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Finding a good herbalist

Much of what's written in this article is entirely suitable for a person to work through themselves but, especially if things are quite bad, or you just know that you need further help, then there may be a great deal of benefit to you to go to whatever lengths necessary to find a good herbalist to guide you on to a safe and strong treatment program. There's a short write-up to suggest how you might go about finding such a person here

Note that, if unsure, there is also an article on this site on headaches that goes through a quick checklist for knowing that it really is migraine that needs to be treated - it's found here

Complexity & treating the cause

Since starting out in practice in Christchurch, New Zealand from 1989, many people have come in for help with chronic and recurring migraines and it has been a steep learning curve from the beginning that every case is unique and that very different approaches can be needed to get a good result.

Migraines are a highly complex health problem. To start with, getting a clear diagnosis is tricky. Only about a third of people get the classic visual 'aura' though most can feel the migraine coming in some way or another well before it arrives.

Experiences such as nausea, a pulsing or one-sided pain, an inability to function and sensitivity to sound &/or light are all common but most people get some, rather than all, these classic migraine symptoms.

All that said, everyone who gets migraines suffers from them in some kind of cycle of remission and relapse, and everyone reports levels of pain that are clearly very bad.

Many, perhaps most, people with migraines will have tried different drug therapies and will have had varying levels of success with them. It is certainly the case that the severity of some migraines will warrant a potent pharmaceutical intervention and the observation from practice is that, in such cases, there is a lot to be said for trying a number of different approaches before settling on whatever seems to help the most.

Hopefully, you already have some medication that you can use on an as needed basis that you trust will help to at least a reasonable extent. If so, the following material presents some approaches that should be understood as trying to reach into the cause of the problem. Continue to use medications as required and, all going well, you will cure or at least greatly reduce the frequency and severity of the migraines and need much less of them.

If you do not have any pain or migraine treatments that you can rely on, then none of the following recommendations are any different, only the need to find a way to break the migraine cycle becomes that much more urgent.

There are four main issues that may need work. For some people, there will be a crossover from more than one whilst others will just need to attend to one area to get a lasting shift. In any case, there are no quick fixes here, this kind of approach requires a person to be both patient and methodical, willing to sustain a program of treatment and to honestly assess what difference it makes over a period of weeks or even longer. When people have been willing to do such careful 'work', there have been a great many excellent results.

Tension based migraines

There is a question that you must ask yourself if you get regular migraines which is ‘do they happen more often on the weekends on when I am on holiday?’ If, in all honesty, the answer to that question is yes, then you must know that stress and tension is an important part of the cause of the migraines.

Many migraine sufferers need to release a great deal of tension, especially from their neck and shoulders. This area is put first because, whilst tension will not be the main cause of migraines in many cases, it can be what determines their level of severity.

The thing about tension and its antidote, relaxation, is that everyone needs to find their own way for what best works for them. If you already know works, use it. Don't fall into the trap that people in stress are always prone to which is 'I'll relax when I've resolved my stress" which, of course, never happens.

As well as doing what you know and trust, try some or all of the following to see what makes the biggest difference to help reduce tension and prevent migraines.

Scutellaria lateriflora (Skullcap)


Herbs to release tension

There are some truly great allies in Nature for helping with excess tension, some key favourites are introduced below. Note that it is ok and quite normal to use more than one of these herbs at the same time.

Cramp Bark

Cramp bark can be profoundly good at relaxing tight and cramped muscles anywhere in the body. It may need to be taken quite frequently and certainly in sufficient doses but, when used correctly, its effects can be profound. More information, including how to use it, found here

Skullcap & Passionflower

These two herbs work particularly well as a pair to relax a tense nervous system. More about the intriguing Skullcap here and the beautiful Passionflower here


Valerian doesn't suit everyone, but when it is the right herb for the right person it can have a transformative effect, more here

Californian poppy

Mostly thought of as a 'pain herb', perhaps the main reason Californian poppy can be so helpful for pain is its profoundly relaxing action when taken in sufficient doses, more here

Eschscholtzia californica


Physical therapies

As a general rule about migraine, the tenser the neck and shoulders, the worse the migraines and vice versa, the less the tension, the less the migraine.

Body work and exercise are, of course, not the only ways to release tension from the body, but they are singled out here because their effects are so direct, palpable and immediate. Some people respond best to the passive relaxation of receiving body-work, some people respond best to the active relaxation achieved through exercise, some will benefit equally from both.

Body work

Getting the right kind of body work has been a game-changer for some migraine-sufferers but it rather seems to depend on finding the right person with the right approach!

Many of the recommendations at the top of the page on 'finding a good herbalist' will equally apply here. There surely must be plenty of attention paid to the neck and shoulders and perhaps the head itself. You should know if it is making a significant difference within just 2 or 3 sessions.


