This blog post is a part of Sean Donahoe's blog party at Green Man Ramblings on Herbs for sexual vitality, pleasure, and health. Be sure to check in at his blog after May 15th to see all the related blog entries.
Epimedium grandiflorum, also known as Horny goat weed, or Yin Yang Huo in Chinese, is not the first herb to come to mind when you think of something to treat or prevent migraine-type head aches. Epimedium is best known for it's use as aphrodisiac. Specifically, it known for improving blood flow to help with erections. Epimedium is classified as a Kidney Yang tonic from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Kindney Yang tonics are used for persons with acute or constitutional Kidney Yang deficiency who may have one or more of the following signs or symptoms: swollen tongue, low back pain improved by warmth, subjective feelings of cold, pear shaped body, frequent pale urination, cold knees, poor memory, withdrawal, desire for warm drinks. I have seen Epimedium growing well in Northern gardens, for example at the Bastyr University garden in Seattle. It is reported to grow well in USDA zones 4b - 9a.
It's been about 3 years since I last used Epimedium, and I find it interesting that the opportunity to write about it comes up when I am expecting a new baby. I hope this anecdotal account will be helpful to someone with this type of headache that I treated with Epimedium. In December of 2006 I weaned my daughter who was about 2.5 years old at the time. I suppose I had been a follower or at least influenced by the philosophy of child-led weaning as the gold standard. However, by the time my daughter was 2 and a half, the nursing was really depleting me. While she was full of energy and vitality, I was physically exhausted and depleted, despite my balanced diet. I had to stop and I did. By January of 2007 I was still recovering my energy and felt the first severe affects from the depletion and exhaustion, even though I had already stopped nursing a month before. In January I had my *first ever* severe and debilitating headache that started with my menstrual cycle. One side of my head was throbbing unbearably. I couldn't stand any sounds or light. I couldn't walk with out severe head pain, and I confined myself to bed in a dark room. In the morning the headache would start and then not go away until the sun went down. Migraines with menstrual cycles are such a common complaint, including among women in my family. I could feel the expectation that this was going to become a chronic issue for me.
With the help of Giovanni Maciocia's classic textbook The Practice of Chinese Medicine, I was able to narrow down my headache type of one of more than 17 different headache pathologies described in terms of Traditional Chinese medical diagnosis. By the book my headache type appeared to be due to Kidney Yang deficiency leading to Liver Yang Rising, a rather uncommon diagnosis, but not surprising given my constitutional type. The more common features of severe headaches due to Liver Yang Rising headache are throbbing headache that affects one or both sides of the head. More often than not, Liver Yang Rising headaches are due to underlying Liver and/or Kidney Yin or Blood deficiency such as is common in peri-menopausal or menopausal women. The point that my headaches were worse during the day, and faded out at night was key in pointing to a Liver Yang Rising Headache due to Kidney Yang deficiency. As soon as I finished my cycle I started supplementing with the one Kidney Yang tonic that I happened to have on hand, which was Epimedium. I took this herb decoction for a month. By the time my next menstrual cycle came around I was overjoyed that I had absolutely no trace of headache to accompany it.
My main take home lesson from this experience was nursing is great, but not at the expense of mom's health. I'm hoping that I will not have any issues with nursing the new baby, but if I do have depletion headache come up in spite of a nourishing diet again I will be taking Epimedium again.
For more information about the Actions, Indications, and Medical uses for Epimedium a great site to check out is Alternative Healing.
Certified organic Epimedium powder, which is far superior to that in any drugstore tablets can be found at Mountain Rose Herbs.
The Epimedium photo was taken by Sphl and used with Permission. Regarding the photo: permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts.