It’s that time of the year again. While Spring brings in beautiful trees and blooming flowers, the warm temperatures send us outside to enjoy the sun after a long, cold Winter. We throw open the windows, get to work on our gardens, and, for many of us, suffer from allergies.
I originally thought hay fever referred to a specific allergy, but in reality, it describes the same allergic reaction 30% of the US population suffers from every year. And allergies are on the rise.
I’ve suffered from seasonal allergies my entire life. From three months old (well before modern medicine says you can) I was struggling to breathe, had a terrible stuffy nose – was basically miserable. My mother took me to half a dozen doctors before one finally conceded that it may – in fact – be allergies.
As a toddler, and young child, I loved to play outside. But wherever a blade of grass touched my naked skin, a welt or thin scratch would develop. After playing soccer, my legs looked like I lost a fight with a cat.
Years go by, and finally, as an adult, I went and got allergy tested. Turns out I’m allergic to pretty much everything outside. yay.
Sorry for the nude-ish photo and the crappy angle – I took it myself, with a phone. That first line down my back was trees, the second one were different grass pollens and the third one was indoor allergies (cats, dogs, dust mites, molds, etc).
You see that big angry one in the first row? That’s oak. Guess what we have a lot of in Virginia. Hell, my neighborhood is called Scarlet OAKS.
I think the only trees I wasn’t allergic to we don’t even have in Virginia.
I go get into the symptoms of Hay Fever or seasonal allergies – you know it if you have it.
I will, however, go into some tips and tricks to reduce your exposure before we get to the herbal remedies.
Tips and Tricks to Reduce Hay Fever
Take showers often
Pollen likes to hang out in your hair and clothing, so every time you wave your luscious locks, or take a sweater off, you’re kicking up pollen again.
Wash your sheets (and animals) often
In the same vein as washing yourself more often, your sheets will collect pollen, and your outdoor dogs and cats will bring it in in their fur and share it with you. Isn’t that nice.
Wash your sinuses
In addition to keeping your environment clean, you can go directly to the source. Our noses hide tiny hairs that help trap foreign particles – aka, they grab pollen and hang onto it. Neti pots and other sinus instigators help to rinse the pollen out from inside your nose and sinuses.
To help apply the herbal remedies directly to the source, you can purchase nasal spray bottles at a drug store, pull the spout off and replace the saline with your herbal tea. Take note, though, that these solutions go bad quickly, so I would refresh the tea once a day. The plastic saline spray bottles, as well, can harbor nasty things, so I don’t recommend reusing them for long either.
Take a look at your diet
My allergist explained it this way: your immune system is like a cup that carries allergens around inside of it. You won’t actually get symptoms until your immune system cup overflows. That’s when you get the sneezing, itching, running nose, asthma, etc.
Take a look at your diet and look and eliminating grains and dairy. Most of us are mildly irritated by digesting gluten, dairy, soy and corn. Try eliminating each, individually for at least two weeks and see if it makes a difference in your hay fever at all. In addition to being irritating, dairy has been known to increase the body’s inflammation response.
As always, make sure to give your body the essential building blocks it needs to repair and heal the damage caused by inflammation. Make sure to eat lots of fresh fruit and veggies, homemade soups, and lots of water and tea.
Hydrotherapy, very simply, is the use of water in therapy. Cold, wet wash clothes over the eyes can help to reduce inflammation. Warm, wet wash clothes over the sinuses can help open them up and encourage mucus flow.
Address Your Indoor Air
Replace the air filters in your home. Run an air purifier. Buy air purifying plants such as spider plants, ficus and peace lillies.
The relative humidity in your home is also vitally important. The humidity in your home should be between 30-50%. Low humidity can dry out and irritate noses and eyes, exacerbating hay fever symptoms.
Also avoid using chemical cleaners or plastics that can leach chemicals into the air.
This one doesn’t do anything in the way of curing you, but it can relieve the painful symptoms for a moment or two.
On the ridge of your eye socket, close to the bridge of your nose is a small indentation in the bone. If you take your thumb, press firmly into that indentation and wiggle it, it can help relieve sinus pressure felt above the eye.
The other pressure point is just below your eye, under your cheek bone, close to your nose. Press firmly and wiggle your thumb here too. After a few seconds, you should feel the pressure “release”.
How to Use These Herbal Remedies
Nasal washing, or rinsing, clears out any pollen or irritants from your sinuses. To make a homemade saline solution to rinse your sinuses, combine 1 cup distilled water .5 tsp salt and .5 tsp baking soda. If you use tap water instead of distilled water, make sure to boil it first to sterilize it.
Adding astringent herbs to your rinsing solution can help reduce inflammation and irritation. To use these herbs, steep them in the hot saline solution, then strain the herbs using a coffee filter or cheese cloth. You want to be very careful not to rinse with a liquid with any fine bits in it that could get lodged in your sinuses.
You can apply these herbs directly to your eyes for soothing relief. Make a tea by steeping (not boiling) them in hot water, let it cool, and apply to your eyes with a dropper or eye cup.
Steam inhalations help get the healing properties of those herbs into your sinuses and lungs. Simply bring a pot of water to boil, add the herbs (or essential oils), hang your head over a bowl with the water and lay a towel over your head. The towel helps to trap the steam around your head.
After you’ve addressed all of the external methods to reduce or mitigate your hay fever symptoms, it’s time to take a look at the herbs that can help you the rest of the way.
Another excellent way to consume these herbal remedies is as a tea. There are several ways to make herbal teas that are determined by the herb you are working with and the form.
Hot infusions, or what most people think of when they think of tea, draw out vitamins, enzymes and volatile oils from the plant. To make a hot infusion, usually of herbal leaves, steep (do not boil) the herbs in warm to hot water from 15 minutes to 1 hour. Then strain the plant material from the liquid.
Cold infusions are best when dealing with delicate herbs such as marshmallow root, and fresh lemon balm. Simply steep the herbs in cool or room temperature water overnight.
Decoctions are made from simmering plant material gently for 20-45 minutes. Decoctions are preferred when dealing with hard roots, dried berries, bark and seeds.
Some herbs can be bought in pre-packaged capsules and taken like any regular vitamin.
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In labs, it has been shown to reverse damage to T cells caused by radiation, and is being used in the East to help cancer patients recover from treatment. In traditional patients, it increases their existing T cell function.
Specifically, Astragalus increases natural killer T cells. These cells attack and destroy other cells that are infected with a virus.
It also increases the body’s production of interferon, a naturally occurring protein that signals cells to increase their defenses. These responses attack viruses, bacteria, parasites and tumor cells.
Astragalus is classified as an immunomodulating herb. Hay fever and allergies are nothing more than our immune systems overreacting to a minor irritant. Immunomodulating herbs help to level out immune responses.
Astragalus can be taken a few weeks prior to allergy season to help regulate your immune system’s response.
In addition to helping regulate the immune system, it has been proved in labs to be anti-inflammatory. It inhibits the release of histamines from mast cells. Those over the counter anti-histamines you buy? They do the same thing.
This should not be taken to treat acute infections or fevers as it is also a vasodilator. Also, do not take Astragalus if you’re already taking steroids or other medication. Speak to your health provider first.
How to Take It
If you purchase the root, simmer 2-4 tsp per 1 cup water, it for at least 30 minutes. Some even add Astragalus to their soup or rice, simmer for 30 minutes, and then discard the plant material.
If you prefer taking the capsules, you’ll want to take three 400mg capsules a day.
Butterbur has been used in the past in the support and treatment of heart health. However, it’s use has been limited because it contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids which are toxic in large doses.
These days, however, the pyrrolizidine alkaloids have been removed from the commercially available Butterbur products and it’s gaining popularity again in the herbal community.
In addition to heart health, it contains antihistamines. In fact, recent studies have compared the effectiveness of Butterbur against traditional over the counter antihistamines, and the results were parallel. In fact, those who took butterbur did not experience the same drowsiness as the over the counter medication.
Some butterbur products contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids. These should be avoided at all costs. Pyrrolizidine alkaloids can cause liver and lung damage and potentially can cause cancer. Only purchase products that specifically say “PA-free”.
Butterbur can also cause allergic reactions in people that are sensitive to the Asteraceae/Compositae family, ie. Ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, daises, etc.
Butterbur can also potentially exacerbate liver diease, so avoid taking it if you already suffer from liver diease.
How to Take It
Take 100mg daily.
The history of Calamus Root is a multifaceted one. It has been used for centuries to treat everything from colic, stomach cramps, hysteria, epilepsy and nervous disorders. It has been prescribed for rheumatism, gum disease and as an aphrodisiac.
A tincture made from calamus root is often used to treat potential parasites in the gut. It also relieves nausea and motion sickness.
In addition to the GI benefits, it has been used an Ayurvedic practices as a brain tonic – an overall brain-improving herb. It is said to protect the brain from free-radicals, energizes the brain, but also produces a sense of relaxation and calmness.
Where Calamus root comes into play for hay fever, is that it is an expectorant, clearing nasal packages and the respiratory system. It is antibacterial, antiviral, and can treat many nasal/upper respiratory complaints by eliminating mucus.
High doses of this herb can cause nausea, stomach cramps, and extreme vomiting.
Do not take if pregnant. It has been used in the past to stimulate the uterus and could cause a miscarriage.
How to Take It
Use 6-12 drops in water or under the tongue up to 3 times daily.
The oldest record of medicinal use of cloves comes from 240 BC in China. Traditionally, it has been used to treat diarrhea, nausea, enhance blood circulation.
The dried flower of the clove plant has anesthetic and antibacterial properties. It is commonly used in the dental field as an ingredient in mouth washes, dental creams, and throat sprays. It cleanses the mouth and throat of bacteria and can ease gum pain.
It is believed to have these medicinal qualities due to the flavonoids it contains. Flavonoids are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. The clove, as a spice, is full of Vitamin C, Omega-3 fatty acids and calcium and magnesium.
The essential oils derived from the clove buds and is used for its antiseptic abilities. Concoctions containing clove oil can be used for headaches, stomach aches, bruises, skin infections, fungal infections, and lesions. It has been proven in the lab to be an effective treatment against Strep., Staph., Pneumococcus, ringworm and Athlete’s foot.
Clove essential oil is very strong and much be diluted before applying to the skin.
How to take it
A tea made from cloves relieves nasal congestion and sinus pressure.
Evening Primrose oil works as an anti-inflammatory and works on the prostaglandin balance in the body.
Allergic reactions in the body are caused by a release of histamines which cause inflammation. Evening primrose oil stimulates white blood cells which can slow the production of histamines. In addition to reducing the histamine reaction, it also reduces the inflammation when an allergic reaction does occur.
May cause low blood pressure and increase the risk of bleeding. Side effects also consist of abdominal pain, anxiety, GI upset, constipation, difficulty swallowing, dizziness, etc. Evening primrose oil can also ripen the cervix so women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid.
How to Take It
8-9 capsules (8-10 ml of evening primrose oil) to begin. After 12 weeks, after benefits are noticed, you can reduce to 2-3 capsules a day.
Goldenseal is one of the oldest recorded American remedy. It stimulates blood circulation, and reduces inflammation, especially in the mucus membranes. Goldenseal contains a chemical called berberine which help fight bacteria and fungi. In addition to antibacterial properties, it is also an astringent, which will help fight the inflammation in the eyes and sinuses.
Do not ingest if pregnant as it has been shown to stimulate contractions in the uterus. Do not take for more than two weeks at a time. It is safe as an eyewash and nasal rinse however.
How to Take It
Drink 30 drops, four to six times daily in water.
Use one teaspoon of Goldenseal root per one cup of water. NOTE: it is extremely bitter.
Make a tea from one teaspoon of the root to one pint of boiling water. Shake and allow to steep for two hours, stirring periodically. Strain well.
While Kudzu in the United States is mostly seen as a horribly invasive, pest vine, it has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for over 2000 years. To this day it is still one of the most used herbs in TCM. The roots are juiced fresh or dried for use in a decoction or powder form. Kudzu contains glycosides, sterols, and isoflavones.
In addition to the glycosides, sterols and isoflavones, Kudzu contains quercetin which has antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties.
The known side effects of Kudzu are minimal, however those who are pregnant or breastfeeding should take with caution. If you are also taking any other medications or herbal supplements, consult with your healthcare professional first.
How to Take It
The standard capsule usually contains 10mg extract which is the equivalent to 5g of the dried herb. The recommended dosage is 120-150 mg daily.
