Effective Herbs for Migraine Relief

Natural remedies to banish headaches

"Attack is often a word associated with migraine, and for good reason. If you suffer from headaches or know someone who does, you are well aware of its crippling nature" (Ahn and Goadsby, 2013).

It is this "crippling nature" of the headache phase of the migraine attack that drives several of us to seek out complementary therapies like herbs and supplements. Because many of us use herbs and supplements in combination with medications, we need to be aware of interactions between the three and how to use them safely and effectively.

Keep in mind that while studies about the benefits of a number of herbs and supplements for migraine treatment and prevention are increasing, information about herb-supplement-drug interactions is limited. If you are pregnant or breast-feeding, have comorbid diseases or chronic conditions, and/or are taking over-the-counter or prescription medications, you should always consult with your doctor before augmenting your migraine treatment program. You also need to be aware that any herbs or supplements that affect blood clotting should be discontinued at least one-two weeks prior to surgery or other invasive procedures that may cause bleeding, such as extensive dental work. Please check with your doctor for specific directions. For more information about how to use herbs safely, please see "Herbal supplements: What to know before you buy."

In addition, remember that herbs, supplements and medications are only one part of an effective treatment plan for migraine. Many sources indicate that the foundation of any approach to migraine management, holistic or otherwise, should include trigger management, a healthy diet and nutrition, exercise, and healthy lifestyle habits to be successful. Perhaps Dr. Steven Herzog, M.D., member of the American Academy of Neurology and medical director of the Headache Insitute at Texas Neurology in Dallas says it best when speaking about the migraine management puzzle. In an article in Neurolgy Now (Shaw, 2012) he is quoted as saying, "Lifestyle modifications such as exercise, good nutrition, and avoiding triggers-along with complementary therapies such as certain vitamins and supplements all have their place."


Herbal medicine has been practiced for centuries in numerous cultures throughout the world. Today, there are a number of herbal preparations available OTC as tablets, capsules, gels, sprays, ointments, tinctures, elixirs (essential oils) and teas that are used to prevent and treat migraine attacks. Some of the more common ones, include:


  • Thought to have anti-inflammatory properties
  • Believed to have an effect on vessel spasm and blood flow to the brain.
  • Side effects may include headache, indigestion, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, constipation or diarrhea.
  • Should not be used if you have kidney or liver disease, without your doctor's approval (butterbur plant contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which are carcinogenic and hepatotoxic so best to use products that are certified and labeled "PA-free").


  • Believed to have anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Thought to inhibit platelet clumping (blood clotting), influence serotonin levels, and affect vessel tone.
  • Side effects may include abdominal pain, gas, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and nervousness.
  • May increase bleeding times so should not be taken with other blood thinning herbs and medications such as aspirin and Coumadin, without your doctor's approval.

Ginkgo Biloba

  • Thought to inhibit platelet clumping and affect blood flow to the brain.
  • May also have ant-inflammatory properties.
  • Side effects may include dizziness, upset stomach, diarrhea, mouth sores, or irritation around the mouth.
  • May affect insulin and blood sugar levels so should not be taken if you are diabetic, without your doctor's approval.
  • Like feverfew, it should not be taken with other blood thinning herbs and medications, without your doctor's approval.

White willow bark

  • An analgesic with anti-inflammatory properties similar to aspirin.
  • Side effects are similar to aspirin and include stomach upset, ulcers, bleeding, ringing in the ears, and inflammation of the kidney.
  • Should not be taken with other analgesics or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), without your doctor's approval.
  • Should not be taken with other drugs or herbs with blood thinning properties, without your doctor's approval.
  • May make beta blockers and diuretics less effective.
  • May increase blood levels of phenytoin (Dilantin).
  • Should not be taken if you are allergic to aspirin.
  • Should not be given to children as they may develop Reye's syndrome (a disorder that damages the liver and the brain).


  • Thought to have anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Thought to inhibit platelet clumping and affect blood flow to the brain.
  • Should not be taken with any other blood thinning herbs and medications without your doctor's approval.
  • Is a calming herb with ant-inflammatory properties like aspirin.
  • May inhibit platelet clumping and affect blood flow to the brain.
  • Thought to help with nausea.
  • Should not be taken with other blood thinning herbs and medications, without your doctor's approval.


  • The main ingredient, capsaicin, is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties that may interfere with sustance P (a neuropeptide thought to be involved in the pathophysiology of migraine).
  • Thought to affect blood flow to the brain.
  • Should not be taken with other blood thinning herbs and medications, without your doctor's approval.


  • Is a calming herb with anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Is also a nasal decongestant and may relieve the sinus congestion associated with migraine.
  • May help with nausea and vomiting.

Lemon balm, Valerian, and Skull cap

  • Thought to help with muscle relaxation and sedation.
  • Should not be taken with opiods (narcotic), combination drugs that contain opiods and/or barbiturates, muscle relaxants, or other CNS depressants without your doctor's permission as can increase your risk for respiratory depression, hypotension, coma, and accidental overdose.
  • *You should know that according to the "Evidence-based guidelines update: NSAIDs and other complementary treatments for episodic migraine prevention in adults" see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22529203, Butterbur is the only herb recommended as a Level A Complementary Therapy for migraine prevention. Feverfew is mentioned as a Level B Complementary Therapy and is thought to be probably efective.

Chinese Herbs

  • Chinese herbs are classified as balancing, cleansing, or regenerating tonics, medicinal herbs, and potent medicinal herbs. Tonic herbs are used to support organ network functioning and prevent imbalances. Medicinal herbs are used to correct organ network imbalances and alleviate illnesses. Potent medicinal herbs are powerful healing agents used by licensed practitioners to treat more serious illnesses.
  • Herbs that may be used by a licensed practitioner to treat migraine may include chrysanthemum, angelica sinensis (Don Quai), gardenia, skullcap, motherwort, abalone shell, gamber vine, gastrodia, and China root. It is important for you to know that a variety of herbs are often combined into formulas unique to the individual. Therefore, they should not be transferred from one person to another as a combination that does not match your individual diagnosis and symptoms can be harmful. As well, to avoid interactions, your doctor should be aware of all the prescribed herbs you are taking and your practitioner should have a list of your medications.

This article is part of the series "Bridging The Gap Between East and West: Priciniple II: Herbs, Supplements, and Medications For Maintaining and Restoring Optimal Health With Migraine."


Related Articles:

Herbal Medicine: Safety Basics

Headache Remedies: 10 Ways to Manage Your Migrane Symptoms

How to Eliminate Migraines & Headaches in Less Than a Week

7 Other Reasons for a Headache


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Ahn, A.,H., M.D., PhD. & Goadsby, M.D., Ph.D. (2013). "Migraine and Sleep: New Connections." The Dana Foundation. 

Murray, S.,M.S., R.N. Migraine: Identify Your Triggers, Break Your Dpendence on Medication, Take Back Your Life. San Francisco: Conari Press, 2013.

Shaw, G. (2012). "Heading Off Migraine: What's the evidence for non-pharmaceutical approaches?" Neurology Now, Volume 8 -Issue3 - p 23-30.

Sharron Murray is a health and wellness author. A person with migraines, her most recent book, Migraine: Identify Your Triggers, Break Your Dependence on Medication, Take Back Your Life-An integrative Self-Care Plan For Wellness (2013), is a Conari Press publication.

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