Old Fashioned Headache Remedies

UCLA has an Online Archive of American Folk Medicine that is fun to play with, if you have some spare time and curiosity about how our ancestors used to treat common ailments.

For example, if you search for “headache”, you can learn that in a 1935 publication, it was suggested that you could cure a headache by rubbing a stone on your forehead. This unusual (and probably quite unhelpful) solution was reported to be a Native American remedy.

A collection of folklore from North Carolina suggested that putting a handful of salt on your head would cure a headache. Alabama folklore suggests a few teaspoons of water with cinnamon. Head west to find that Utah folklore says to wrap your aching head in paper soaked in vinegar. And Colorado folk medicine swears by putting sliced onion on your forehead. At least the onion will keep people from bothering you while you’re not feeling well!

If wearing sliced onion isn’t your thing, try this headache remedy from Illinois: wear nutmeg on a red string around your neck. And if that doesn’t work, here is more advice from the Memoirs of the Alma Egan Hyatt Foundation:

“If you have the headache, dip your hand in cold water, rubbing it over your head, then shake all the water off your hand before you put it back in the pan of water. Keep doing this. But never let any water stay on your hand that went over your head, for you will be putting the headache back and will keep it. You must throw your headache away every time.”

The cold water remedy may be the only one that is actually useful — the coolness in the area of the pain can help ease your headache.

But be careful of how your shorn hair is used — North Carolina folk wisdom says that if your hair is used in a bird’s nest, you’re going to have a headache until the bird stops using it. And clean up after yourself — leaving eggshells in the sink will give you a headache, according to folk superstitions from Utah.