Podcast 061: Holistic Herbalism for Chronic Headaches & Migraines
This week Ryn & Katja share some thoughts on how to address chronic headaches – not just “getting rid of it” in the acute moment, but reducing the frequency & severity of your headaches across the board. This will require some changes to your habits around food, sleep, movement, and stress – but herbs are there to help you every step of the way. Listen in to learn more!
Our weekly listener question this time is about blood-thinning herbs: how much is too much?
Mentioned in this podcast:
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Katja: 00:00:14 Hi. I’m Katja.
Ryn: 00:00:23 and I’m Ryn.
Katja: 00:00:26 And we’re her at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.
Ryn: 00:00:47 And on the internet everywhere. And we aren’t doctors we are herbalists and holistic health educators.
Katja: 00:00:47 The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice, no state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. So these discussions are for educational purposes only. Everybody’s body is different, so the things we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you, but they will give you some information to think about and research more.
Ryn: 00:00:48 We want to remind you that good health is your own personal responsibility. The final decision in considering any course of therapy, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by your physician, is always yours.
Katja: 00:00:58 All right. Well, I’m pretty excited because we are going to talk about headaches and migraines today.
Ryn: 00:02:27 And because it’s a new year!
Katja: 00:02:27 And because it’s a new year!
Ryn: 00:02:27 It’s a new podcasting year.
Katja: 00:02:27 It is. We had a request from a listener in December to talk about headaches and migraines and it’s a pretty popular topic actually because it turns out that lots of people get headaches. I used to be one of them. That sucked. Before we start though, I have a couple of shout outs.
Ryn: 00:02:27 Let’s hear them.
Katja: 00:02:27 First to candlelight and bookmarks on Instagram. And I would just like to note that’s the best handle ever.
Ryn: 00:02:27 That’s a good one.
Katja: 00:02:27 That’s a really good one. Also to Megan in Albany who wrote to us about our clinical and business mentorship programs and you still have a minute. We do have two spaces left in clinical and I think two left in business. And so if you want to get you in on either of those two mentorships write to us right away. firstname.lastname@example.org. Got It. And also to Nikki486 who also weighed in on the pecan pronunciation debate from episode. I don’t know what was going on. Yes, Nikki’s on my side, by the way. So obviously she’s right. Yes. Fair enough. Excellent.
Ryn: 00:02:27 We had an idea we wanted to float with you all.
Katja: 00:02:30 Yeah.
Ryn: 00:02:31 And that is to do a giveaway. What do you think? Should we give you away some stuff?
Katja: 00:02:35 Should we give you stuff? We’ve done giveaways on Instagram before, but this’ll be the first podcast giveaway. Kind of excited about it. So here’s the deal. The gods of the podcast demand a tribute in the form of reviews, that’s what they want and the reviews allow people to find the podcast more easily. And so what we’re gonna do is for the next week, so this will be from today, which is a date, and I should probably have a calendar in front of me…
Ryn: 00:03:09 January 4th.
Katja: 00:03:10 Okay. So from January 4th until January 11th, which is next Friday, we are going to take everyone who writes a review on apple podcasts, which I think is the App formerly known as iTunes. Everybody who writes a review for us there will be put into a hat and on Friday the 11th, I will draw out…
Ryn: 00:03:35 We’ll get a really big hat and we’ll go around and collect all of you.
Katja: 00:03:40 We’ll put all of you in the hat!
Ryn: 00:03:40 We’ll put you into the big hat we will shake you up real good. Whoever climbs out first is the winner. That’s how that works.
Katja: 00:03:47 Yeah…no, we’ll put their names on a piece of paper. That’s how that goes. Yes. And then we will announce it in next week’s episodes. Okay. So did you get that? That was leave a review…
Ryn: 00:04:04 Right. And they win something.
New Speaker: 00:04:04 Oh right. They win something.!
Ryn: 00:04:05 We didn’t tell him that part.
Katja: 00:04:08 We will excitedly, delightedly send you either a deck of our herbal oracle cards or a signed copy of our book. Whichever one you want.
Ryn: 00:04:18 Yeah. You get to pick. So, get on the reviewing and we’ll let the winner know next time.
Katja: 00:04:26 Awesome.
Ryn: 00:04:27 Cool. All right, so also, as we’re moving into this new year, we actually started this last week, but we want to begin each podcast with a listener question.
Katja: 00:04:39 Or student questions….
Ryn: 00:04:39 Or a student question. Yeah. So this week’s comes from Samantha, who’s enrolled in our Materia Medica program, and she asks, “hello, I’m new to the course and I just finished the videos on ginger and cinnamon. Those are like right up at the beginning. My dad has arthritis and lots of knee, shoulder and back pain. I told him a few months ago to take turmeric and he told me last night that he feels less pain from his arthritis. Yay. Now after learning about ginger, I want to tell him to try to add that as well. But I was curious about the blood thinning effects and if this can become a problem, if someone is taking or eating too many herbs daily that have blood thinning effects, can this be dangerous or how much of blood thinning herbs would be dangerous? And even more on this question, I myself had been drinking up to a quart of Saint John’s wort tea every day and have been eating lots and lots of ginger and cinnamon. Can this be too much?” Hmm.
Katja: 00:05:35 Also she said, “thanks for all your help, I love the course so far and I’m excited to continue on.”
Ryn: 00:05:40 Yes, she did say that.
Katja: 00:05:41 Which we’re very excited about.
Ryn: 00:05:42 Yes, yes. Thank you.
Katja: 00:05:44 So this is what I answered her. She asked this question in the discussion forum, which is interface right next to the video. And when you type your questions in there, we get back to you within 24 hours. And this is what I wrote back to her. I said, “As long as he’s not taking pharmaceuticals and he’s not about to have surgery, I never worry about the quote ‘blood thinning’ actions of plants. It’s not the same mechanism of action that pharmaceuticals have, which is to say it’s not directly inhibiting clotting ability, for example. Instead, the various plants that have quote, blood thinning actions, and I keep saying quote because it’s just not the same as when we talk about it as a pharmaceutical.”
Katja: 00:06:30 Okay. Anyway, the various plants that have those achieve that by actions like reducing inflammation, which means less cholesterol is required in the blood vessels because cholesterol is a damage is a response to damage in the arterial walls. So that would yield less thick blood or by improving the way the body metabolizes sugars, which creates less thick blood because the blood is less full of sugar. So literally it is less syrupy, et cetera. These actions aren’t about forcing something to not happen. They are about allowing something that should happen, happen more easily, and they don’t have the same dangerous cumulative effect that you can get by piling onto pharmaceutical blood thinners. Now that said, garlic is a good example here. Let’s say you were eating buckets of garlic, that’s great, but now let’s say you cut yourself cooking. Yes, it probably will take a little longer to clot up then you would expect, but that’s not because the clotting factor has been inhibited. It’s just because syrupy blood is easier to catch than clean, free flowing blood. Blood that’s really sugary clots very fast anyway because just like if you spill some syrup on your counter when you come back not too long later, it’s already hardened. It’s the same in your body. Free flowing blood just takes a little longer to clot and that’s one of the reasons they say to discontinue herbs a few weeks before surgery, just to make things easier on the surgeons with regard to controlling the blood. So as long as he’s not taking pharmaceuticals, let him have as much as he wants, he can just cook with it, mmmm curry, or take capsules. GAIA is a brand here in the United States that I particularly like and they have a turmeric and ginger capsule. I’m certain you can get them in Germany,. is what the student is in Germany. With the St Johns Wart. Again, as long as you’re not taking pharmaceuticals, feel free to go crazy. I typically drink two to three quarts of tea daily, sometimes more and I never drink tea by any measure less than a French press basicallly. If you’re taking pharmaceuticals, then St John’s wort should be avoided because it stimulates liver function in a way that it will clear the pharmaceuticals from your body so quickly that it will reduce your dose and that’s a problem, especially if you’re on something like organ rejection drugs or on something with withdrawal symptoms like SSRIs. But if you’re not taking anything, then St John’s wort is fantastic. Drink all you want. Again, the actions of Saint John’s wort are primarily in the guts and liver stimulating them to do the work that they would normally do anyway, just more efficiently and you can’t really overdose on efficiency. One note though, there definitely are low dose plants where this kind of strategy would not be appropriate. Lobelia is one. It’s a fantastic herb that is literally a lifesaver for me because I haven’t anaphylactic shock allergy and I work with Lobelia to control that, but too much and it’s strongly emetic which means to cause marketing and that’s not a problem and it doesn’t mean that it’s toxic, but you just don’t want to vomit unless you want to vomit. And if that’s not your goal, then you don’t want to take large doses of lobelia. You can take lobelia every day just in small amounts, but most of the herbs that we work with and that we teach about are safe in large quantities and the ones that you need to moderate, we’ll make sure to make a strong point about it in the videos. And then definitely always ask if you have a question or if you want more clarification.
