Every year I forget I have spring allergies (don’t ask how this is possible). I think about it in December, usually, and that feels a bit too early to begin the mega doses of herbs and making the diet changes necessary to defend my body from trifling pollen grains. And then time goes on. And suddenly the weather is forecasting a high pollen count before I have even barely noticed that the tiny tree flowers have indeed arrived.
The number one BEST thing you can do for your allergy prevention is to start taking herbs, vitamins and making diet changes at least 4-6 weeks before your allergen arrives. If you are already sneezing, something that is blooming now might be irritating you, like the maple trees. It is worth it to pay attention and notice when your allergic reaction tends to start within the season so you can pinpoint when to begin taking herbs in the future. (If you take herbs sooner than this timeframe, you will be fine). The idea of beginning herbs 4-6 weeks before your allergy time works not only for the spring, but for any time of year where you experience seasonal allergies. At this stage there is still time and hope, even if you are one who is already sneezing and sniffling. You can still build up your immunity using tonic herbs (although you won’t have as strong of a defense as if you had started several weeks ago) and you will still be able to see relief from acute symptoms using herbs, vitamins and making diet changes. If you are like me, and tend to find your allergy forms toward the end of the spring pollen explosion you should still expect to see positive results from incorporating many of these herbal and dietary suggestions into your life.
Many herbs we will discuss work to boost the immune response so your body is more efficiently responding to the allergen that has infiltrated and disrupted your body’s normal functioning. Other herbs can work by stabilizing mast cells which are immune cells that send out histamine in response to encountering an allergen (the classic allergic reaction of watery, itchy eyes, itchy sore throat, sneezing, inflammation, etc). Herbs can work to stabilize or prevent the mast cells from releasing histamine and therefore can mediate the body’s allergic response. This has given many people with even severe allergies (which I classify myself as having) significant alleviation from their symptoms or complete relief. These herbs that we begin so early are typically classified as Tonic herbs. These herbs, vitamins and any diet changes are creating an environment within the body that will be able to effectively fight off the allergen so that there is no accumulated effect in the body. We are essentially building a defense system on the cellular level and building that defense takes time. On the other hand, in combination with the tonic herbs, vitamins and lifestyle changes we make, it is also a good idea to have a formula on hand for Acute symptoms. There may be times when the sneezing just gets the best of you, or when your nose is ridiculously itchy and you need fast relief. These are the times we can take an herbal formula that will alleviate the acute symptoms.
The following herbs are great to use in combination as tonics or acutely for allergies. I will make a note when an herb is used best acutely, tonically, or both.
Herbs for Allergies:
Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica)
The above ground parts of Stinging Nettle (be careful! it stings!) before it flowers are typically used as an infusion (tea) or tincture during the allergy season and for acute formulas. The leaves are also highly nutritive and edible so incorporating it into your diet may be a way to get added benefits from Nettles. If added fresh to a pesto or cooked, the stinging element is disarmed and they are easily eaten. As an anti-inflammatory, astringent, anti-histamine and diuretic, Nettles are excellent as a tonic during allergy season and as a component of an acute symptom relief formula. Nettles contains flavonoids (glycosides of quercetin), histamine, chlorophyl as well as minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and Vitamins A, C & K.
Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum)
Reishi Mushroom is known in Traditional Chinese Medicine as “spirit plant” and as “the mushroom of immortality”. Used as a traditional tonic for allergies, Reishi has profound anti-inflammatory, immunomodulating, and anti-oxident properties. It specifically able to regulate excessive immune responses, as such is the case in seasonal allergies. Reishi has been clinically shown to lessen IgE (Immunoglobulin E) production. IgE binds to the allergen and stimulates mast cells to secrete histamine, and therefore cause the classic allergic response of watery eyes, itchy throat, nose, eyes and sneezing. Reishi needs to be boiled for several hours in order to extract its complex of medicinal polysaccharides. It may be more effective to simply buy the tincture from your local herbalist, at your local health food store or order it from an online herbal medicine company.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
Turmeric is not just a spice anymore(but you should keep using that way too)! This is a powerful root that has anti-inflammatory, anti-oxident, and hepatoprotectant (liver protecting) properties! Turmeric should be used as a tonic before and during the allergy season. It has an affinity for the digestive, circulatory and respiratory systems: all indicated in allergic reactions. There is solid evidence showing Turmeric may be capable of inhibiting C reactive proteins in the body. C reactive proteins have been linked to a cycle of inflammation that leads to the formation of various health conditions in the body that produce free radicals. Turmeric prevents mast cells from rupturing and can also alter eicosanoid production. Eicosanoids are derived from Essential Fatty Acids and exert their influence mainly on inflammation and immunity. They are therefore important to mediate in the body. The addition of black pepper to any formula containing Turmeric enormously increases the absorption of curcumin (the main anti-inflammatory compound) from the whole plant.
Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia)
Ragweed leaf is used before it goes to flower (to avoid allergic reaction). It is astringent and anti-histamine. Use Ragweed acutely for respiratory allergies. Combines well with Nettle leaf to add in an anti-inflammatory formula. This allergy preventative combination strengthens the mucous membranes and makes it harder for pollen to enter the body and cause and allergic reaction. I have used Ragweed myself for many years and find it the most effective acute remedy for me personally.