Kudzu flowers can be used in the form of tea. A 1/2 cup fresh flowers in a cup of boiling water, steeped for 5 minutes and then strained.
Another very popular herb used in Traditional Chinese Medicine is licorice root. The saponins found in the root and rhizomes of the licorice plant provide many different hay fever-fighting benefits.
The saponins are known to thin mucus as well as help break up and expel it. In addition to saponins, licorice root also contains glycyrrhizin which inhibits viral and bacterial growth and acts as an anti-inflammatory.
There has been some clinical research suggesting that glycyrrhizin interferes with adrenal action that can cause headaches, fatigue, high blood pressure and heart attacks. It can also cause water retention, swelling and muscle pain.
Pure licorice root can contain 1-24% glycyrrhizin, with the average being between 6-14%. When purchasing licorice, look for Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) which has been modified to contain no more than 3% glycyrrhizin.
Avoid taking licorice in any form if you already suffer from heart, liver or adrenal issues. Also, do not take for longer than 2 weeks.
How to Take It
Licorice root can be found as simply the dried root, or an extract created from the dried root. The extract can be used in teas, capsules, tablets or as an ingredient in herbal mixtures.
Maritime Pine Bark
Maritime pine bark is a well-known, very popular herbal remedy. They have trademarked any combination of flavonoids extracted from maritime pine trees, and it is used in over 600 herbal supplements, multi-vitamins and other health products.
Several studies have proven that pycnogenol (the extract from maritime pine bark) has been effective in treating asthma and enhancing lung function.
People with diabetes or low blood sugar should avoid maritime pine back because it may lower blood glucose levels even more.
It may also increase the risk of bleeding, so those with high blood pressure should not use maritime pine bark.
Maritime pine bark can be toxic if too much is taken, so take under advice of a healthcare practitioner.
Minor side effects such as headaches, nausea and upset stomach have been reported.
How to Take It
Most practitioners recommend dosages ranging from 25-300 milligrams per day.
Parsley has been used for hundreds of years to treat a number of different ailments. Generally, the leaves are used as a seasoning in food, while the roots and seeds are used in herbal remedies.
While all parts of the plant contain parsley essential oil, the seeds contain the highest concentration. The essential oil has a high content of apiol (phenylpropanoid ), myristicin, apiolin, and pinene. The substances we’re mostly concerned with are apiol and myrisiticin.
Parsley has been used to treat a number of conditions such as a weak immune system, fluid retention and bad breath. To treat allergies, however, parsley has been shown to inhibit the release of histamines in the body.
The seeds and essential oil from parsley are toxic in large doses.
Do not take if pregnant, breastfeeding, or have liver, heart or kidney issues. Do not drink the tea for more than two weeks.
How to Take It
Add two teaspoons of the dried leaves or root (or one teaspoon of crushed seeds) to a cup of boiling water. Steep for 10 minutes and then strain.
Take 10-30 drops of the tincture made from seeds up to four times a day.
Plantain is a miracle weed. Generally speaking, it heals damaged tissues. The leaves of the plant can be used fresh or dried. It contains iridoids, flavonoids, tannins, silicic acid and enzymes. These components are anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and astringent. It has been used to treat everything from throat infections, dog bites, and epilepsy.
The characteristics of plantain that help in treating hay fever is the fact that it reduces mucus secretion and has antiseptic properties that help soothe sore throats.
There are no known side effects or dangers, however until more research is performed, you should not take it if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
How to Take It
Combine ¼-1/2 teaspoons of the dried or fresh leaves to a cup of hot water. Steep for 15 minutes. Drink up to three cups per day.
Take 2-3 ml of plantain tincture up to three times per day.
Stinging nettle has antihistamine and astringent properties. It helps prevent the body from creating inflammatory chemicals known as prostaglandins. It helps relieve the itchiness, sneezing and watery eyes.
For the best results, start taking stinging nettle a few weeks before your allergies kick in.
Do not take stinging nettle if your hemoglobin levels are high. Stinging nettles should always be cooked, as uncooked can cause stomach irritation.
How To Take It
Take up to 2 capsules of 600mg 2-3 times daily.
Combine 2-3 Tablespoons of dried or fresh leaves to one cup of water. Steep for 10-20 minutes.
Take 15-20 drops twice a day.
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