Katja: 00:10:02 Now, having said all that, I suppose it is possible that somebody could actually go so crazy, like I don’t know how you could consume… you’d have to work really hard to consume too much cinnamon, like enough that it could hurt you. You’d have to really work hard at it. There are actually some cases in the scientific literature of people who were like in that sort of crazy extreme place. I’m thinking of some licorice cases that I’ve seen. One was the woman was eating licorice can not candy like, like Twizzlers, but the extracts.
Ryn: 00:10:45 Yeah, the Zotts.
Katja: 00:10:46 Yeah, that Italian little…
Ryn: 00:10:50 You make a liquid extract of licorice and then you concentrate it and dry it out into these hard little pellets and each one is like the size of a…
Katja: 00:11:01 Half a pea.
Ryn: 00:11:03 Sure. They’re pretty tiny, but they’re bursting with flavor and you know, normally you have one or two at a time and maybe a few in a day, but the case you’re thinking of, somebody who was consuming a couple boxes of that candy every day. That’s basically the equivalent of multiple ounces of licorice tincture.
Katja: 00:11:22 Right. You couldn’t possibly consume that much licorice. It’s just that it’s in such a concentrated form. And then have even that concentrated form is not necessarily bad. It’s just that the person consumed like such a large quantity of it.
Ryn: 00:11:38 Right. And that wasn’t a blood thinning issue. That was more with blood pressure cause licorice can have some effects that way. In terms of like, are you going to get yourself into a dangerous position by taking too much or too many blood thinning agents, or herbs anyway. You would have to really work at it. It’s not generally something you would stumble into with that caveat that if you are working with standardized extracts of herbs, especially ones that are standardizing in such a way as to artificially concentrate a particular subset of the chemistry inside of the herbs, then yeah, at that point there’s potential. You could run into some problems.
Katja: 00:12:19 In that case, you’d probably be taking capsules, then we’d be taking a lot of them.
Ryn: 00:12:23 Right. There would be some kind of kind of manufactured products. So this would not be relevant to home use of herbs, tea, tincture, other kinds of a kitchen spreparation.
Katja: 00:12:33 You can definitely have curry three meals a day. Yeah, you’ll be fine. Excellent. Well, Samantha, thank you so much for your question because that was really great.
Ryn: 00:12:43 Yeah. All right. So let’s turn to today’s topic and let’s talk about headaches and migraines. And we’re focusing here specifically on chronic headaches. You know, and maybe let’s just say real quick, when it’s an acute headache, there are certain herbs that are very famous for being helpful. The first thing that you’re taught to reach for, if you have a repertory book and flipped a headache, then you’ll see there willow bark and you’ll see feverfew for sure. You might see meadowsweet. Some people might refer you to a Jamaican Dogwood. So there’s a variety of mechanisms that these herbs have to offer. Many of the ones that are recommended most frequently in that regard are plants that have some analgesic effect. So whether that’s willow and meadowsweet because of the salicylate content, they have acting in a way that’s similar to aspirin by reducing inflammation and having a cooling and a draining effect, or if it’s something like say jamaican dogwood, that’s manipulating the rate of firing of nerves that are conveying the pain signal, or feverfew, which is really, a little more appropriate for the more chronic conditions and works best when you are taking it on a regular basis. So we’ll swing back around to fever few a little later. Now any of those herbs you can try when you have an acute headache and you might get some relief from them. If you get your acute headache every now and again every couple of months or something, it might take you several rounds before you figure out your pattern. Or it could be that each one of those headaches is coming from a different source. Maybe today’s is because you’re hung over. Maybe tomorrow’s is because, well, you didn’t really nourish yourself too well or rehydrate your system, then you’re still a little dehydrated.
Katja: 00:14:31 Yeah. That’s it. That is the thing that headaches are tricky because of exactly that. There are lots of causes. That always sort of falls into my personal category of “the human body can only break down in so many ways.” Right. So there’s this whole category of things that can happen, that result in a headache, even though they’re not necessarily related items, it’s just you can only break a finite number of ways, like dehydration or you ate something that didn’t sit with you or you ate too much or too little or didn’t sleep enough.
Ryn: 00:15:08 Yeah. And so for each of those cases, if you can figure out what’s most likely to be causing it, like, “oh, I ate that stuff. I wasn’t really sure, and now today I’ve got this headache” or you know, they told me that that was gluten free bread, but maybe it actually wasn’t. If you know you have that sensitivity, so you may be able to puzzle about on a case by case basis or you may just throw a bunch of quote unquote “headache herbs” at the problem and see what sticks. Right. And if it’s a one off thing, that’s fine, but when it’s a chronic issue that’s a bit of a different situation and you’re going to want to narrow it down a little more precisely.
Katja: 00:15:47 Yeah. When I’m thinking about dealing with chronic headaches, I like to think about the studies they were doing when they were trying to find the cause of Gulf War syndrome. They were testing out all kinds of different things to see if those things caused Gulf War Syndrome in rats. And I will spare you my whole tirade on animal experiments right now, but you can just imagine that I am doing it. But anyway, they exposed the rats to depleted uranium and they didn’t get Gulf War Syndrome. They gave them the whole big vaccine cocktail that the soldiers got before they deployed. And that didn’t cause it. They exposed them to all kinds of things and none of them gave the rats Gulf War Syndrome. How they even know, I don’t know, but it didn’t and then they found some rats who were stressed out and sleep deprived. And again, as if all the other rats weren’t stressed out, like, I dunno, where did they even find these rats? Oh look, there are rats under the stairs. It wasn’t like… They didn’t just find some rats that were sleep deprived and stressed out. I think what they mean is that they created conditions to stress out, sleep deprive rats. But anyway, when they exposed the rats to the other factors and the stress and the sleep deprivation, that’s when they got the little rat equivalent to Gulf War Syndrome. So that has always been a really instructive, write up. You know, you found that a bunch of years ago and you were telling that story one day and it just really hit me as such a good explanation for so many things because that’s how the human body works. And when I’m thinking about chronic headaches, I really am thinking about them as a manifestation of a level of stress that’s more than the body can handle combined with a continuation of stressors beyond that point. So like if you were sleeping plenty and you were eating good food and you were exposed to depleted uranium, that wouldn’t be good for you, but you wouldn’t get Gulf War Syndrome, you know, like that is the theory that they came up with. But in a situation, if we can like sort of have some concrete terms around a headache for this, let’s take for example, a person who is chronically dehydrated, which is super common in our culture. A person who’s overworked, maybe they’re only getting seven hours of sleep a night, maybe they’re trying to manage a career and parenting or elder care, which is really difficult. And gets further in the way of trying to take care of your own self. And maybe this person turns to quick food options because they don’t have time to cook for themselves, which is completely reasonable. And that baseline doesn’t ever really go away for a long period of time. So if we take a human who is in that kind of situation and we add one little thing on top of that big pile that will yield giant migraines, or a chronic pattern of migraines or whatever. And the reason that this perspective is helpful to me in terms of fixing chronic headaches is that doing the work to resolve them is huge. It is, frankly, it is a lot of work. It’s a lot of big changes in multiple different areas of your life. And those changes have to be sustained. And that task can feel quite daunting. But there’s two ways to look at it. One is this, “oh, I’m going to have to restrict foods and restrict activities in order to sleep more and restrict how much I work.”
Katja: 00:19:43 And that kind of a pattern of thinking is not a very motivating picture. That’s a really upsetting picture. They’ll give you the feeling that you’ve lost control of your life and that’s like these headaches are stealing your life from you or whatever. But the other way to think about this is to say, “if I nourish my body and if I get sufficient sleep and if I allow myself time to move my body in the fresh air and if I make sure that I get a little bit of time for myself, even though I’m also responsible for the care of others, then I will have a strong, healthy body that can do the things I need it to do.” And to me, looking at it in that perspective sounds way better. It’s much more motivational and it has the added benefit of being true.
