The Great Migraine War


As a teenager I began getting  intense migraines. Sometimes there was a hormonal component, but overall my biggest trigger were weather changes. Now in my twenties, I still struggle with them. Basically, a migraine is a headache plus some. For me, it’s often intense sharp pain, along with sensitivity to light, and nausea or stomach aches.

A doctor mistakenly diagnosed them as stress headaches a few years ago without having a psychological evaluation (I guess he thought a 19 year old female college student would have to have anxiety issues) and he prescribed me anti-depressants. I didn’t react well to them, often feeling tired or dizzy. If I didn’t take a dose exactly 24 hours after the last one I would feel sick.

I knew I had to get off the antidepressants and find better way to handle my migraines that didn’t play with my mood. I suppose that was around the time I became more seriously interested in herbalism and holistic medicine. I weaned myself off the medication and began researching natural remedies for migraines.

Keeping hydrated, lowering stress, as well as keeping regular sleeping and eating habits help control migraines, but it’s hard to completely eliminate them.

The weather changes these past few days have me reaching for the herbs again today. I thought I would share my migraine tea recipe with you all. Fresh herbs are the best, but I usually use dried because they’re best for storing in the winter months. I use:

2 parts feverfew leaf

1 part white willow bark

2 parts peppermint

1 part lemon balm

1 part lavender bud

You can mix it as needed, combining it in your tea infuser, or you can make a big batch and keep it in a glass jar or resealable plastic bag. I premix it and use about a teaspoon at a time in my tea-infuser. Maybe a teaspoon and a half if it’s an especially bag headache. I add honey to the tea, because feverfew can be grassy and bitter, willow bark can be bitter too. The mint and lemon balm help to cover the taste while adding their own medicinal benefits.

I give it a 5-7 minute steep and make sure to squeeze the herbs to get any remaining extracts from the herbs.

A jolt of caffeine from coffee or cola can help boost the power of over the counter pain-killers as well. Hot showers and short naps can help, I’ve found. Relaxation is important, stress and muscle tension will only increase headaches.


Ginger- the Wonder Root

I’m currently in England, hence the lack of posting, but I wanted to drop by and extol the virtues of ginger. When travelling, it is absolutely necessary to throw in your suitcase.

Every time I feel nauseated from unfamiliar food, the stress of travel, or surprisingly strong cider, I find myself nibbling on a slice of crystallized ginger for relief. It naturally helps calm your stomach, which is why ginger is usually a key ingredient in digestive teas. Though it is very hot on the tongue, the crystallized form is one of the easiest to travel with and eat.

Ginger teas are delicious as well, and widely available in the supermarket. Beyond relieving stomach upset, ginger is also an immune booster (which is great for travel) and can help open up clogged sinuses.

The warming sensation of ginger has long been thought to help increase blood flow and help relieve cramps. Some even recommend a poultice of ginger placed over the pelvis to help with especially severe cramps. The warmth can have an energizing effect as well.

If you’re feeling cold, tired, nauseous, or crampy, ginger might just be the perfect way to gently and naturally get yourself back in balance. I know I have come to depend on it.

Herb File: Mint

Mint: it’s not just for toothpaste.

Mint is an incredibly versatile herb that is easy to grow in your own garden, in fact you may have to keep it from spreading out into every patch of ground it can find. There are many different varieties of mint that are all delicious and useful. Check out your local garden store where you might even find exotic varieties like apple, pineapple, and ginger mints. For the purpose of this file, we’ll mostly be talking about basic varieties peppermint, spearmint, and corn mint, though you can explore and find which one you like best for taste and smell.

Mint leaves are very useful for hot weather since the main chemical component, menthol, lowers body temperature. Drinking or eating mint can produce a cooling sensation in your body on a hot day. Even rubbing crushed mint leaves against your pulse points can help relieve the feeling of being overheated, besides that, it will make you smell nice.

As aromatherapy, the fragrance of mint is refreshing and invigorating. When feeling sleepy and needing to focus, sometimes I’ll take a quick whiff of mint oil to revive myself. Drinking mint tea or smelling mint oil can also help clear block sinuses. It mixes well with eucalyptus to make a steam bowl, just add either mint and eucalyptus leaves or a few drops of their respective oils to a bowl, pour boiling water over top, and inhale. Don’t go too crazy with the mint, or  else you might feel a tingling sensation in your face.

