Pain-solving Migraine Salve Recipe with Ancient Healing Resins

Making your own medicine is empowering and fun.  You get to source your own ingredients, adapt the recipe to get it just how you like it, and finally use the medicine to help yourself. This particular migraine salve is incredibly potent – every single ingredient is a powerful healing agent.

I personally believe that there is a placebo effect that amplifies the medicinal qualities of the ingredients used when we take the time to make medicine ourselves rather than purchasing it elsewhere.  Each time we use our medicine we give the message to our bodymind that Mother Nature has provided us with ample support in the form of botanical plants, and that as long as we have access to the ingredients, our healing is in our own hands because we have the knowledge to make our own medicine – in this case, a luscious migraine salve to rub on our temples and massage into our neck muscles!

But don’t cayenne and cinnamon trigger migraine?

You’ll notice that a few of the ingredients in here, like cayenne, clove, and cinnamon, are high-histamine plants which can actually trigger a migraine if ingested as food.  It’s common for people with migraine to be told ingesting cayenne or cinnamon will help with their migraines.  This is a big mistake, as I outlined here in this blog post. The great thing about this salve is that we can still benefit from the analgesic (pain-numbing) and circulation-enhancing properties of these plants by applying them topically to help with head pain.

Here is an excerpt from that blog post that describes why cinnamon and cayenne are not to be ingested if you have migraine, but why they are valuable topically in a salve like the one we’re about to make here.

  • Cayenne as well as most spicy chilis, especially their seeds, contain a powerful compound called capsaicin. How capsaicin is administered makes a difference in its therapeutic effects (or lack thereof).  Because cayenne (and capsaicin) thins mucous, consumption of cayenne may be more applicable for those with sinus headaches than with migraines caused by digestive upset and histamine overload. This mechanism makes sense when you consider that those who experience relief from capsaicin get it when they take capsaicin in a drink (where it gets exposed to the nasal sinus) but don’t when they take it in capsule form. Capsaicin has been shown to inhibit CGRP (Calcitonin Gene Related Peptide), a potent vasodilator implicated in migraine. However, again, in this study the capsaicin was administered through the nose (Source). Intranasal exposure to capsaisin numbs and desensitizes the cranial nerves. Note that Lundberg and coworkers found that CGRP was inhibited (in guinea pig lung) only when small concentrations of capsaicin were used, but not when high concentrations were (Source). Capsaicin seems to contribute to migraine by way of neurogenic inflammation on a cellular level caused by a sudden influx of calcium into the cell followed by cell death (Source).  It also triggers herpes virus, which may be playing a role in migraine.  For those with histamine intolerance, ingesting cayenne must be avoided, because capsaicin not only contains histamine but also is a potent vasodilator itself (source).  It is a very potent trigger. If you’re going to take it, take it up the nose.  Otherwise – avoid!
  • Cinnamon is without a doubt an incredible healing plant ally. It is warming, pungent, and therefore dispersing of stagnation, which is one reason why cinnamon may be suggested by holistic health care practitioners to improve circulation. Cinnamon especially is also a powerful antiviral and antibiotic as well as a mast cell stabilizer.It is not totally clear why cinnamon triggers migraine, but it has been observed repeatedly that it does in those with histamine overload.  Cinnamon does contain histamine, but most likely, histamine triggers caused by cinnamon are due to the fact that sodium benzoate (NaB) produced by cinnamon is a DAO inhibitor and will therefore impair histamine degradation.  It must also be noted that there are different kinds of cinnamon, and the coumarin in cinnamon may be the culprit, as it is hard for the liver to process (and could therefore trigger migraine in someone who already had compromised liver detoxification).
  • Clove also has different effects when used topically than it does internally.  Clove is a powerful antiviral and also a warming, pungent oil that enhances circulation in a way similar to how cayenne and cinnamon do. It is also one of the most potent antioxidants known.

Bring on the sacred healing resins, frankincense and myrrh!

I’m so infatuated with frankincense and myrrh.  These ancient resins have stuck around for aeons because they work in so many ways to support health. While there are many benefits to frankincense and myrrh taken internally (management of cancer, arthritis, candida, for example) and topically for healing wounds as an antiseptic, for our purposes here we are interested in the therapeutic effects of the aromatics and their beneficial effect on the nervous system.

Although these resins originate in Arabia, eventually the Chinese incorporated them into their medicinal cornucopia.  In Chinese medicine:

“Frankincense and myrrh both quicken the blood and relieve pain. However, frankincense moves qi to quicken the blood and also stretches the sinews, frees the channels, soothes the network vessels, and relieves pain. Myrrh, by contrast, dissipates stasis to quicken the blood and also disperses swelling and settles pain. The former tends to act on qi, while the latter acts on blood. When the two medicinals are used together, the benefits of each are mutually enhanced. Therefore, these two medicinals are almost always used together in clinical practice.”(Source)

First, make the resin-infused oil

Put 3/4 cup of sesame oil in a mason jar along with the frankincense and myrrh resin, the cayenne, and the red sandalwood powder.  Put the lid on tight and and stir the ingredients together to fully saturate them with the oil. Put the mason jar in a slow cooker or in a slow cooker or Instapot, filling it with warm water so that it comes half way up the side of the jar.  Turn the slow cooker on low heat and heat in the water for 24 hours, shaking/agitating the herbs in the oil every few hours to help them dissolve.

Strain the herbs through a coffee filter to remove them, pressing them as you filter them to keep as much of the oil as possible.  You can make this infused oil ahead of time or in larger batches and keep the oil shelf-stable in a cool dry place for up to five years.

For the infused oil:
3/4 cup organic sesame oil
1 Tablespoon organic frankincense resin powder (boswellia carteri)
1 Tablespoon organic myrrh resin powder (commiphora myrrha)
1 teaspoon organic red sandalwood powder
1 teaspoon organic cayenne pepper

For our purposes today we will use all of the oil for our migraine salve – it should turn out to be 1/2 cup of oil after straining, or 8T of oil.

Next, make the migraine salve

For the salve:
2 Tablespoons beeswax
6 tabs cocoa butter (about 1.5 Tablespoons)
30 drops organic essential oil of lavender
35 drops organic essential oil of clove
15 drops organic essential oil of cinnamon
10 drops organic essential oil of frankincense
10 drops organic essential oil of basil

Add the herb infused oil, cocoa butter, and beeswax to a cup in a double-boiler. Simmer the water in the double boiler over low heat until the beeswax and cocoa butter is completely melted. Once the mixture has cooled a little, add the essential oils in.

Stir the migraine salve as it begins to cool further, pouring it into tins and letting it cool completely before putting the caps on. This makes 1/2 cup of migraine salve.

How to use the migraine salve

This salve can be used to help ease headaches and migraine.  Apply to the temples, base of the skull, or even cautiously inside the nose.  Using this in the nasal passage is likely to be most effective but be forewarned it does have a little burning sensation to it.

You can also use the migraine salve on swollen lymph nodes and swollen glands, or rub it on joints that ache.  A small dab is all that’s necessary.  Apply as often as you need to.  Avoid putting this salve directly on open cuts, wounds, or broken skin.

This migraine salve is also available in our shop!

It’s in the spirit of opensource Folk Medicine that I share this “Pain-solving Salve” recipe.