Ryn: 00:20:34 And that’s always nice, right?
Katja: 00:20:36 Right. Like, that’s where i come back to this Gulf War Syndrome study and write up because that restriction model is saying, “I believe that the amount of stress I have is reasonable and my body is broken because it can’t handle this normal amount of stress.” But what we’re really saying is the amount of stress that we have, especially in that example that I mentioned above, is not actually reasonable. Humans do not sit all day in chairs. Humans don’t eat things in crinkly packages. We don’t breathe recycled air. What I’m really saying is fish don’t walk and camels don’t live under water. These are fundamental facts about the kind of animals that we are. And if we recognize that we’re asking our bodies to do things that are actually kind of insane, there are things that our bodies don’t actually do, even if it’s common.
Katja: 00:21:29 Yes. Lots and lots of people do sit all day. In fact, many humans sit all day, but a human doesn’t sit all day, you know? So if we recognize that this isn’t the way that humans live, then we can be way more motivated to support what we can start to see as the superhero things that we’re doing in our everyday lives. We can say “I am being exposed to way too many stressors. I am asking myself on an everyday basis to be a superhero. And if I’m going to do that, I need to provide my body with what it needs to have that kind of strength.” Or in other words, think about a professional athlete like an Olympian or whatever. They have a huge team of people supporting their body. Like just your average person doesn’t come home from work and then go like win track and field gold medals, like you alone cannot do that. You need a team of people supporting your body so that your body can do that. And if your life is kind of like an Olympic sport, and I think that’s really common these days, especially if you’re working in parenting and all the stuff, then you actually do need to provide a lot of support for your body in order to do those things. All right. So that’s the way I like to think about it. Let’s take that into the practical realm. This where we’re really going to talk about the four pillars of holistic health that we love to talk about.
Ryn: 00:23:04 So that’s going to be sleep, stress management, food and movement. Those are the things that we want to really be thinking about are the major areas of investigation that we need to do if our own lives, if we’re going to resolve a chronic problem like migraines or, well, any chronic health problem really.
Katja: 00:23:23 Yeah. But migraines are really tenacious. So that we need to make sure that we are dealing with making changes in each of those areas so that we recognize, “okay, I am supporting my body as much as I can in all the different ways.”
Ryn: 00:23:46 And we all want to minimize this either or say like, “oh, just change your entire life style.. No problem.” Maybe a little bit about your story would help people to understand what that might look like.
Katja: 00:23:57 Yeah. Because on one hand, I really am going to say change your entire life. But, well, let me just tell my story here. I used to get chronic migraines. I was a software engineer. I worked at a really successful but very high intensity startup company. There was a ton of stress. There was especially a lot of stress around being one of the very few women in the field, this was 25 years ago. Additionally, at that time, I had a lot of stress in my family life and in my social life at the time. And I should note that I was eating cheese Pringles and Cocoa Pebbles basically as if they were food groups. Plus I was 20, so I was sleeping, not at all. Like never. I went out every night and …yeah.
Ryn: 00:24:51 Yeah, you had a lot going on.
Katja: 00:24:52 I did. I didn’t know, I was 22 or something. Anyway, finally I just couldn’t take it anymore. So I gave myself one year to change everything. Now I was only just starting to play with herbs at this point, just barely. So this was not like if I today would say “I give myself a year to change everything,” it would be really different than how I did it then. But then it was just like, “I cannot live this way.” What can I possibly change about my life? So I moved from Boston to a farm in Vermont and that was a pretty drastic change. I started eating all organic food. I had not yet figured out my food sensitivities, but at least I was no longer eating cheese Pringles and Cocoa Pebbles. I started going outside every single day and I would hike up the mountain or walk along the river.
Katja: 00:25:49 And in doing so, I also was removing myself from the social stress and from the immediate family stress and from my computer and from my TV. I very much limited how much I used a computer in a day. And of course, this was before…
Ryn: 00:26:06 Smartphones?
Katja: 00:26:09 Long before smartphones. I got rid of TV altogether, so that wasn’t a thing and that actually is going to be something I talk more about because, not because TV is evil or whatever, but because it was changing the way that I was using my eye muscles and that played a big role and also important here, I started making art every day and I started cooking every meal for myself. I didn’t buy food or take out or there weren’t any restaurants near where we lived and we didn’t even have a microwave. So what I’m saying is that I basically turned my entire life upside down.
Ryn: 00:26:52 And before you had done all that, what was your migraine frequency and severity like?
Katja: 00:27:00 Probably four nights a week and I would get the flashy lights beforehand. If you have migraines, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t have migraines, it’s sorta like you’re,… it’s like a strobe light in your eyes. And for me there was always a checker board involved. There’s different patterns that happen, but mine was always a checkerboard, and a lot of nausea. I probably had some dizziness with it, but I really couldn’t even stand, so I would just get in bed and I don’t really remember feeling a lot of dizziness. I just think that if I had tried to work through it or like stand through it, I would have probably felt that. And it was definitely like, “my day is over now.” There’s no…
Ryn: 00:27:59 Were you taking NSAIDs?
Katja: 00:27:59 My mom at the time was taking Imitrex, I think that had just come out, trying to remember the timing. But I didn’t want to take it. She didn’t want to take it. So usually what I did actually was just like vomit if I had to and then go to bed. Ibuprofen didn’t touch it. There was an Advil pm, I think, back then that I would take sometimes but nothing really worked and I didn’t want to get into the heavy stuff and so I would just cancel life.
Ryn: 00:28:42 So you moved and you changed all those different things and you were eating differently and getting forest bathing in your life.
Katja: 00:28:49 Yeah, I mean know that I didn’t call it that, you know.
Ryn: 00:28:51 And so what did that lead to?
Katja: 00:28:52 Within a couple of months, my migraines were down to one every six weeks or so. And ultimately I didn’t ever get them again.
Ryn: 00:29:05 You did not remain a forest hermit.
Katja: 00:29:08 I did not, no. Eventually I moved back to the city. I started a business in the city, which was pretty stressful. I parented a teenager. I parented a teenager through divorce and that was not fun. I dealt with more family drama and lots of other stressors and I still don’t get migraines. There was a time, there’s occasionally… I’ll get a headache.
Ryn: 00:29:37 You’ll get a headache a couple of times that I can recall, but it’s a rare occurrence.
Katja: 00:29:41 Yeah. And it’s not like it was, I mean, I have the energy to whine about it and ask you to make me a hot water bottle. Like it’s not in any way the same. So the thing is that like, okay, I didn’t become a recluse to get free of my headaches. I did make huge, drastic changes, but when I moved back to the city, I maintained those huge, drastic changes even though I’m not on a farm anymore. Over that time I figured out my food sensitivities. I avoid them very strictly. I make sure to sleep eight to 10 hours a night. I moved my body even when I don’t feel motivated to, I go outside. Even though I live in a city, I still go outside and even when I don’t want to, I make time to grow things. I keep a lot of plants in the house. I drink tea all of the time and these things are all really different than my life was then. I don’t use any chemicals in the house. That’s also different. I used to love bleach and the scrubbing bubbles for the bathtub and all the different chemicals and I don’t use any of that anymore.
Ryn: 00:30:54 So, the point here is that you don’t have to move away into a hut in the forest. You don’t have to go be living a prehistoric lifestyle.
Katja: 00:31:02 I mean, unless you want to.
Ryn: 00:31:03 Yeah. Go for it. I mean it’s a thing. I’m getting distracted because I’ve been listening to a podcast about the history of Africana philosophy and one of the figures, a big part of his life story was going away from the city for a couple of years and living in a cave and having a lot of conversations with Deity and coming back with a complete manuscript of his magnum opus.
Katja: 00:31:29 That sounds really cool.
Ryn: 00:31:30 That was – I might be confusing him with his teacher. Uh, yeah, it was the teachers that are, is that right? jacob and Ethiopian philosopher. So you might find reasons to do that, but you also may not, and that’s fine. We can still help your headaches go away. What we’re really looking for are changes or improvements you can make and sustain. Because that that’s going to be the big long term difference here.
Katja: 00:31:59 But I guess, for me, it’s really important to be super upfront that a little change is not going to do it. This really, if you’re getting chronic migraines, this is the time to really look at your entire life and say basically how much of everything can I make complete changes in.
Ryn: 00:32:23 Right. And partly because the migraine isn’t your only problem, right? It may be the most obvious symptom. It may be the thing that motivates you to want to make these changes. But if your body is generating that kind and pattern of pain, there are other issues at play and that’s not the only problem in your body right now. That’s not to scare you or anything. Just say like any other symptom. We think of it as a signal to change your behavior. If you for that quote there afterwards, it was a signal to change your behavior. We can just repeat that to for ourselves for a long, long time and learn a lot . It’s a canary. It’s a yellow light. It’s something to pay attention to and recognize that it’s never an isolated incident.
Katja: 00:33:11 I think also that it if you’re a person who’s suffering from chronic migraines, you’ve already tried everything. You’ve already tried so many things and you actually already know that you need to make some enormous change. You just don’t know what change that is. And you’ve probably already made lots of enormous changes. So to me it feels like it’s way better to acknowledge that and to say like, “Hey, you know what? We see that this sucks and it is not as simple as I’m just going to give you a thing and pat you on the head and you’re going to be all better.” That’s not where we are. And I want to acknowledge that in your struggle and that reality. And I also want to be forthright that this is not one of the easier things to manage with herbs or with anything else.
Ryn: 00:34:06 Yeah. So I had mentioned feverfew earlier as a classic recommendation for chronic headache and migraine and it can help and it works best if you’re taking it on a consistent, regular and extended basis. So that would involve having it as a component of your daily tea that you drink every day and you drinking amounts of a quarter or two every day. Or at the very least having an elixir or a tincture blend, including a lot of feverfew in it that you’re taking three, five, maybe seven times a day. And again consistently for the long term. This is not like I do this for a few days or I do it for a week and then I never get a migraine again. If that’s the only intervention, especially this is something you’re going to need to keep up long term and you know where the way that we practice and focus our holistic herbalism idea is that you work through food and movement and sleep and stress management and the herbs enhanced the efforts you make there and that’s what all spirals into the center and that’s where you’re getting your big shift. Now I want to say if you only want to take herbs to make your headaches go away, you might be able to get there. I’ve had some students, I’ve had some clients do that, but it involves drowning yourself in herbs. I’m talking like three or four quarts of tea in a day of various blends that match your constitution thatt takes a while to figure out.
Katja: 00:35:23 And if that works for somebody, then part of that is that they were chronically dehydrated, right? ,It’s not magic from just the plants, although yes, plants are awesome, but it’s also like, “oh, the people that works for one of their fundamental underlying problems was constitutional dryness.”
Ryn: 00:35:44 Or the other way is you’ve got sun tea, you’ve also got a tincture or elixir blend. You take it consistently, you’ve got some topical stuff you’re rubbing on to there. Maybe you’re working in a couple of herbal baths into your weekly schedule, right? You’ve got multiple modalities, multiple different ways of delivering herbs and they’re happening again consistently. So in some ways that might be more appealing initially because it’s like, “oh, I’m gonna add some herbs to my life.” But in actual practice, a lot of times I’d say even in most cases, it’s going to involve at least as much work or extra effort or extra time as it would take to change some habits about things that you already have to do every day. Like eat breakfast and go to bed. Right. So, you know, that’s why this is the focus that we take on these things.
Katja: 00:36:34 And different changes will be easier or harder for different people and different changes will be more or less effective for different people. And that comes down to constitution and to the underlying causes of your migraine pattern. And those are things that can be figured out. But because we can’t see you right now, we’ll just have to speak in the general term and I think that before we sort of go through some of these, I just want to say one more time that I think it’s really important for me to always remember that it isn’t that, “oh, well now I have to do all this stuff because my stupid body gets migraines”. It is “wow. The life that I am…the amount of stress and the amount of work and the amount of difficulty in my life is more than what a human body can handle without pain. And so I need to take a lot of actions to support my body so that I can do the things that I’m called on to do.” All right.
Ryn: 00:37:51 So some changes that we would advise or that we would want to be considering for sure if chronic headaches or migraines are an issue for you, let’s start with food. If you’ve listened to us for any length of time, you’ve probably heard us mention food sensitivities or food allergies or intolerances because we can’t get through a single day without it. And I mean, that’s true for our own bodies, but it’s also true for the way that we teach and the way we think about food and nutrition. There are some things that people eat that just plain aren’t good for them.
Katja: 00:38:26 You guys…Cheese Pringles are not a food group. It turns out they’re just not…
Ryn: 00:38:29 It does turn out.
Katja: 00:38:30 Yeah.
Ryn: 00:38:33 But if we were to think in terms of order importance, I’d probably start with your food allergies or food sensitivities just because they can initiate inflammation and it can cause irritation reactions all throughout the body. They can irritate the nerves directly through a variety of mechanisms. And so figuring out if you have or to what degree you have sensitivity to things like gluten and dairy and soy.
Katja: 00:38:59 and even sugar, right?
Ryn: 00:39:01 Yeah. These are really key life skills for a human living on earth. And that’s the number one thing that I would want to start with when a client comes in and they’ve got chronic headaches.
Katja: 00:39:12 Also food additives and MSG. So as soon as somebody says, “Oh boy, sugar causes inflammation and I need to tone down the inflammation in my body because these headaches are insane.” But then they’ll get a diet coke with the aspartame in it. But the artificial sweeteners have neurological effects and often are the cause of headaches. So that’s definitely something to get out of the diet. MSG as well.
Ryn: 00:39:45 You could say with both of these categories of substance and it’s not just MSG, it’s other things that would be considered a flavor enhancer, like what these substances do is they trigger our taste buds in a particular way, right? And so that means that they have to interface with our nervous system in a way to stimulate this particular kind of nerve cell or taste bud. But those aren’t the only kinds of nerve cell that they stimulates. And if we’re consuming these, especially in larger amounts, then we are causing a different patterns of stimulation in the nerves, in the body and in the brain, and so again, there’s a lot of individual variability here. With these kinds of things, there’s so much individual variability that when somebody constructs a gold standard, randomized controlled placebo trial, what they end up doing is averaging out some people who react very badly to those substances with other people who don’t react at all. And so the end result tends to be there’s no significant effect here. But there are so many anecdotes that people who say “I started to avoid foods that had additives and Msg and colorings and other things like that.” And that made a difference even sometimes in people who aren’t also looking for their food allergies first. And again, in terms of priority, if I had to choose between somebody getting all additives out of their diet and getting their specific food allergens out of their diet, I’d go with the allergen personally, but…
Katja: 00:41:22 Well, because when you reduce food allergens, you by nature reduce additives. You were mentioning about studies and there was one thing I wanted to add in there that when they did the food safety trials around things like aspartame or saccharine and whatever the control group received their placebo substance, and that substance they used caused the same set of effects that the aspartame causes so that they could say, “well, everyone in both groups got it. So it wasn’t caused by the aspartame.” So that’s kind of a bummer.
Ryn: 00:42:11 We could go on for at least six or eight hours about how to make these kinds of changes to the diet. But there are some programs that we’ve found helpful, particularly The Whole 30 program is one that we mentioned, I think with some frequency just because we like a lot of things about it. For one, it’s got a timeline and the idea is you’ve got 30 days to make this dietary experiment and then after that we’re going to continue to experiment by reintroducing various things in an orderly fashion so that you can again, determine your individual degree of sensitivity to each of the major food allergens. So that I really like. There’s a lot of support in the way of forums and guidelines and shopping lists and other things available from that resource.
Katja: 00:42:57 And it’s popular. Like it is likely that someone you know has already tried it, or would be willing to try it with you. So it’s not like a weird thing. I mean, if some people in your life may still think it’s a weird thing, but it’s not an unheard of thing at any rate. And I think that that’s helpful.
Ryn: 00:43:20 Apparently, I might have read this wrong, but I think Chipotle is now offering Whole 30 compliant taco bowls.
Katja: 00:43:28 Are you serious?
Ryn: 00:43:30 It was one of the corner my smartphone, but I think I saw something like…and I mean certainly there are lots of products in the shops now that are stamped Whole 30 approved and stuff like that. So it’s spreading.
Katja: 00:43:44 So that and then some food, herbs and here a couple things really come to mind. One is, and you guys, this is where we need to remind you of one of our favorite sayings from our mentor Paul Bergner who says “be a boring herbalist” and I just can’t get enough of that statement. It’s such an important part of the way that I practice. Like you don’t need to chase down the newest sexiest thing that just came in from the Amazon, all that stuff.
Ryn: 00:44:19 Whether it’s the forest or the vendor.
Katja: 00:44:20 All that stuff usually comes along with a lot of exploitation. So you don’t need that. But really the good old boring stuff and that’s why we say these things over and over again. But here we go. I’m about to say it over again. Gut heal tea. It is so supportive, so anti-inflammatory and so many neurological issues are so closely tied with gut issues that, if you could only do one thing for your headaches, besides do a whole 30, I would say do gut heal tea. It really, really does make a difference.
Ryn: 00:45:05 So if this is the first time you’re hearing about it, then we do have a look in the show notes.
Katja: 00:45:10 First off, welcome to the podcast.
Ryn: 00:45:14 We do have a look in the show notes that we’ll link to the general strategy for putting together and gut heal tea, but we’re going to be combining some herbs that are going to reduce inflammation, encourage wound healing, excite digestive activity, move lymph and basically just warm up and activate the digestive process as well as maintaining healthy boundaries in the guts themselves. So some of those wound healers are serving here to resolve things like leaky gut syndrome. Which, leaky gut alone could be the cause of your headache or your migraine and herbs are very helpful at reestablishing healthy intestinal borders or barriers. And this is a place where even if you did switch your diet entirely and make a Whole 30 tomorrow, I would still advise you to drink gut heal tea because every time I have somebody who does the diet changes without these kind of gut healing herbs involved, their progress isn’t as rapid as as when they do include it. So this is again the foundation of our work as holistic herbalists is to find ways that the herbs can enhance a lifestyle change. And this is one where it’s very clear, very obvious, and it’s a very strong factor in that recovery. So, gut heal tea could be ginger and chamomile and peppermint and plantain and calendula and maybe a little St Johns Wart if you’re not on any pharmaceuticals.
Katja: 00:46:46 And some fennel, did you say that?
Ryn: 00:46:47 Fennel So good in there.
Katja: 00:46:48 Did you say ginger?
Ryn: 00:46:49 Yeah, ginger. So that’s the first one. I like a little bit of licorice in there. I also like a little bit of centaury when it’s my own. Your mileage may vary,
Katja: 00:47:00 But they’re really good. They’re really good and helpful.
Ryn: 00:47:04 Sometimes catnip is in there Tulsi, so it’s a strategy, not a set formula. But we’re thinking about what are the effects we want to generate and then choosing herbs that taste good together because you’re gonna want to drink a lot of it.
Katja: 00:47:16 To me it’s especially when we’re targeting headaches here, making sure that ginger and chamomile play a large role in that blend is super important to me because ginger and chamomile are two of my real standbys for managing headaches and migraines. And it seems silly because they’re such basic simple plants, but they’re really tremendously antispasmodic. They are relaxant to the muscles and to the nerves and to the guts and that’s three key components that are playing into your migraine. So I’m not saying that one cup of Ginger camomile tea will make your headache go away completely. But it’s a big part for me of that strategy. And when I myself do get a headache these days, which doesn’t happen often, but sometimes it still does and I will… sometimes I can’t even drink tea or I can’t wait for it to get made or whatever. I just want to lay there like a zombie and Urban Moonshine makes a chamomile, a bitter formula with chamomile and ginger in it. And that is really what I turn to when I just am like, I can’t even with the tea.
Ryn: 00:48:44 All right. So that is some thoughts on food and some key herbs to support your shifts there. So let’s move on to sleep. And with sleep, this is pretty simple. There’s no secret tricks for getting your sleep to be extra double powered. You just have to log the hours in the bed, that’s really all there is to it.
Katja: 00:49:06 And you have to do it consistently. It’s not enough to do it on the weekend, you have to do it consistently. And that means you have to turn off the television. You have to not go to yoga class. You have to, whatever it is, you have to do what you gotta do to get into the bed. And that is no fun. It’s just no fun. You want to stay up…everybody wants to stay up. Well, okay, some people don’t want to stay up, but lots of people want to stay up. And even if you don’t want to stay up, maybe you are responsible for the care of somebody that requires you to stay up. And so this is one of those places where the goal is simple, achieving it can be very challenging.
Ryn: 00:49:51 Yeah. I would also say that it’s most ideal to get your sleep in a big chunk at bedtimes through the night and wake up in the morning and all of that. But get it where you can get it, you know? So if your schedule and your commitments and responsibilities are keeping you up a little bit later than you would like, then maybe there’s a time in the day that you can grab a nap and even if it’s just 20 minutes that’s long enough to get some of the refreshing actions inside your physical brain and some of the fluids moving around inside of there, that really only happens when you are asleep. 20 minutes is just the beginning of when that starts to happen. But it’s enough that you can feel subjectively refreshed and ready to get back at it. So naps count, they’re not a complete replacement for that hour of sleep you missed last night, but they do help quite a lot and they may be an important part of your practice.
Katja: 00:50:52 Yeah. Sometimes it’s hard to get to sleep, especially if you’re feeling pain because the pain is too distracting. And there are a lot of herbs that can help here, but those are going to vary by the individual. This is where some sort of a sedative herb is going to be very helpful. Whether that is something like chamomile or whether it’s something stronger like wild lettuce, something with that sedative action on the nervous system is going to be helpful, but it probably won’t be enough. And so this is where I turned to really mundane solutions like podcasts or audio books. Get something that’s interesting enough that it will hold your interest through the pain but not so interesting that it’ll keep you awake. This isn’t the time for your politics podcast but something that’s interesting enough to keep you focused on it so that you just have something different to think about. Yes, it still hurts. But if you’re not stuck in a dark room saying it hurts, it hurts, it hurts over and over again, then it is easier to fall asleep. And so, yeah, you can be stuck in a dark room with your pain and an interesting story.
Ryn: 00:52:29 Right . Yeah. And you know, I mean, I had said earlier that there’s no secret trick to make your sleep count for more, but in some ways they’re kind of this right. We can improve sleep quality by making some small changes to the environment in which you go to bed and are in the bed throughout the night. So the biggest ones are going to have to do with light management and that’s both in the hour leading up to sleep or the couple of hours leading up to sleep. You want to dim the lights and operate by, like we do with the strands of Christmas twinkle lights or by candle light. If you can do that for an hour or two before bed, that gives your body to cue that you’re shifting into the sleep phase and it allows Melatonin to be released. And it just kind of nudges your body into that direction and that more accurately mimics natural experience of being out and having the sun go down and Melatonin rising and sleepiness coming forward and going to sleep. So you want to be able to get your bedroom as dark as possible. We finally put up some real curtains in our bedroom. Before that, we just had some blankets tacked up over the big window. You know what… you do what you have to do, tin foil, whatever. Like it’s fine.
Katja: 00:53:42 We have lived here for 11 months now and we finally got those curtains up.
Ryn: 00:53:51 Curtains make a huge difference and we even notice the very next day. We were like, “wow!” I definitely slept in a bit longer too because I hadn’t had to set the alarm for awhile because the sun was coming through that little thing I had before anyway. So controlling light in your bedroom is important. Controlling sound… you do what you can. Some people can tolerate earplugs or mufflers or something. For other people it’s better to have a white noise machine or to have some sound that you can listen to, like your audio books or podcasts or things like that. We’re thinking also about trying not to eat too close to bedtime if possible.
Katja: 00:54:30 That plays a huge role for me. Not eating anything past 7:00 PM, which, yes, is inconvenient. I will just put that right out there. I don’t want anybody thinking like, “well that’s fine for her, but it would never work in my life.” No. It’s wicked inconvenient. But if I do it, it helps so much in terms of falling asleep and if I don’t do it, it is hard to fall asleep. Another thing that I find plays a big role in being able to sleep well and also plays a role in headaches overall is endocrine dysfunction. And Ashwagandha is one of my favorite plants there. Whether we’re talking about sleeping effectively through the night or whether we’re just talking about endocrine disruption as a whole, Ashwagandha comes in for both of those categories. When I am really in a sleep deprived state because we’re doing a lot of work or whatever’s going on, then sometimes I am … you guys know by now that I prefer tea and I don’t really like things in capsules, but Gaia does make a capsule that is really effective when I get myself stuck in that kind of a rut. And they call it “Sleep Through” and it’s a high potency Ashwagandha and some other herbs mixed in and it is one of the more expensive supplements and so I’ll only get like one bottle, but it lasts a month and by the time the month is up, then I have resettled my sleep schedule and I’m able to sleep through the night again. And that’s really, really awesome. Yeah. So that’s a plant that … not directly, Ashwaganda doesn’t have any particular effect on headaches themselves, but it is helping to reset some of the foundational issues that are contributing to it.
Ryn: 00:56:38 I would come back to what you mentioned earlier, which is wild lettuce and especially if your headaches have a component of tension to them and there’s that type of pain, maybe feeling it in the neck or the temples. Then wild lettuce can be directly helpful because it is a relaxant, in addition to being a sedative and hypnotic. So it doesn’t just make you sleepy and make you forget your pain,but it does relieve the pain itself directly. So you might try small doses of that in the daytime, starting with a few drops and seeing if that helps. But it’s really most effective or most helpful when it’s bedtime. You take a few squirts of your wild lettuce, you dim the lights, you hang out in a quiet, dark environment or dim environment for an hour or so, read or listen to something and you should find your transition into sleep going a lot smoother then it has been habitually,
Katja: 00:57:35 I will say that I find wild lettuce very effective, but in my body I typically need a higher dose, so I might take half a tablespoon.
Ryn: 00:57:51 For me at bedtime, if I took one dropper, but I did pulse dosing and I took that one dropper full three times, so I’ll take that an hour before bed, a half hour before bed, and then at bedtime lights out, head on the pillow, I’m doing it in that method is a lot more effective. But for me, I’d only need that one dropper, full dose at each point. For you, you might take three or four properties droppers pulse dosed like that. And then that would be very effective. So just know your body may vary, your body does in fact vary, and you’ll feel what the right doses are for you. Wild lettuce is not a problem to take a higher dose of so you can experiment with that. All right…so that’s sleep. And then stress.
Katja: 00:58:40 And the thing here is that actually, I mean on one hand, everything that we’re talking about is stress, but identifying your particular patterns of stress symptoms can often help you understand how to better choose the herbs for your headaches. And so what I mean by that is if your headaches come with tension, for example, that’s your stress pattern, then herbs like skullcap and Ginger and chamomile are going to be really helpful because they help relieve tension, they help relax tension patterns. Whereas when you feel a lot of stress and you feel a headache coming on and it comes with the flashies, you know the flashing whatever going on in your eyes, then that is an indication of dryness. And that is a reflection of “okay, your stress pattern includes dryness.” So plants like linden or marshmallow and also just including more fat in your diet can be really helpful there. Then I would say if your headaches come along with vertigo, then that is an indication that in your stress pattern you have a glymphatic deficiency. And the glymphatic system that is G L Y M Y P H A T I C. So that’s like your lymphatic system, but it is in the brain and that is how your glial cells, the cells in the brain do the same work that the rest of your lymphatic system is also taking care of. For a long time they did not believe that there was a lymphatic system in the brain, but it turns out that there really is and your glymphatic system can only clear out the crud, the metabolic waste in your brain while you are sleeping. And so if you are experiencing vertigo, going along with your stress patterns, that is very likely fluid imbalance happening because you’re not able to clear that out effectively. And so that might be tracking back to a sleep debt pattern in your stress. Wow, that was a big old mouthful. But there are some plants that can help with that. One is ground ivy, which really helps with lymphatic clearance in the head and the ear, nose and throat in the sinuses.
Ryn: 01:01:16 Look, if you’ve got a headache and you feel like you’re on an airplane and your ears are popping when you open your jaw or if you just…you can feel that there’s fluid stagnation in the ears or in the sinuses or really anywhere in the head and neck, then give ground ivy a try whether you take it on its own or you include it in a formula with some of the other herbs to try to resolve your headache. I’m trying not to be a really nice inclusion when there is that stagnant head fluid pattern. Stagnant and fluid!! Ahhhh.
Katja: 01:01:47 Anyway, but so recognizing “okay, when I get super stressed out, these are the types of stress patterns I experience” or even like I get super stressed out and have hot stabby anxiety. That gives you information about… at least what direction we should turn in about which herbs we might think about to handle the pain symptoms. And in that case we would want things like maybe Rose or maybe linden would be another good choice here too.
Ryn: 01:02:20 I mean rose, linden, maybe some elder flower. To the release that heat.
Katja: 01:02:24 I liked that a lot. The bottom line is we want to remove as much stress as possible and first remove anything that is possible and then look at the things that aren’t possible and start to imagine what of those things can also be removed. And you might say, “well, there’s nothing that can be removed.” But if you look at it again and say,” well, what would my life be like if I moved, if I sold this house and moved somewhere else? ” and that might not be an option, but thinking about things even that you think are not options is really the only way that you can find hidden options. And so you might think about things and say, “well, I don’t think this is an option.” And you might think about it for a while and say, “ah, yeah, it is in fact not an option,” but you still need to think about it because somewhere in there, something that you don’t think is an option will in fact be and you won’t find it unless you kind of like re-examine. But that’s the hard part I feel like. That’s the part where we really…you can change your diet, it sucks, but it’s not that bad. And you can find a way to get some more sleep and it’s annoying and maybe not super fun, but it’s not that bad. But when we’re really getting down to “maybe I need to quit this job.” How feasible is that really? We’re starting to get into some very difficult stuff. Which is why this is the last thing in the list. Because if the other ones give you enough leeway that you can now get through your day without pain, then that’s great. And the reality is that even if the only way to manage your migraines and your pain is to quit your job, a large portion of the people in this country do not have that option. Because of the economic injustice in the country, because of all different kinds of factors. Because there may be people depending on your salary and…
Ryn: 01:04:40 In the realm of stress, those things, if they were available to us, that would be great. And in a lot of cases they’re not. A lot of times when people talk about stress, we end up talking about meditation and in many cases, people who are dealing with those kinds of immovable stressors tend to be like, “yeah, well that’s great if your problem is which brunch should I go to today? Some people have real problems.” And I would say like, “yeah, there is a definite element of truth there.” On the other hand, many people with chronic headaches do end up in the same position you used to be in, which is lying down several nights a week and suffering and just getting through it. And I think that meditation can be very helpful for people who find themselves in that position. Its a useful skill to learn for when you just need to lie there and live through something. This is the same, actually for similar reasons, I also advise people who have chronic insomnia to learn some basic meditation techniques because it’s something you can do while you’re lying in bed and it doesn’t involve you staring at your phone or turning on the lights or anything like that. Now you might have your smartphone help you out, right? You might go ahead and turn on Headspace or some other kind of meditation app and let that kind of guide you through it. Headspace has specific ones for coping with pain. And I find those can be very helpful. When we look at the research on meditation in terms of improving health problems, there are some that it’s really great at and others that it doesn’t really excel. People don’t tend to have fantastic success meditating their way to growing a new pancreas or something like that.
Ryn: 01:06:32 Resolving their type two diabetes. Maybe they could meditate their way around their sugar cravings and then they would get at it that way, you know? But for direct change in your rating on a pain scale, meditation actually works quite well for musculoskeletal pain, for certain people with headaches, for chronic ongoing pain that has been a longterm companion, especially, meditation can help you to change your relationship. And maybe that language sounds a little fuzzy or something, but it is the way that a lot of this is best understood, I think, because our experience of pain is always colored and shaped by our emotional attachments or our emotional experience of the pain. Whether thats that I cut myself. I mean, you’ve had the experience of cutting yourself, you don’t notice and it doesn’t hurt until you realize you’re bleeding. Right? You look at it And then you’re like…you have a few seconds… and then suddenly the pains strikes and you’re like, “where were you two minutes ago?” I’ve clearly been walking around and leaving blood spots all over my house. How did I not notice? Right? So that I think is an experience many of us have had and it speaks to this capacity that we have to either be overwhelmed by the pain or to hold it out a little bit of a distance. And meditation teaches you how to do that. There are also herbs that can help you to get that distance. One of the herbs that we find very helpful for that is a plant called ghost pipe and this is one where…let’s just be ecologically minded for a moment and recognize this is a rare plant and it’s one that should not really be in mass commerce.