The cooling sensation of mint can also make it a useful ingredient in soaps and salves for treating poison ivy and bug bites. Many “poison ivy” soaps have menthol in them which helps relieve the pain.

Mint is also the perfect addition to teas made with less tasty herbs. It’s gentle and helps digestion. The taste is strong enough to help mask the bitter and earthy flavors of feverfew, willow bark, and plenty of other herbs.

ImageMint is and will always be one of my favorite herbs because it’s so versatile and plentiful. It you have friends with mint, it’s easy enough to grow from cuttings or, as I did this year, grow from seeds. The seeds may be slow to start, but once they get started, they quickly spread and start spilling over their pots. They’re also easy to dry. Just take cuttings, tie them into small bundles and hang them upside down. I like to hang them in the closet, all of my clothing smells lovely then, especially if I’m dry lavender in the closet at the same time.

Summer Safety: Bites and Burn Remedies

Tomorrow (or this weekend if you couldn’t get off from work) many Americans will head outdoors, undeterred by scorching sun and active insects. Most people who have avoided those downsides of summer so far will get their first bad burn or insect bite this week. So how do you keep your friends and family from spending the day after the fourth lying on the couch moaning over sun burn or itchy bug bites?

Well, the old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” definitely applies in this case. To naturally deter bugs, there are some great repellents on the market such as Burt’s Bees. Or you could make your own using this recipe:

2 parts oil (extra virgin is one of the best and easiest to find)

1 part beeswax (available at craft and health food stores)

10-15 drops citronella essential oil

5-10 drops of cedar wood essential oil

5 drops of lavender essential oil

5 drops of tea tree or lemongrass essential oil

Directions: Heat oil over a double boiler (a glass bowl over a small pot of water makes for the easiest clean up). Add in the beeswax, stirring  until it melts into the oil. Then add essential oils, stirring gently, and use a pipette to transfer mixture into tubes, tins, or jars. You can pour it straight into a jar as well, but the wax will be hardening inside the bowl as you do.

This creates a soft but thick balm that is easy to toss in your bag for travel. Apply the balm to your arms, legs, neck, and any of your pulse points.

Note: In this recipe, one part equals one ounce. To make larger batches (1 part= 3 ounces for example), you should increase amount of essential oil accordingly.

Some essential oils in this recipe may be too strong for women who are nursing or pregnant.

Now, you are covered in strong natural oils, but there’s still the sun to contend with. The best way to prevent a burn is to use coverage like a hat. A baseball cap will help shade your face, a wider brim cap like a floppy sun hat or “booney” hat will give you more all around protection, helping shield your next and shoulders as well. A light, long sleeve shirt thrown over your tank top will also give protection.

Sunscreen is also a must. Here’s a great guide to choosing the best sunscreens that give protection without flooding your body with chemicals.

You might do all these things, but still end up with a painful strip of burn or a few itchy bug bites. What to do then? Being perpetually pale, thanks to my Scotch/Irish heritage and apparently possessing delicious, insect inviting blood; I’ve been in that position.

-For bites and stings, making a paste of baking soda can help draw out any venom and help reduce pain. This paste should be wet, but not runny. Just baking soda and a little water are all you need.

-If itching is persistent, apply a few drops of lavender essential oil straight to the bites. If you can come by it, geranium oil is one of the best at reducing itches, and it also helps sanitize the area. I recommend keeping it in the cupboard.

-For bad sunburns, within a few hours of the reddening, bathe the skin with a soft cloth soaked in a water/white vinegar solution. This will help draw some of the heat out of your skin, relieving some of the discomfort and hot feeling.

-Cool, unsweetened green tea can also be applied to sunburned skin within 24 hours after burning.

-24-72 hours after a burn your skin will likely start peeling. When this occurs you want to put back as much moisture as you can. Fresh aloe plant juice or unscented gel aloe from the drug store does this quite well. I’ve seen many people make the mistake of applying the aloe gel directly after being burned, you should use the vinegar or green tea cure before applying the aloe. The thick store bought gels can trap some of the heat  against your skin and cause more discomfort. I don’t usually recommend it be used until 24 hours after the burn. Home grown aloe can be used earlier with less risk because of its thinner consistency.

-My older brother swears by Jewelweed for treating bites and burns. It’s also recognized as a great poison ivy treatment. It grows wild in many yards and is often pulled with the rest of the weeds. Read about it here and you many be convinced to let a few stalks keep growing wild.

Hopefully these tips and recipes will make your summer celebrations as painless as possible.