Exercise is a key way for many people to destress and relax. Some prefer a vigorous blow-out with relaxation as a natural result afterwards, others prefer exercises that focus on releasing tension within the process. Some people find a good walk works better than anything else, you need to do whatever works best for you.


People know if they have too much anxiety. If this is the area you need to work on, read here


Blood circulation based migraines

Migraines are, in essence, headaches caused by a disturbed blood flow to the head. In many cases, the root cause is an impaired circulation which, in turn, can relate back to the health of the heart or the consistency of the blood itself.

Heart health

If you already know that you have some kind of heart problem, and you also get migraines, then there is a strong possibility that these two issues will be linked.

Heart health is a big subject but, to start with, if you have problems with palpitations or arrhythmias then read here, whereas if you have problems with blood pressure then read here

If you don't have a name or diagnosis but nevertheless know in yourself that something isn't completely ok with your heart then, whatever else you do, start taking a good daily dose of Hawthorn, more here

Crataegus monogyna (Hawthorn leaves & berries)


Get your blood runny

Migraine sufferers often tend to have sticky blood and when they are in migraine territory their blood can get as thick as pea-soup.

Dehydration is a leading cause of sticky blood stay so stay well-hydrated! For most people, this means drinking at least 6 cups of water a day but the way you know you are doing it right is with how often you need to go to the toilet to pass a reasonable amount of urine.

Less than once every two hours is not enough, more than once an hour is too much. To be sure of good hydration, the sweet spot is to need to go every 1-2 hours. Further to water, there are several herbs that are well-proven to make the blood less sticky.

An example of non-sticky blood



One of the best medicines to get the blood less sticky is Cayenne pepper. For some people, Cayenne has been the herb that has made all the difference to their blood finally getting runny and their migraines becoming a thing of the past. It may be best to use in capsule form to achieve the kinds of doses that may be necessary, more here


Ginkgo is not a herb that suits everyone and it comes with a caution but for some migraine sufferers this has been a key remedy to shift their condition. The caution is that Ginkgo not only makes the blood runnier but it also increases blood flow to the head and what that means is that some people will initially get a characteristic headache several days into starting to use the Ginkgo!

Of course, a person who is taking a medicine to help migraine will want to avoid anything that gives them a headache but it must be understood that it happens for a reason, it iisn't a bad sign, and it should soon pass.

The reason is that, as Ginkgo improves blood flow to the brain, it is like a river that pushes against a dam until it breaks and the water runs more freely. If you get a distinctive headache, which would be very different to a migraine, take it as a good sign that a better blood flow is happening to places that needed it. You can decrease the dose of Ginkgo if you get a headache but don't stop using it and, as soon as you are ready, build the dose back up to the recommended amount on the label, more here


Feverfew has become somewhat famous as a migraine remedy and. at least a part of how it appears to work, is in helping to make the blood less sticky. Large doses are not required but consistent dosing is, more info here

Omega-3, Garlic & Ginger

Omega-3 oils in the diet or in supplements (e.g. 3 grams a day) help the blood to be less sticky.

Likewise, Garlic and Ginger are well proven to help the blood be less sticky, amongst other benefits. The following links provide some potent recipe suggestions, along with other information of interest. More about Garlic here, and Ginger here

Tanacetum parthenium (Feverfew)


Allergy-based migraines

Food allergy, or intolerance, is a real and common root-cause for migraine and understanding how to diagnose and treat allergy or intolerance can be vital to getting a cure.

It may be wise to focus on this issue first and foremost when a person had other indicators that they might be suffering from food allergy or intolerance such as:

a) a history of eczema or asthma in childhood
b) allergic 'shiners' i.e. dark rings under the eyes
c) bloating, discomfort and bowel disturbance after eating certain foods
d) a directly perceived association between eating certain foods and getting migraines

The subject of food allergy and intolerance is discussed in more detail here


Hormonal -based migraines

Hormones clearly play a major role for many women who suffer migraines and this is clearly indicated in such signs as:

a) migraines beginning around the menarche; the onset of puberty and menstruation
b) a pattern of migraines occurring at regular times within the menstrual cycle
c) migraines changing in the peri-menopause and stopping after menopause

It is possible to get great help from Nature in this area but I personally do not have a protocol of certain hormonal herbs for migraines, and would be dubious about someone who said they did, because women will significantly vary in what they will respond to.

If you know that your migraines are related to your hormones, then you certainly should turn to herbs for help but proceed with caution and, if you possibly can, get an experienced practitioner to help.

Vitex agnus-castus (one of the key women's hormonal herbs)


Constitutional Health Note

Finally, you might benefit from learning about your constitution to know what kind of foods, herbs, exercises etc. will work especially well for your health in general.

Constitutional health is an old and fascinating way of understanding our differences. There's a brief introduction here and a more detailed section on working out which constitution you are here

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd