Certain headaches are more debilitating than others (those who suffer from migraines know), but still, there's no such thing as a pleasant headache. If tension, dehydration, or allergies have begun to manifest as pain and pounding in the head, making a soothing pot of tea might help.
According to Ginger Hultin, RDN, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the hydrating properties of tea are the primary reason it helps manage headaches. The second reason? The anti-inflammatory antioxidant catechins. "All types of tea have special compounds1 like theobromine and theophylline as well as volatile oils, and minerals," she says. Here are six herbal teas registered dietitians and naturopathic doctors recommend in place of (or in conjunction with) conventional medicine.
6 of the best teas for headaches:
A Cellular and Infection Microbiology study found an imbalance in the gut microbiome can lead to migraines2. According to Ginger Hultin, RDN, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, ginger is known to calm inflammation, be it in the gut or the nervous system.3 "So if that's the root of your headache or if there's a connection there, ginger tea could be an answer," she says.
While chamomile tea hasn't been directly linked to the cessation of headaches, it is a known relaxant and sleep aid. Meaning, "If your headaches are caused by tension or stress, chamomile could be very helpful," Hultin says.
One review on the medicinal benefits of chamomile4 says it also "boosts the immune system and helps fight infections associated with colds." Headaches caused by colds, inflamed sinuses, or allergies may therefore be soothed by this type of tea.
While the tea hasn't been directly linked to headache relief, she says, "The leaves contain menthol, and the oils can have many vitamins and nutrients including magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A and C." Plus the plant's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits have been used to treat pain5.
While it may not be a guaranteed fix, "It could be worth trialing peppermint for your headaches," Hultin says.
Willow bark tea
Willow bark comes from, you guessed it, the bark of a willow tree. "It is the original source of salicin, which is the active ingredient that makes up aspirin," integrative neurologist Ilene Ruhoy, M.D., Ph.D., writes. This makes it a powerful herb for relieving a variety of pains6, including back pain, joint pain, gout, muscle strain, dizziness, and headaches, she says.
In one study, adults with migraines were randomly assigned either a placebo or feverfew. The placebo group experienced an increase in the frequency and severity of headaches, while the feverfew group did not. "This provides evidence that feverfew taken prophylactically prevents attacks of migraine8," the study says.
Green tea is one of the healthiest tea options out there, thanks to its high concentration of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), an anti-inflammatory catechin. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine, green tea has long been used to improve mental alertness and headaches.
The link between caffeine and headaches.
One side effect of too much caffeine is headaches, but giving it up can also lead to headaches (think: symptoms of caffeine withdrawal). Since everyone's headaches are different, determining whether or not caffeine helps or hurts comes down to the individual.
"For some, not having caffeine causes a headache9, so utilizing coffee or a caffeinated tea could be really helpful," Hultin adds. Others—especially those whose headaches are caused by dehydration—should probably limit caffeine. Caffeine is a diuretic, which can be dehydrating, integrative gastroenterologist Marvin Singh, M.D., previously told mbg.
In that case, drinking water, herbal teas, or another one of these immune-supporting drinks may be more helpful. If you are drinking tea with caffeine, also keep in mind the timing and how it might affect your sleep quality later on.
The best ways to drink tea for optimal effects.
When it comes to combating headaches with tea, Hultin recommends two different approaches. To stop headaches before they occur, she suggests drinking tea early in the day (perhaps to replace that second, or even first, cup of coffee). If the headache has already set in but you find tea relieving, she suggests making it the first line of treatment. In other words, start boiling that water ASAP when pain sets in.
For some, the pain-reducing effects might take place right away, and others might not notice the effects at all. Either way, registered dietitian Abby Cannon, R.D., says, "The act of drinking tea can be very calming in and of itself, and this calming practice can help to release tension in the body."
Other home remedies for headaches.
If the tea isn't enough, try these tips from Ruhoy for managing migraines:
On top of that, certain essential oils and yoga poses may also calm the head and the mind.
If a headache is uncomfortable but not concerning, consider sipping one of these six soothing teas (or implementing the other management strategies) to help calm the throbbing sensation. If headaches feel severe, it's a good idea to consult with a medical professional to rule out underlying conditions and find other necessary treatment options.
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.