About RTÉ Television
The Afternoon Show
The Afternoon ShowRTÉ One, Weekdays, 4.00pm

Herbs For The Head with Ciara O' Meara

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Today Ciara is going to be dealing with the various herbs that one can take to help with sinusitis, migraines and headaches.

Ciara O'Meara - Medical Herbalist

I have a long standing interest in natural medicine. From a young age I found myself allergic to antibiotics, this prompted a proactive approach to preventative medicine, ensuring that through diet and exercise I was always doing my best to stay healthy. I completed an honours Science degree in University College Dublin in 1997 followed by an MSc in Medical Genetics at Aberdeen University. I then spent a number of years working in the field of academic research in areas such as The Human Genome Project at Oxford University, UK, and on Cancer reseach at Cancer Research UK. It was during this time that I took up a yoga practice and further cultivated an interest in holistic medicine.

First hand experience of successfully using herbal medicine  prompted me to pursue an interest in the subject. I soon realised that this interest was part of a much broader, richer and complex area of natural medicine which required dedicted study to appreciate both its subtlties and power. To deepen my knowledge on the subject and aquire the ability to confidently use it as a health professional I completed a four year degree at Westminster University in London.

This University is a long established centre for excellence in the training of medical herbalists. Its facilities encompass a central London clinic for herbal medicine where members of the public can avail of treatment. This is where I completed 500 hours of clinical training as part of my degree, treating members of the public from young to old with a range of illnesses. This was an integral part of the educational programme, in the interests of maintaining a high level of safe practice. This training included differential diagnosis of illness up to a high standard of training clinically on par with that of a GP.


Sinusitis occurs due to inflammation of the sinus passages in some individuals leading to infections and others daily pain and discomfort. Mucus may get trapped in the sinus passage which is difficult to clear causing feelings of congestion and pressure.

Factors which can cause this or increase an individual's susceptibility to this inflammation include

. Environmental causes: fumes, chemical irritants, pollen dust
. Allergies to foods like dairy, wheat or yeast, which can for some people be mucus forming.
. Weakened immune system which can lead to hypersensitivity, due to stress long term illness  or poor diet.

Vitamins A, C and Zinc are important. Zinc has been found to be deficient in some allergy sufferers. It is needed for protein digestion and production of acid in the stomach.

Thyme and Oregano Inhalation:
Both Thyme and Oregano contain powerful volatile oils which have expectorant, mucus thinning, anti- bacterial and anti-fungal properties. A convenient way of applying these directly to the mucus membranes is via inhalation.

. Chop up equal parts of Thyme and Oregano place into a large bowl.
. Cover with boiling water
. Place a towel over head and inhale the steam in through the nose and out through the mouth
. Alternatively 1-2 drops of each essential oil can be added instead fo the fresh plant.

Ginger and Cinnamon infusion:
Ginger stimulates peripheral circulation helping to move mucus while the Cinnamon is a warming expectorant. This can be taken to work in a flask or left in a pot and drank throughout the day.

. Chop at least 5 slices of fresh root Ginger and take one stick of Cinnamon.
. Cover with boiling water (2-3 cups full) in a teapot or flask.
. Sip regularly throughout the day

Headaches and Migraines

Many people will experience headaches due to stress (tension headache). Hormonal changes, weather changes, low blood sugar, dehydration and dietary triggers. Headaches may last for a few minutes or a couple of hours.

Migraines: these symptoms can be more serious including nausea, light sensitivity, visual disturbances, numbness and many others. They can last for a few hours or a few days. They are thought to be caused by spasm, or dilation and contraction of the small blood vessels in the brain. The triggers for them may occur many hours before the actual migraine is experienced.

Some known triggers include the following:
Tea, coffee, caffeine substances
Alcohol (especially red wine)
Sugar (including biscuits, cakes, chocolates, etc.)
Foods containing tyramine; chocolate, yeast extracts and yeast products, liver, sausages, broad beans, pickled herrings, cheese (cheddar, gruyere, brie), peanuts, soft drinks, soy sauce, mushrooms. Cottage cheese and processed cheeses contain very little of tyramine.
Foods containing histamine; cheese, sauerkraut, salami, sausage meat
Food additives; Tartrazine (E102), Benzoate (E210-219), Butylated hydroxytoluene (E321),
Monosodium glutamate; inhibits the break down of histamine (E621)
Shellfish,Animal products
Aspartame; Artificial sweetener (related to migraines)

Useful Supplements
Vitamin B6: It improves tolerance to histamine.
Magnesium: Important in maintaining the tone of the small blood vessels.


This herb as been well researched and has proven helpful in combating migraines in particular. It has a number of different actions mainly as an anti-inflammatory and analgesic. It prevents the release of compounds in the brain which cause the dilation of the small blood vessels.

This herb can be taken in the form of capsules, tincture or the fresh plant. Tincture dosage can be taken in the amount of 2-3 mls per day. More frequent dosages may be required if the migraines are severe.
In this case consult your local Medical Herbalist.
Avoid in pregnancy


Has a long history of use in treating circulatory problems. It increases circulation to the peripheries of the body, including the brain.  It has anti-inflammatory actions and can relax tense muscles; it also strengthens the blood vessels as it contains beneficial anti-oxidants. The bitter taste of Rosemary also stimulates the liver and gall bladder improving a sluggish digestion; it will also help clear toxins out of the body which could be the cause of the headache or migraine in some individuals.
Avoid in pregnancy

ASLO. . .
Tincture of Rosemary - Great for headaches


100g Fresh Herbs
500ml of Vodka

. Cut herbs up very small
. Place into a jar and pour vodka in on top
. Leave for 14 days in a cool dry place shaking up every few days
. After 14 days strain and store

Simple Flannel Compress
Place a flannel in some boiling water
Pour some essential oils - Peppermint and Eucalyptus on the flannel
Place your forehead and relax!