Headache Plant

Premna integrifolia / Premna serratifolia

Herbs gallery - Headache Plant

Common names

  • Bastard Guelder
  • Coastal Premna
  • Creek Premna
  • Headache Plant

The headache plant is a mid-sized tree that is a member of the Verbenaceae family. It usually grows up to a height of anything between 2 meters and 5 meters and is found in sites where there is fresh and salt water. The headache plant produces smooth, rounded leaves that are quite broad. Often the blades grow up to 15 cm and usually have a vivid green color. The leaves have a distinct midrib and their veins are elevated and found on the underside.

The headache plant produces copious flowers and they appear in branched clusters. The color of the flowers may be green or creamy. The plant bears small, globular fruits, which are fleshy. The color of the fruits change to black when ripe and each fruit encloses a solitary hard seed.

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The flowering and fruiting season of this plant continues from May to November. When the plants are in bloom, they draw large number of bees and butterflies.

Parts used

Root, leaves.


The headache plant possesses a number of medicinal properties and, hence, has various applications. In addition, the leaves and young shoots of the plant are consumed after cooking, while the timber is also used in some places where there is a scarcity of timber.

A decoction prepared from the roots of the headache plant is known to be stomachic, cordial and also effective for treating liver problems. The roots are also used as an ingredient in preparing Dasamoola - a traditional Ayurvedic medicine that is employed to assuage Vata as well as to support the normal functioning of the nervous system. In addition, a decoction prepared from the leaves is employed to treat flatulence and colic. The plant's tender parts are used to prepare a decoction for treating neuralgia and rheumatism. In some areas, the leaves of the headache plant are rubbed with pepper and administered for treating cold and fever. It is also used for treating gonorrhea and administered while one is recovering from fevers.

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The leaves of the headache plant are known to possess carminative and galactagogue properties.

In Indonesia and Peninsular Malaysia, people consume the boiled young leaves of this plant as a vegetable. In several regions of Indonesia, people prepare an infusion with the leaves and roots of headache plant and employ it for treating shortness of breath and fevers. Women consume the leaves of this mid-sized tree to promote production of breast milk. In Indo-China, people used the leaves and roots of the headache tree in the form of a diuretic, febrifuge and stomachic. People of Guam in the Pacific Ocean prepare a tea by boiling the bark of the tree and drink it for treating neuralgia.

The Aborigines in Australia employ the headache plant to heal stingray and stonefish stings. It is also used for healing wounds caused by spears. In the Pacific region, people use this herb widely for therapeutic as well as magical purposes. For instance, people in the Marshall Islands, use the plant locally called Kaar to treat a variety of ailments, for protection against ailments, to enhance one's luck as well as to make love potions. The leaves of the headache plant are employed to treat debility of the limbs as well as to provide relief from headaches. Perhaps, this is why this tree derived its name - headache plant. Often, extracts from this plant are blended with extracts from other herbs to prepare various medicines.

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Inhabitants of Micronesia's Chuuk Islands use the young leaves of the headache plant for treating various conditions related to the eyes, for instance styes. A person first chews the leaves till it becomes soft and mushy. Subsequently, the mush is spat in the eye of the patient via a blowpipe that is made from a pawpaw stem part.

In other islands of Micronesia, particularly in Kosrae and Pohnpei, people generally use the leaves of the headache plant in steam baths. In addition, they also prepare an herbal tea by infusing the leaves of this herb in warm water and drink it to cure coughs. The juice squeezed out from the berry-like fruits of this herb is employed as a nasal drop for treating sinus headaches.

Currently, scientists are studying the extracts obtained from the headache tree bark as well as its wood, which contain alkaloid compounds and iridoid glycoside. It is believed that these compounds possess the potential to put off cardiovascular diseases.

The leaves and tender shoots of the headache tree are edible and of great use during famines, when other foods are scarce or unavailable. In such times, people cook the leaves and tender shoots and consume them as greens.

Normally, the timber of the headache plant is considered to be useless. However, in some Pacific Islands and the Dutch East Indies, particularly atolls, where it is difficult to find good quality timber, the timber of the headache plant is utilized for making poles and posts. In addition, people in such places also use this timber to build boats and rafts; paddles, fishing rods, knife handles; for carving as well as turning and also for making specialized fish hooks. According to available documents, some indigenous people of North Queensland in Australia have also employed the timber of the headache plant to make spear shafts.

The leaves of this herb are employed for treating a variety of ailments related to the stomach, while the root bark is employed for treating fevers, rheumatism, liver problems and neuralgia. People in Myanmar (formerly Burma) use the stems and roots of the headache plant in the form of a laxative, stomachic and carminative. A decoction prepared with the entire plant is also employed for treating fevers, neuralgia and rheumatism. In Ayurveda, the ancient Indian herbal medicine system, the roots of this plant are used as an ingredient in several formulations.

It has been confirmed that the alcoholic extract from the headache plant's root is an excellent anti-bacterial agent; especially it was found to work wonderfully against gram-positive organisms during preliminary screening.

In Ayurvedic medicine, the roots of the plants Premna integrifolia and C. phlomidis are used as an ingredient to prepare many formulations. A study undertaken recently to evaluate the roots for their immunomodulatory potential found that the roots of both plants had immunoprophylactic effect. In fact, the roots of C. phlomidis showed a better response to particular immune activity.

A study involving the ethanol extract from the wood of the plant Premna serratifolia showed considerable anti-arthritic actions against arthritis induced by adjuvant. It was found that this anti-arthritic activity of the wood was owing to the presence of specific phyto-constituents like alkaloids, iridoid glycosides, flavonoids and phenolic compounds.

Findings of a study exhibited that the headache plant possesses the aptitude to scavenge the harmful free radicals in our body. At the same time, it can reduce the power of the free radicals and scavenge nitric oxide. The headache plant also possesses antioxidant properties, but it is dependent on the concentration of its various phyto-constituents. Research has shown that the ethanol extract of the wood of this tree has the maximum antioxidant activity. Initial screening of the wood has shown that it contains phyto compound such as alkaloids, flavonoids, glycosides, phenolic compounds and steroids.

Habitat and cultivation

The headache plant is native to various regions across the globe. This plant can be found widely distributed in the coastal areas as well as islands in the tropical and subtropical regions of Asia, Australia, Africa and the Pacific.

Headache plant has a preference for full sun and it grows well in various types of moist soils, including sand. This plant possesses the aptitude to endure salt. Headache plant can be found growing naturally in coastal scrub as well as on sand dunes that have become stable. When grown in gardens, headache plant is a mid-sized tree, which draws butterflies, bees and various types of insects.

Propagation of headache plant is quite easy. This plant can be propagated from cuttings without much difficulty. As a result, it is often used in the form of a street tree or even for hedges.


The stem bark of headache plant encloses three alkaloids - ganikarine, ganiarine, and premnine. Moreover, phytochemical screening of the plant yielded alkaloids, steroids, flavonoids, phenolic compounds and glycosides.

Aside from the above mentioned chemicals, the headache plant also encloses iridoid glycosides as well as a number of diterpenoids. Recently, scientists have undertaken laboratory studies with a view to examine the potential cardiac stimulant activities of the headache plant's wood extracts and bark.


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