Herbal Allies for the Allergy Season

Allergy season is almost here, and if the blooming trees and blossoming flowers cause you to hide away indoors, then read on to learn about some helpful herbs to reduce your discomfort.

When trying to avoid the antihistamine nasal sprays, pills, or eye drops, there are many herbal options. Although these plant allies are not cures for allergies, they may offer relief from allergy symptoms. Contrary to popular belief, allergies can be cured, but that can take many years of building up exposure levels and developing a relationship with pollen. First, let’s take a look at some helpful allies.

 

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) has a long medicinal history. The fresh leaf and stem of stinging nettle have fine hairs, which contain chemicals that are irritating, even painful, when the plant comes in contact with skin. However, nettles have been shown to reduce allergic reactions in people with hay fever and other seasonal allergy reactions. This may be due to Nettle’s ability to reduce the amount of histamine in the blood stream when a body is reacting to allergens. Drink a herbal infusion of nettles by steeping the dried leaf and stalk overnight, or adding the dried leaf to your diet well before allergy season begins may help relieve symptoms.

 

Elder flower (Sambucus nigra) is a useful and delicious way to relieve common allergy symptoms. An elder infusion will help mucus to flow more freely out of the sinuses, releasing congestion of a stuffy nose, watery eyes, and painful pressure in the ears. Elder flowers ease sinus headaches and generally help the body to release fluids and cool down. Herbalist Robin Rose Bennett recommends a facial steam of elder flowers to help relieve the discomfort from common allergy symptoms.

Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) contains many chemical, organic, and nutritional properties, which may help in the treatment of a number of health conditions. As the name suggests, eyebright is particularly useful for the treatment of eye related problems. Placing a poultice of the leaves over the eyes may help reduce the itchy, watery, irritated sensation related to allergens. Rich in flavonoids, the natural astringent tannins help to reduce mucus discharge by tightening mucous membranes, so drinking an infusion or using the tincture (liquid extract) could be also be helpful.

When your lungs are congested and you’re having a hard time breathing, Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) leaf infusion can be a soothing ally. This common plant has fuzzy leaves, which act as an expectorant (helps to open bronchioles) to the lungs and soothes mucous membranes. This herb can be particularly useful to those who are bronchitis sufferers and who have long-term allergy induced asthma.

Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) is very often criticized as a contributor to seasonal allergies; it’s not! Surprisingly, goldenrod has sticky, heavy pollen, which rarely becomes airborne. Goldenrod is a very useful remedy in the treatment of seasonal allergies. Make an infusion of goldenrod leaf and flower by putting two handfuls of the dried plant into a quart of boiling water for thirty minutes, add some local honey and enjoy!

Often called an ‘immune booster’, but more correctly referred to as an ‘immunomodulator’ Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea, or E. angustifolia) promotes health by stimulating the lymphatic system and promoting the drainage and elimination of toxins from the body – this includes allergens! Echinacea was once a common medicine used by indigenous populations, particularly the species E.angustifolia, which is now considered rare due to overharvest. Choose E. purpurea if you have a choice – or try to grow some of your own! They are beautiful and very medicinal.

Like a guard refusing entry to the castle, Osha (Ligusticum porterii) has the amazing ability to stop anaphylactic shock in its tracks. Osha is a histamine receptor blocker and may be one of the most helpful allies in the battle with seasonal allergies. It should be noted that Osha is rare and should be used sparingly. Herbalist Susun Weed suggests limiting the use of Osha root tincture to a maximum of 2-5 drops, two times a day, and only in cases of extreme need.

Many herbalists recommend exposing yourself to the very plants that are causing you grief. Local honey, made from wildflower pollen within 25-50 miles of your area can be a useful remedy to help you acclimatise to the allergens in your area. The theory goes that if you expose yourself to small doses of the allergens, your immune system, overtime, will learn to react in an appropriate manner. Eating the spring flowers and buds of those pollen-producing plants, in small amounts at first and increased steadily over time, will introduce your system to the allergen so that it can learn to accept , and not react.

So, get outside more, especially before allergy season really takes hold. Lack of exposure to pollen is a part of the problem. Take a weed walk and get acquainted with the local plants in your area. Ask yourself to reflect on what you can learn from your allergies, and you may be surprised!

Herbal medicine is people’s medicine – try for yourself and learn to work with the rhythm of nature.

Green blessings,

Colin Wright

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Colin Wright

Colin Wright is an environmental organizer and educator with a background in water quality, wind energy, community farming, and herbal medicine. Colin studied renewable resource management at Yukon College in northwest Canada. As an Environment Officer for Kluane First Nation—an autonomous indigenous community in the region—he learned how to farm in the northern climate of Canada from village elders, developed a wind energy program, and worked to protect heritage lands. He later researched the effect of melting permafrost on Northern infrastructure with the Yukon Research Centre. Currently, Colin is an Urban Farm Educator at the 40,000-square foot environmentally-sustainable garden and outdoor classroom at Randall's Island Park in New York City where he introduces urban youth to the joys of growing food and wonders of herbal medicine. Colin has completed an apprenticeship in herbalism, and studied under the prominent herbalist and author Robin Rose Bennett. He also volunteers as the coordinator of the 15th floor rooftop garden at Breaking Ground, a supportive housing community in Times Square, and teaches classes on herbalism in New York.

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