Depression black man - headache

People with headaches used to be advised to immerse themselves in a bath of warm water sweetened with honey; this acted to draw out the vapors that cause headaches. — PHOTO: Tribune file

Most of us have encountered a nagging headache at one time or another. Many turn to over-the-counter (OTC) remedies such as Excedrin, Advil, Aleve, Bayer, aspirin, Ibuprofen, Motrin or Benadryl. Although I have dealt with painkillers in a past column, today my focus is strictly on headaches.

I began my pursuit of this column, by conferring with some people that were a bit older than me. I wanted to inquire about the things they were exposed to, in dealing with headaches, because I knew that most of today’s OTCs were not around, back then. As recalled by most of them, lying down with a cold or hot compress across their forehead, was the typical manner of dealing with a headache. Deciding if the compress should be cold or hot depended on what worked for them. In fact, the type of headache often determined if one used a cold or hot compress. I recall that some people indicated that they experimented with the temperature of the compress. I understand that there is no research that suggests which approach is more beneficial.

Some of you might recall using the cold or hot compress for headache relief; in fact, I have no doubt that some of you still resort to this technique today. My parents directed me to use the compress to relieve my headache, but I also recall being administered the nastiest medicine known to boy or girl, back then. While I know of no relationship between what my parents gave me, whether for a cut finger, a cold or a headache, I was given a table spoon, not a teaspoon, of castor oil. I imagine that some of you can still recall the taste of castor oil. I began crying as my father poured it into a spoon. There was also Hadacol, similar to castor oil, which was given to many of us as another remedy for headaches. Truth be told, all accounts that I have read of this so-called medicine had no effect on any illness. Perhaps, its enormous popularity came from those that were drinkers as Hadacol had a 12% alcoholic content but no headache relief, back in the day.

In writing this column, I came across an on-line article by Chris Stokel-Walker, titled “5 Bizarre and Scary Historical Headache Cures,” that was posted Sept. 13, 2013. Check out some of the recommendations on which he reported; recommendations that are obviously from before my time. How about, shaving off one’s hair, burning the scalp superficially down to the muscles. This article even suggested an incision or perforation of the bone of the head. Sounds dangerous? Yes. Another approach to resolving a headache was to tie a dead mole to one’s head. Keep in mind that this was not in recent times, but the 10th century. Also, highlighted in Chris Stokel-Walker’s article was a remedy from the 12th century.

People with headaches were advised to immerse themselves in a bath of warm water sweetened with honey; this acted to draw out the vapors that cause headaches.

It is unlikely that any of you were given the patent medicines of the past, although some boasted of being safe cures for headaches. These antique medicines contained everything from arsenic to opium and promised instant relief. Some of these so-called headache remedies were created by people with no medical degrees. In fact, many “cooked-up” their own medicines and sold them from horse-drawn, medicine wagons that went from town to town. These people were often labeled as quacks. Because many had no medical background, they were eventually banned. Therefore, some turned to readily available quick home remedies to cure headaches. Water is one way to treat and avoid headaches. It is a natural remedy as dehydration can be one of the main causes of getting and treating a headache.

Amelia Scott in a Dec. 27, 2016, online article titled, “How to Get Rid of a Headache Instantly,” suggested consuming ginger as a panacea to cure headaches fast. Why? She points out that ginger reduces inflammation of the blood vessels in the head, thus providing relief. Besides consuming ginger, experts point out that rubbing ginger powder on the head will also soothe the pain. Amelia Scott likewise identified cinnamon as an effective treatment for headaches. Just like ginger, cinnamon can be effective if consumed but also by applying a thick paste of cinnamon powder on one’s forehead. Scott also identifies cloves, reduced to a powder and placed in a sachet to breath as another effective headache remedy. It is claimed that it calms down one’s senses. Has anyone tried this approach?

Other headache remedies that she identifies are yoga postures as part of one’s daily routine, neck stretches, an ice pack on the forehead and eating apples to balance the acid-alkali combination in the body. A warm glass of water with honey and lemon juice to drink up to two or three times a day can be even more effective. The herb basil with its strong scent can also prove to be a great remedy for headache treatment. If you have a headache, try one of these approaches and you may have instant relief.

If you can go back to the ‘50s or before, you may recall the slogan, “Fall back with Stanback.” In case this does not register with you, it was one of the headache powders of the past. These “production powders,” as labors called them, were easier for pharmacists to make. Powdered headache medicines provided quick relief for workers that contracted headaches from working in hot, noisy environments. Some of you are old enough to remember when BC Powder came on the market. For many of us, along with Goody’s Headache Powder, these were the major, over the counter headache medicines that many of us used.

If you do not remember any of these powder headache medicines, then you may remember this slogan, “The Shortest Distance Between You and Headache Relief.” This slogan referred to the tablet, Nebs. If these headache remedies are not familiar to you, then perhaps you recall and used Bufferin! These were headache relief medications possibly found in your parent’s medicine cabinets, back in the day.

Hopefully, you will not have a headache. Chances are, however, that you will. So, it may bode well for you to store this column somewhere. When a headache arrives, you will have several choices, some practical and some perhaps, impractical. But, at least you will have choices with some usefulness today just as those who suffered with headaches had, back in the day.

Alonzo Kittrels can be reached at or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 S. 16th St., Philadelphia, PA 19146

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