after an application to absorb any minute amount that might drip out of my nostril.

    As you can see from my description, the oils are never ingested. My purpose for experimenting with oils as a nasal spray was in response to a few commercial nasal sprays that have been promoted to relieve headache and migraine. These products contain capsacin (red pepper). Many people (including Migraine.com readers) have complained about the commercial products making their pain worse. I wanted to see if I could find something that worked without capsacin.

    Even so, I am merely describing my own experience and not making any recommendations that others do the same. I hope this clears up any confusion. Please write back if you have more questions or need clarification.

    Best wishes,

    Tammy

  • Beth
    4 years ago

    Thanks for responding, Jenn. I’m most appreciative.

  • Beth
    4 years ago

    This series makes me extremely uncomfortable, especially when we now have someone with no medical bona fides, writing as a supposed expert, which she is most definitely not, advocating mixing essential oils to use as a nasal spray during a migraine attack. Does the practitioner know how many people are allergic to eucalyptus? That’s all a migraineur needs, an asthma attack during a migraine. There’s a vast difference between using a MigraStick or other product topically and inhaling one up your nose and into your respiratory system.

    Migraine.com has always been a resource for credible information. Information that is supported by scientific studies and medical research. To cast doubt on those sources by asserting that herbalists, their information, and their treatments are equal in value to medical doctors and scientific research is nonsense at best, and downright dangerous at worst. It does a terrible disservice to desperate migraineurs. It has no place on the Migraine.com I know and trust.

  • Jenn Lebowitz
    4 years ago

    Hi Beth,

    Thanks for your feedback, as always we welcome comments and opinions from the community – it’s what makes Migraine.com helpful to so many of us!  We are very happy that you value the credibility of our content – that is something we strive for.

    As there is no cure for migraine and responses to treatments will vary from one person to the next, our goal is to provide insight into a wide variety of options community members may be interested in.

    As Tammy has stated above, herbal remedies are not without potential risks. With any treatment option nothing should be tried without consulting with your primary healthcare provider first. We always want community members to check in before making any changes to their regimen. To this point, we’ve added a reminder to the article about this – so once again, we thank you for your comment!

    We hope this helps, and as always, we welcome discussion here. Each of us may have differing opinions on certain topics, however, we all want what is best for each other – and we’re here to support that process!

    Warmly,

    Jenn (Community Manager, Migraine.com)

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