Elderberry/Elderflower (Sambucus canadensis)
Both the leaf and flower of Elder are invaluable elements of a tonic and/or acute allergy formula. The flower is anti-inflammatory and is useful in an acute formula for upper respiratory support. The berry also functions in a similar fashionas the flower but is also anti-oxident and an immuno-stimulant. Elderberry increases inflammatory type cytokines, which help to trigger the immune system’s rate of response to whatever threat is present (in this case, the allergen).
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
Licorice is a wonderful tonic herb for allergies and acts as an anti-allergenic, anti-inflammatory, immuno-modulator and hepato-protectant. Licorice is contraindicated for high blood pressure and liver disorders.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
Chamomile is anti-inflammatory and relaxing. It can often be soothing toput a wet, warm/hot chamomile tea bag over each eye to soothe redness, inflammation and itching during acute allergic reactions. It can also be included in a tonic or acute formula as a tea or tincture.
Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
Goldenrod is an excellent choice to include in acute formulas for assisting with sinus and upper respiratoryissues that can often occur with allergic reactions. It also has anti-inflammatory properties. Adding Goldenrod is especially useful for those whose allergy turns into a sinus infection. It may be added to a tea or used in a tincture combined with other immune enhancing herbs.
Bidens (Bidens aristosa)
Bidens is easily accessible and grows everywhere. It should be added to an acute formula in the form of tea or tincture and assists in anti-inflammatory actions via quercetin found naturally in the plant.
Where Do I find These Herbs?
Many herbs can be purchased dried at your local health food store or can be ordered online from a trusted source like Mountain Rose Herbs. From there you can prepare your own teas or tinctures. If preparing your own tincture, remember to plan ahead as they need to macerate for at least 6 weeks. You can also consult your local herbalist to see what tinctures they may have for sale or if they can create a formula for you. If you get really into it, get a good field guide for proper identification, begin to learn what plants grow in your area that you can wild harvest and gather them yourself.
Diet & Nutrition
Make sure to eliminate any dairy (mucus causing), sugars, highly processed foods and to reduce protein from the diet 4-6 weeks before allergy season. Be sure to include anti-inflammatory foods in the diet such as whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables and dark colored fruits that contain anti-oxidents such as blueberries, cherries, etc. Eat as much turmeric and ginger as possible. Again, it is not too late to begin doing all of this!!!
Omega 3 Fatty Acids are highly anti-inflammatory and have been shown to reduce allergy symptoms for those who suffer from seasonal allergies. Begin taking a high quality fish oil (2 capsules per day) 4-6 weeks before allergy season and continue as needed throughout the season. Quality companies with responsible fish sourcing include Nordic Naturals, Spectrum, and New Chapter.
Although there have not been formal studies on this, traditional evidence has shown that many people swear by eating local honey as a preventative tonic for allergies. The bees use local pollen grains to make the honey and the theory is that by eating the honey you are exposing the body to potential allergens at such a low, consistent dose that by the time allergy season rolls around your body already recognizes the pollen grains and does not mount its usual histaminic response. Eat it or add it to your allergy tea, at least 2 teaspoons per day.
Probiotics are the “good” bacteria that lives in our intestinal tract. Probiotics aid in proper digestion and help keep our immune systems strong and clear the body of toxins. Clinical studies have shown that people with allergies have a lower count of beneficial bacteria in their gut than those who do not have allergies. Probiotics play a direct role in creating substances that mediate our immune responses and reduce inflammation. When choosing a probiotic, find one that includes FOS (Fructooligosaccharides) which serves as a substrate for the “good” bacteria to grow on and continue to multiply.
Bitters and Liver Cleansers
Bitters (such as dandelion, gentian, oregon grape root) will stimulate digestion and make it more efficient so that the body can effectively process allergens. Liver cleansers (milk thistle seed, burdock root, dandelion root) clear antigen anti-body complexes from the body which allow the body to more effectively process the allergens.
Vitamins & Supplements
Vitamin C in high doses can have a huge effect on the allergic response. It is one of the safest, cheapest and most effective anti-histimine and anti-toxin we have. Emergen-C (powdered Vit. C product) contains 1,000 mg of Vitamin C. Begin at that level and increase for better results depending on the severity of your allergies. If you begin to have loose stool, lower the levels of Vitamin C you are taking. Do not exceed 10,000 mg in a day. Natural sources of Vitamin C are citrus foods, hibiscus flowers and pine needle tips.
Quercetin can further help relieve hay fever and other issues like sinusitis and asthma because it can block allergic reactions to pollen and reduce inflammation in the airways and lungs. It is a natural anti-histimine and anti-inflammatory. Natural sources of quercetin include violets, onion peels, apples, citrus fruits, green tea leaves and some of the herbs mentioned above.
Rutin helps to stabilize mast cells from errupting, which has an anti-inflammatory effect. Rutin is mainly found naturally in buckwheat, the skin/rind of fruits (especially citrus) and berries.
If you are not sure which herbs or vitamins or food choices would be right for you, feel free to email me at email@example.com to schedule an “Ask the Herbalist” 15 minute phone consultation where we can go into a bit more in depth together to find a program that feels right for you and your specific needs and concerns. “Ask the Herbalist” phone consultations are $20- an affordable way to get some guidance in making informed personalized choices.
Be well in your continued journey toward optimal health!