Katja: 01:08:22 and it’s not, it’s not necessarily easy to find and if you need it, that is annoying, but also that’s good because it’s a rare plant. But also you don’t need very much of it.
Ryn: 01:08:38 Right, right.. And, and in some cases, even the flower essence works and you don’t have to kill the plant to make that particular preparation. But a lot of people will experience a few drops of ghost pipe tincture and feel like they now have the pain at arm’s length and they can do what they have to do or they can get through the next several hours because now it’s not this big black balloon floating in front of your face and blocking everything from view. You move that balloon over to the side of you and it’s still attached, it’s still there, but you can work around it.
Katja: 01:09:14 A couple of other coming to mind in that regard are also wood betony and black cohosh and calamus, all in different mechanisms of action. But in terms of getting some distance from the big black cloud of pain, they’re all three worth trying.
Ryn: 01:09:38 Yeah. I mean wood betony and cohosh, those both are relaxant agents with affinity for the head in terms of where they’re seated in the body. Black cohosh is particularly helpful when there’s been some kind of a whiplash or a spinal cord injury or maybe there’s some stagnation in the spinal fluid itself, and that’s leading to some of the pain. Betony is also really good when you’re kind of like being forced out of your body, body discomfort.
Katja: 01:10:06 Yeah. Or also if concussion is the initiating factor.
Ryn: 01:10:11 Right? And that’s longstanding too. I mean, back in some of the ancient Roman authors there were writings about betony for concussions or head injuries.
Katja: 01:10:23 All right. That all sounded really hard and stressful, just even thinking about it. So let’s do an easy one, which is movement. It’s nice that there’s one that’s really easy here.
Ryn: 01:10:36 And you could say it like, sure. If there’s a strong tension component to your headache, then yeah, doing some head and some neck stretches is actually going to be quite helpful for that. You will circulate some fluid in your tissues there and get things moving around again.
Katja: 01:10:54 And I would say it’s good to do that before your headache happens. Do it all the time.
Ryn: 01:11:00 This is going to be preventive care again. But really any body movement is going to help, preferably outdoors, in non-HVAC…
Katja: 01:11:15 HVAC… Whatever that is.
Ryn: 01:11:16 Heating, ventilation, air conditioning. ‘Cause that’s recirculated and it’s just not as…
Katja: 01:11:21 There’s crud in it… They have filters I guess, but that air is just never good. Fluorescent lighting is often a trigger for people. And so all the things that are associated with just inside-ness. We, as humans, we belong outside. So we need fresh air and getting that does make a big difference. Even just in the way that you breathe.
Ryn: 01:11:54 Yeah, definitely. I mean, good deep breaths make a big difference. And we’ve well…so there’s a lot of different things that can lead to a headache. One of them, one that’s actually really common in the herbal literature in this country has to do with liver stagnation. You can read the Eclectic Author is writing about bilious headaches and those are basically headaches that originate with a liver that’s having trouble doing all of it to jobs in the course of the day. And yeah, we can frame that as detox, but we can also frame that from a movement perspective because when you’re upright and walking around in the daytime, what really moves fluid through your liver is the expansion and contraction of your diaphragm. When you’re doing good deep belly breathing. It’s like imagining the liver is a sponge and it’s sort of like if you had a sponge and you had it half immersed in the water just by squeezing and releasing the sponge fluid will move up through the sponge and kind of circulate around through it, right?
Ryn: 01:12:51 Your liver is kind of like that. It’s a little bit squishy, a little bit solid, and a lot of the blood vessels that go into the liver are not arteries that have force behind them but veins. And so in order for that fluid to circulate, the liver kind of needs to be a little bit squashed every now and then. Right? Or every now and every then yes. Right? So breathing is what will do that, but also moving your body, bending and twisting and stretching and working your core and all of that stuff. Right? That’s how you get that moving during the daytime and then at night while you’re laying down. And so it’s easier for blood to flow through when it doesn’t have to fight gravity. And so sleep is the other part of liver care in that regard?
Katja: 01:13:32 Well, core strengthening exercises are so trendy these days and that never used to be a thing, that wasn’t something that we had to do because all day long we were using our core holding yourself up or holding yourself up and picking things up off the ground. And picking the kid up and putting the kid down and picking the kid up and putting the kid down and yeah.
Ryn: 01:13:56 As a movement practitioner, I don’t really find core isolation exercises to be particularly important. If you crawl, if you plank, if you hang, if you stretch, if you…
Katja: 01:14:10 If you are walking around and now you have to shimmy under that branch and then you have to…
Ryn: 01:14:17 If you pick up something heavy and carry it with one arm or one shoulder like that would lean you over and you use your obliques to hold yourself up right and these should be just naturally engaged as you’re moving the rest of you through space, you don’t have to isolate it. And oftentimes these isolating exercises are the least helpful thing you can do. Now. Maybe they’re necessary in a recuperative situation or when you’re just getting started to build some baseline. But I really would prefer to get people out there moving around in lots of different ways and look, if you want to build abs, then crawl across a field a few times. You will feel them tomorrow. I guarantee it.
Katja: 01:14:55 Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Moving, moving means breathing and so much like when you’re just sitting at your computer doing work, you’re not taking deep breaths. You’re literally starving yourself for oxygen. And so just the movement is causing more oxygen exchange. But also when you get out there and you’re not sitting in front of your computer screen and focusing your eyes on something that’s just a foot or two in front of your face, then all of the muscles in your head change. And that really blew my mind when I moved to Vermont. Within a year or two, my prescription for my glasses changed, and it changed so drastically that they had to have the machine that measured it serviced and had me come back because they were like, “this cannot possibly be accurate.” And it was accurate.
Ryn: 01:16:00 That’s one of those things where if you had gone to a new optometrist, they would say, “I don’t know what they were giving you last time, but they were clearly wrong”. There’s no way your eyes could have been that far away from where they are now. But it happened.
Katja: 01:16:12 But it was just because I was so drastically changing the way that I was using my eye muscles. And that changes the way that everything in your head works. It’s huge. So, and again, if you’re stuck in your office and you aren’t able to get out, then at least intentionally look at things that are far away.
Ryn: 01:16:35 Get up, find a window and look out. And the thing here is that when you’re looking at things far away, people usually say more than a, what is it, 200 yards or…
Katja: 01:16:45 Far anyway, and there’s 10 feet, 20 feet, and then like very far.
Ryn: 01:16:49 Functionally infinite, right? So there’s a point and it’s a way off, but you look at it over there and your muscles inside of the eye that manipulate the lens and the focus of the eye, they get as relaxed as they can get at that point. So as long as you’re looking at something a few hundred away or off on the horizon, you’re eyes are in those moments as relaxed as possible. But all of those hours you spend staring at your computer or reading texts or whatever there…
Katja: 01:17:20 Or just in a room so that nothing is more than 10 feet away from you.
Ryn: 01:17:24 Then you’re micro muscles in the eyes, they’re always in some degree of contraction. And so yes, this can be a direct contributor to headache or migraine. So if you notice that your headaches tend to come around when you have an extra long work day or when you always have a little bit of a headache, just as you’re leaving the office, then definitely consider these physical inputs all the way down to your tiniest little muscles
Katja: 01:17:53 And ways that you can counter that and still manage your job is that so many people when the… Email is a big part of their job. And so you could voice dictate your emails and just don’t sit at your desk, just go stand in the doorway of your office, preferably the outside doorway and look at whatever while you dictate your email responses or something like that. You have to be a little bit creative. But technology can help with this sort of thing where you can still be getting some work done by using dictation technology. So that you don’t have to be looking at the screen.
Ryn: 01:18:43 All right, so that’s just some movement thoughts there. Great! So let’s just maybe close out with a couple of herbs that are worth trying in almost any situation. And a couple of these are ones that we’ve mentioned already. I’d actually like to start with betony.
Katja: 01:19:00 Yes. Oh, betony.
