5 Herbs for Headaches

Published on January 28, 2023

By Kristen Boye BS, Natural Health

Kristen Boye

Kristen Boye is a natural health expert, writer, copywriter, and editor. Kristen was raised on an organic farm in British Columbia which inspired her life’s work. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Health, is a Certified Natural Foods Chef, co-owner of a medicinal herb farm, and is a natural foods and children’s health advocate. Kristen lives with her husband and two children on their medicinal herb farm in Western North Carolina.


Headaches are one of the most common types of pain. REF#400

Everyone experiences them at some point, and they can range from mild and infrequent to severe and debilitating.

According to the World Health Organization, headache disorders, characterized as frequent headaches, are also prevalent. REF#400

For example, approximately:

  • 1 in 20 people suffer daily, or nearly daily headaches
  • 1 in 7 from migraine headaches, which are three times more common in women

    Why are headaches so common? 

    It’s complicated, but part of the reason is there are so many headache triggers.

    From fragrances to dehydration, stress to low blood sugar, and hormonal fluctuations to lack of sleep, the causes of headaches vary from person to person.

    Whether your headaches are few and far between or completely life-disruptive, you know you’ll do just about anything to get relief.

    Unfortunately, headache medications, including over-the-counter pain pills, come with a long list of potential side effects ranging from mild stomach upset to severe organ damage. REF#401

    For this reason, many people seek natural alternatives for headaches.

    In this article, you’ll learn about five herbs for headache relief, how to take them, and which may be best suited for your needs.

    5 Helpful Herbs for Headaches

    Many herbs have been traditionally used to prevent headaches and help ease head pain and tension.

    They all work best when combined with a healthy lifestyle that addresses some of the causal factors behind headaches, including REF#402 REF#403

    • Staying hydrated
    • Eating a healthy, whole-foods diet
    • Getting enough sleep
    • Avoiding processed foods that may contain triggers such as MSG, caffeine, and excess sodium
    • Avoiding fragrances
    • Eating regularly
    • Managing stress healthfully

    The following are five helpful herbs for headaches backed by research.

    1: Feverfew for Headaches

    Feverfew, also known as Featherfew and Bachelor’s Buttons, is one of the best-known herbs for headaches.*

    Feverfew belongs to the daisy family, is native to Western Asia and the Balkans (but is now cultivated worldwide), and has been used extensively in traditional European herbalism. REF#404 REF#405

    Parthenolide is the active plant compound believed to be responsible for Feverfew’s headache benefits.*

    Parthenolide has been shown in multiple studies to work on pain by potentially: REF#406 REF#407

    • Combating the widening of blood vessels that can cause head pain
    • Hindering production of prostaglandins, molecules that can cause pain and inflammation
    • Stopping smooth muscle contractions

    Several studies have demonstrated Feverfew’s positive effects on preventing headaches and helping ease discomfort. REF#408

    However, as indicated by a 2015 review covering six placebo-controlled Feverfew studies published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, three trials reported positive effects from feverfew, while two trials did not find significant differences between feverfew and placebo. REF#409

    So, does Feverfew work for headaches or not?

    It appears, based on traditional use, historical evidence, and modern research, that Feverfew can be helpful for headaches.*

    However, it may not work for every person and every type of headache. 

    It also may work best when combined with complementary herbs, such as White Willow Bark. As indicated by a study published in Clinical Drug Investigation. REF#410

    In this study, participants were given a combination of Feverfew and White Willow Bark twice a day for 12 weeks.

    Participants reported fewer headaches, with less pain and shorter duration.

    You can find Feverfew in Gaia Herbs Turmeric Supreme® Pain and Turmeric Supreme Pain® PM

    2. Turmeric and Curcumin for Headaches and Tension

    Turmeric, and its active component Curcumin, is one of the best-known Ayurvedic herbs for pain and reducing occasional inflammation from normal wear and tear.* REF#411

    Turmeric contains powerful antioxidants known as curcuminoids, of which curcumin is the primary active component.

    Curcumin is believed to work by its potential to inhibit enzymes, such as cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), lipoxygenase (LOX), and inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS), involved in inflammation processes. REF#412

    Curcumin has also shown promise for headache sufferers.*

    A 2021 study published in the Integrative Journal of Preventive Medicine titled: “Effects of Curcumin Supplementation on Clinical Features and Inflammation, in Migraine Patients: A Double-Blind Controlled, Placebo Randomized Clinical Trial” followed 44 women with headaches who received 500 mg Curcumin twice a day, or placebo supplements for eight weeks. 

    Researchers found the group taking Curcumin had a significant reduction in pro-inflammatory markers such as calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP)---a chemical signal in the brain known as a neuropeptide, REF#413 REF#414 and interleukin-6 (IL-6)---a member of the pro-inflammatory cytokine family. REF#415

    This was a small study, but its methodology and results are encouraging.

    Another animal study published in the Biomedical Research Institute found curcumin also had beneficial effects on headaches when injected. REF#416

    The researchers in this study concluded: “Our study demonstrates a superior activity of curcumin not only versus control but also versus Propranolol and Indomethacin.”

    A 2020 review published in Phytotherapy Research noted curcumin might be helpful for headaches when used preventatively. REF#417

    Research on Turmeric and curcumin for headaches is still in its infancy. 

    However, thousands of studies demonstrate its antioxidant properties and supportive effects on normal inflammatory function. REF#418

    This research, coupled with its historical use and the evidence we have, may make it worth considering for headaches.

