Herbal Remedies for Tension Headaches

Tension headaches arise from tightened muscles in the head, neck and shoulders. You may feel a dull pain or pressure in your forehead or back of your head, along with muscle tenderness and a loss of appetite. Doctors aren’t sure what causes tension headaches, but they may be due to changes in brain chemicals triggered by stress, depression, poor posture or jaw tightening, according to Mayoclinic.com. Conventional treatments may include analgesics and sedative drugs, but they can have unpleasant side effects. Herbal remedies for tension headaches may relieve pain and help prevent recurring headaches. Consult your health care provider before starting herbal therapy.

Passionflower, or Passiflora incarnata, is a perennial creeping vine with delicate purple flowers. Traditional healers use the leaves and stems to treat nervous conditions, insomnia and gastrointestinal disorders. Active ingredients include passaflorine, apigenin, rutin, vitexin and the pyrone derivative called maltol, which has a sedating effect on the central nervous system, according to "Medicinal Plants of the World" written by Ben-Erik van Wyk and Michael Wink. Dr. Linda B. White and Steven Foster, authors of "The Herbal Drugstore" recommend a tincture or tea to relax tight muscles and calm the mind. If your tension headache interferes with sleep, passionflower is the herb of choice, according to clinical herbalist David Hoffmann. He also recommends combining it with Jamaican dogwood or hops, both sedative herbs. Do not use passionflower if you are taking medication for depression or insomnia.

Valerian, or Valeriana officinalis, is a tranquillizing herb native to Europe and Asia. Herbalists use the roots to treat headache, insomnia, stress, premenstrual syndrome, menopause and nervous disorders. Valerian is a potent relaxant, possibly due to the iridoid alkaloids called valepotriates. These chemicals bind to receptors in the brain to reduce anxiety and produce a calming effect similar to benzodiazepine drugs, according to "Medicinal Plants of the World." Clinical herbalist Penelope Ody recommends valerian for tension headaches because it eases tension, muscle cramps and anxiety. "The Herbal Drugstore" recommends a tincture or capsules standardized to 0.5 percent valerian essential oil. Do not use during pregnancy or if you are taking sedative or antidepressant drugs.

Willow, or Salix alba, is a deciduous tree whose bark produces medicinal chemicals similar to aspirin. Folk healers use the bark to treat fever, flu, rheumatism, headache and other painful inflammatory disorders. The active ingredients are salicylates, which are metabolized to salicylic acid, a chemical similar to acetylsalicylic acid, or aspirin. Willow works by inhibiting cyclooxygenase, or COX, an enzyme involved in inflammation and pain, and unlike aspirin, it does not irritate the stomach, according to "Medicinal Plants of the World." "The Herbal Drugstore" recommends willow capsules or tea to relieve tension headaches. Do not use willow if you are allergic to aspirin. Consult your doctor before taking willow if you have a heart or gastrointestinal disorder, diabetes or are taking NSAIDs or blood thinning medicine.