Ryn: 01:19:03 So wood betony and here we’re thinking of stachys officinalis as opposed to the other betony that beticulara species. But stachys officinalis or stachys Botanica in some of your older books, this is a really easy herb to work with. You can have it as tea, you can have it in tincture, you can make an elixir blend, you could powder it and mix it into things. It’s very forgiving in terms of modes of administration.
Katja: 01:19:30 And it’s not a bad tasting tea. It’s not a super strong flavor and most people don’t find it unpleasant at all.
Ryn: 01:19:42 So betony, it is kind of claims to fame or that it’s a nervine herb, so it’s calming to agitated nerves. And that means that on agitated nerves in the sense of your emotions, but also agitated nerves in a very physical way. Herbs that had been… nerves that had been overstimulated can be soothed and calmed and slowed down by betony. But the nice thing is that betony doesn’t make you sleepy. It doesn’t make you less alert or anything like that. It just soothes those points that are overexcited. So that can be very helpful for headache and migraine pain. And it’s got a relaxant quality to it so it relieves tension that may be accompanying these problems. Traditionally, we’d say that it draws energy or draws activity down out of the head and moves your center of consciousness down into the heart or into the solar plexus. So if you feel caught in your head or stuck in your head as part of the syndrome that goes with your headache, then betony is definitely worth including there.
Katja: 01:20:50 You know, I wanted to talk about calamus and that it’s in that same category of that solar plexus action. We bring up calamus all the time and I think that part of it is just because it’s a warming bitter and so many people have sort of cold digestion and so having something warming is really great and effective. But I think a big part of why calamus is so important in these times is that it does have that ability to relax the vegas nerve and really help you into the parasympathetic, really help your body to make that shift out of the fight or flight stress response state. And we spend so much time in that state that I feel like we get stuck there and that plays a huge role in headaches. So again, calamus is not an herb that has any particular…I don’t think you could look it up somewhere and find it listed with any particular action in the head whatsoever. But the ultimate sort of end game there for a person with headaches is, especially a chronic pattern of headaches where stress is such a big factor, is that it really does help move the underlying cause. Plus the improvement in digestion is another underlying cause. You know, like it’s addressing more than one thing, which is excellent.
Ryn: 01:22:25 So betony has that like relaxing and cooling set of qualities to it. Calamus has some relaxing qualities and it has warming nature. So those two are similar in some ways and different in some ways. A herb like feverfew, which I’ve mentioned once or twice here today already…it’s also again, very famous for migraine in particular, and that’s an herb that is cooling in nature and relaxant. That’s important for migraines because migraines have a couple of components. The tension is a major part of it, but there also tends to be an inflammatory issue as well so herbs that have that cooling quality are often classically recommended there. But the thing is that in the modern world, a lot of people use the word migraine even if it wouldn’t meet all of the diagnostic criteria and this and that. So you can’t just base it on that kind of a name to the pathology.
Katja: 01:23:25 Yeah. You can’t assume an energetic pattern based on the word migraine.
Ryn: 01:23:31 But if you do work with feverfew, then it’s best if your headaches do come with some inflammation. Maybe some feelings of heat, and certainly if there is that tension pattern as well. And with this, like I said, you can either have it as an ingredient in a tea blend that you’re taking daily or you can work with tincture or elixir preparations multiple times a day. Feverfew is one of those herbs that we’ve found some better success in a few cases, making a tincture in white wine rather than in plain alcohol and white wine itself has a cooling nature. So this is most appropriate again for people who run really hot. I’m thinking of a person who had fibromyalgia and was getting chronic migraines on top of it and basically just needed as many cooling herbs as we could find. Fibro has a very hot agitated presentation to it. So things that can soothe and cool are very helpful there.
Katja: 01:24:29 Yeah, linden was particularly important for that person as well.
Ryn: 01:24:33 Yeah, linden is a good one to talk about. You mentioned it a couple times earlier, but linden is again not one that is usually going to be on somebody’s first list of headache herbs. But we find it really helpful because lots of people have a dryness component to their headache. Dryness can lead to the tension, dryness can lead to the inflammation that’s more directly causing those feelings of pain. And linden is a nice combo of a moistening herb that also has a nervine sedative and nervine relaxant qualities to it. Again, they’re mild, they’re on a level with something like betony, but they can relieve that pain. They can reduce inflammation, they can calm down over -excited nerves. So linden has a lot of qualities that are really helpful, particularly for folks who are dry and hot and getting headaches. All right. Any others you wanted to highlight or…
Katja: 01:25:29 I just want to give one more shout out to ginger and chamomile. This is going to be that person who regardless of the energetics of the headache itself, the person runs cold and maybe a little stagnant with some tension in there. And so even if there is some heat in the headache itself, the overall person is cold typically. And that I find to be really helpful because in that case, you know, the ginger… ginger is warming, but it’s moving and sometimes it’s not about like, “well, I’m going to get this heat and hold on to it.” Sometimes it’s about “I’m going to get this heat and move it through my body” . And so…
Ryn: 01:26:16 Get it somewhere else.”
Ryn: 01:26:20 That could be great if somebody had, you know, maybe a bunch of heat up in the head but not digestive fire. Right. So now you’ve got really a bunch of different things that are contributing to your discomfort. Like probably your liver is a bit stagnant.
Katja: 01:26:33 and maybe you have a little bloaty kind of feeling.
Ryn: 01:26:36 Yeah. Some intestinal issues going on and too much fire in the head and not enough in the belly. Right. You take the ginger and kind of redistribute that fire. Now you’re digesting your food better, your intestines are feeling happier and. .
Katja: 01:26:49 And the pressure’s off the head.
Ryn: 01:26:49 Your head has released it. Right, right. Cool. Okay. So as you can see, a lot of the herb choice here is going to be dependent on both: what’s your constitution or what’s the energetic picture of the kind of headache you have? But then also what are the lifestyle interventions that you’re making, right? Are you changing your diet? Are you going to change your movement habits? Are you going to sleep differently? Are you going to meditate every day or manage stress some other way. And then choosing herbs that enhance those. We always find that to be the best way of approach there.
Katja: 01:27:27 And maybe also I would say to that, again, the changes that you’re going to make for headaches are larger and probably harder. And so have an ally, like have somebody who can listen sympathetically and can help you look at the changes that you want to make and will support you in those changes. That I think also helps a lot if you’re in pain and trying to make really big changes in your life, that’s super hard. But if you have somebody who is in on it with you, and, is telling you you can do it and helping you make decisions and helping you think through, well, how would I make this change? Then that is just so much better. Especially if you’re changing the way that you eat. If somebody will do it with you, it’s just so much easier. So ask for help, I guess is what I’m saying.
Ryn: 01:28:27 And you know, a lot of the questions we’ve been getting from students in our online programs lately have been around that kind of thing. Like, okay, I can see that these are all important pillars of good health and this is the one I struggle with. And what can I do to manage stress in a situation where I’ve got all these kids and I’ve got this job and I’ve got these responsibilities going on. So that’s been nice to see people thinking about that and to offer some solutions. People coming back and being like, “yeah, that really worked for me” or “I tried that herb and, it was great.” And things like that. So if you’d like to get in on that, you can get started with our free course. It’s called “four keys to holistic herbalism” and it’s available right on our main website @commonwealthor.com right up at the top. You’ll see a spot for you to click through and get started right away. And this will give us a chance to go into a little more detail on those four pillars of good health, on the concept of herbal energetics and on ideas around integrating herbs into your lifestyle.
Katja: 01:29:33 And sort of making these things a little bit easier to adopt on a daily basis in your life. Also to help understand like when my body feels like this, what does it really trying to tell me? What’s trying to go on and how could I support that? Oh, my body’s trying to tell me that I need a drink of water. Like, I’m really dehydrated. I haven’t had anything to drink today. How can I support that? And using that kind of strategic thinking to try to work together with our body like a team instead of feeling like our body is sabotaging our plans for our day.
Ryn: 01:30:17 Yeah. So, if you haven’t already, go ahead and check that out. That’s “four keys to holistic herbalism.” and you can find that at commonwealthherbs.com. Otherwise tune in again next week for some more of the holistic herbalism podcasts.
Katja: 01:30:34 Yes. I don’t know what the topic is going to be next week. It’s a mystery. The mystery.
Ryn: 01:30:41 All right, folks. We’ll see you then. Bye.
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