    The effects of Turmeric may also be enhanced by other complementary herbs, such as Boswellia.*

    3. Boswellia for Headaches 

    Boswellia, also known as Indian Frankincense or Frankincense, is a gummy resin found in the inner bark of the Boswellia tree.

    This shrubby tree is native to India, North Africa, and the Middle East and is mentioned frequently throughout various religious books. REF#419

    Boswellia was a cherished plant among the ancient Ayurvedic (Indian) and Asian wellness practitioners. 

    It was also used as currency among royals and the elite, which explains why people risked the desert heat and poisonous tree snakes to collect its precious resin.

    Boswellia was prized for its versatility in supporting wellness and was extensively used for various conditions.* REF#420

    Science has discovered several active plant compounds in Boswellia responsible for its health benefits.

    The main active compounds are called boswellic acids, which have been shown to support normal inflammatory response, inhibit pro-inflammatory enzymes, and help with pain.* REF#420

    You may recall from the previous section that Turmeric and curcumin may also work on inflammatory enzymes, which is why it’s often paired with Boswellia for pain. 

    There is some evidence they can potentially work better together to support normal inflammatory response because they may inhibit a greater variety of pro-inflammatory processes. REF#421

    Although the evidence on Boswellia’s benefits to inflammatory function and pain is well-established, there are limited studies on headaches.

    However, a small study published in Cephalagia: An International Journal on Headaches showed Boswellia was effective for cluster headaches when given 350-700 mg three times daily for a total of 1050-2100mg for up to 3 months. REF#422

    Ultimately more research is needed to draw a definitive conclusion.

    However, given that Boswellia appears to support key inflammatory pathways related to headaches and muscle tension and its long-standing success in traditional cultures, it is a headache ally worth considering.*

    4. Passionflower for Headache Relief & Sleep

    Passionflower, with its exotic purple blooms and green fruits, grows wild in fields across the southern United States and midwest.

    It has been used for centuries in folklore as a nervine relaxant to combat stress, promote calm, support sleep, ease tension and headaches, promote cognitive health, and soothe the nerves.*

    The science on passionflower is somewhat scarce. However, it has shown promise for helping ease neuropathic pain.*

    Neuropathic pain results from damage to the nervous system and can cause pain throughout the body, including the brain. REF#423

    The study titled: “Passiflora incarnata attenuation of neuropathic allodynia and vulvodynia apropos GABA-ergic and opioidergic antinociceptive and behavioral mechanisms” found Passionflower may be useful for treating neuropathic pain. 

    Researchers believe its actions are due to GABAergic support mechanisms within the plant. 

    GABAergic neurons are essential to brain development and many aspects of brain function, including the manufacturing of GABA, a neurotransmitter involved in pain. REF#424

    This small but significant study has shone a bright light on the potential of Passionflower to support the body’s natural pain-relieving abilities.

    Studies have also demonstrated Passionflower’s benefits for other headache triggers, including stress, occasional anxiety, hormonal fluctuations, and sleep.*

    For example, the results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled investigation titled: “The effects of Passiflora incarnata (passionflower) herbal tea on subjective sleep quality” showed that consumption of Passionflower tea supported healthy sleep in adults with occasional sleep quality issues. REF#425

    Another study compared the benefits of St. John’s Wort and Passionflower for menopausal symptoms, including headache and insomnia, and found both herbs were equally beneficial. REF#426

    There is still much to learn about how Passionflower may help with headaches.

    However, it does appear to provide a broad range of possible benefits for various types of headaches and triggers.*

    5. Chamomile for Headache Pain

    Chamomile is a popular calming herb found abundantly in teas and essential oils.*

    It has a long history of traditional use to support inflammatory response, healthy digestion, stress response, and promote sleep and relaxation.*

    Research has shown Chamomile has many beneficial plant compounds that support normal inflammatory function, including terpenoid antioxidants, flavonoids, and glucosides.* REF#427

    Studies have also shown Chamomile’s potential benefits for acute headaches, especially when used topically.* REF#428 REF#429

    Chamomile has also demonstrated efficacy for digestive health, sleep, stress or occasional anxiety, and more.* REF#430

    Some herbalists and healthcare practitioners are partial to Chamomile essential oil for headaches, while others recommend a Chamomile tea, tincture, or compress. 

    All of these preparations may be appropriate depending on how you respond to the smell of Chamomile.

    For some people, Chamomile essential oil smells too strong and may even trigger a headache! While other people swear by its benefits.

    Therefore, if you’re sensitive to smells or find they can trigger a headache, consider starting out with a non-essential oil version.

    How to Get Started Using Herbs for Headaches

    As you’ve probably gleaned from the information provided, there’s no magic herbal bullet for headaches.

    Some herbs, such as Turmeric and curcumin, appear to work best when used proactively.* 

    While others, such as Chamomile or Boswellia, may work well during a headache and/or when taken regularly.*

    Passionflower may be most suitable for those with hormonal-triggered headaches, and Feverfew may be your best bet for broad-spectrum preventative and acute headache support.*

    Plus, many herbs have the potential to be more effective when combined with other complementary herbs and lifestyle practices.*

    In other words, it usually takes some experimentation to determine which herb or combination will work best for you.

    Gaia Herbs has several products featuring these herbs for headaches, including*:

    Uncovering the root cause of your headaches is also helpful in determining the best herbs and lifestyle options.

    A skilled doctor or healthcare practitioner can be invaluable in helping investigate causal factors and recommending a custom approach.

    Want to learn more about herbs for headaches, stress, sleep, and more?

    Check out our Blog and Herbal Reference Guide, for more information, herbal wisdom, and healthy living tips.


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