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Rosemary for Migraine: Can It Provide Symptom Relief?

Living Well

December 29, 2023

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Photography by Milles Studio/Stocksy United

Photography by Milles Studio/Stocksy United

by Elinor Hills

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Medically Reviewed by:

Megan Soliman, MD

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by Elinor Hills

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Megan Soliman, MD

•••••

•••••

The research on rosemary essential oil and migraine relief is lacking, but aromatherapy, in general, may have potential benefits as a complimentary migraine treatment.

Migraine is a complex neurological condition that involves episodes that can be debilitating. While a range of medicinal treatments exist, many people seek alternative therapies to complement their migraine management strategies.

One such alternative is aromatherapy and, more specifically, aromatherapy with rosemary. Aromatherapy, a holistic healing approach, utilizes the aromatic compounds found in essential oils to promote well-being and alleviate symptoms associated with various health conditions.

Rosemary is an aromatic herb known for its versatile role as a cooking ingredient as well as its potential therapeutic properties ranging from pain relief to mood improvement.

While rosemary has been studied in the context of a range of medical practices, its role in migraine has been much less thoroughly investigated.

In this article, we’ll explore what scientific research says, or doesn’t say, about using rosemary to help alleviate migraine symptoms and how aromatherapy may be beneficial for people with migraine.

While research suggests there are health benefits, the FDA doesn’t monitor or regulate the purity or quality of essential oils. It’s important to talk with a healthcare professional before you begin using essential oils, and be sure to research the quality of a brand’s products. Always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil.

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Aromatherapy and migraine

In the context of migraine, aromatherapy is believed to work through multiple mechanisms:

  1. Pain reduction: Certain essential oils, including rosemary, possess analgesic properties that may help reduce the intensity of pain associated with migraine attacks.
  2. Stress reduction: Aromatherapy can promote relaxation and reduce stress levels, which are known triggers for migraine episodes in some individuals.
  3. Anti-inflammatory effects: Some essential oils, when inhaled or applied topically, may have anti-inflammatory properties that could potentially alleviate migraine-related inflammation.

The potential benefits of aromatherapy, with essential oils beyond just rosemary, in migraine management are promising. In a small study published in 2016, lavender aromatherapy, when used as a complementary therapy, was found to reduce the frequency and severity of headaches.

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Rosemary for migraine

There’s limited research specifically addressing the use of rosemary for migraine episodes, and most reports of the benefits of rosemary aromatherapy for migraine are anecdotal.

Still, rosemary has been used in therapeutic practice in folk medicine for centuries.

Several smaller studies have explored the effects of rosemary essential oil on mood and cognitive function. One older study, in 2009, observed that exposure to both rosemary and lavender essential oils helped reduce test-taking anxiety among a cohort of nursing students.

Another small study in 2012, found that low doses of rosemary had a statistically significant positive impact on cognitive performance in elderly participants. Participants who were exposed to rosemary aroma exhibited improved alertness and contentment compared to those in the control group.

It’s possible that rosemary may have cognitive and neurological benefits, but much more research is needed to understand the connection.

A 2015 study looked at the effects of rosemary essential oil on pain management in mice. The study concluded that rosemary essential oil’s analgesic properties may provide potential benefits when combined with analgesic drugs like paracetamol and codeine.

A 2023 study observed the neuroprotective features of carnosic acid, which is a component of rosemary.

While the study did not specifically mention migraine, it found that carnosic acid promotes antioxidant activity and has anti-inflammatory effects. It’s believed that this could be linked to why some people experience relief after using rosemary for a range of neurological disorders.

Not enough clinical research exists to promote the use of rosemary aromatherapy for migraine in particular, but it’s considered a low risk option.

Rosemary won’t magically relieve your migraine symptoms, but you may find that it has other positive effects, like stress reduction, that make navigating the pain of a migraine attack more bearable.

If you want to see if rosemary helps relieve your migraine symptoms, it’s important to first consider the potential risks and understand how to use it.

Potential risks of using rosemary for migraine

While rosemary is generally considered safe for most people, there are some potential risks to be aware of.

  1. Skin Sensitivity: Some individuals may experience skin irritation or allergic reactions when applying undiluted rosemary essential oil (or any essential oil). Always dilute it with a carrier oil, such as jojoba or coconut oil, before topical use.
  2. Pregnancy and Nursing: Pregnant or nursing people should consult a healthcare professional before using rosemary essential oil, as it may not be safe.
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How to use rosemary for migraine

If you’re interested in trying rosemary as a complementary approach for managing migraine episodes, here’s how you may consider using it.

  1. Diffusion: Add a few drops of rosemary essential oil to an aromatherapy diffuser and allow the aroma to fill the room.
  2. Topical Application: Dilute rosemary essential oil with a carrier oil (such as coconut or almond oil) and apply it to your temples, neck, or wrists. Be sure to perform a patch test first to check for skin sensitivity.
  3. Inhalation: Inhale the scent of rosemary essential oil by adding a few drops to a bowl of hot water, covering your head with a towel, and leaning over the bowl to breathe in the steam. You can also sniff directly from the bottle.

When to see a doctor

It’s essential to remember that rosemary and aromatherapy are not a replacement for medical treatment. If you experience severe or persistent migraine episodes, it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

A healthcare professional can help you explore various treatment options, including a combination of medications and lifestyle modifications.

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Bottom line: Can rosemary help with migraine?

In limited studies, rosemary was shown to have therapeutic properties that may benefit people navigating migraine. Aromatherapy, more broadly, has demonstrated potential benefits in migraine management.

The scientific evidence is limited, though some individuals may find relief by incorporating rosemary into their migraine management strategy as a complementary approach.

However, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional before making any significant changes to your migraine treatment plan.

Medically reviewed on December 29, 2023

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About the author

Elinor Hills

Elinor Hills has an MSc in Medical Anthropology and is passionate about the intersection of emotional well-being and physical health. Outside of work, she is an avid runner and enjoys yoga, photography, and drawing.

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