The Botanical Path to Seasonal Allergy Relief
or How I Learned to Love Spring & Summer Again
by Mark J Kaylor
Aaaaachooooo!!!! This first cry of spring welcomes many of us to the beginning of the sniffle, sneezing, and wheezing season. While we all know it as hay fever, seasonal allergies, aka allergic rhinitis, have become so common that 1 in 5 of us suffer from it. The nose blowing and itchy eyes have become the herald of spring for a growing number of us rather than the popping up of new tree buds and flowers. If you happen to be one of the lucky ones who do not have troubles with this, you can think of it as having a cold, only it goes on for months. Can you imagine how uncomfortable that would be? Well, for the unlucky ones, the transition to warmer weather brings with it the oh too familiar runny nose, itchy eyes, sinus pressure, congestion, sleeplessness, and fatigue. Not the best way to say goodbye to winter and hello to spring and summer.
What is hay fever and why do some of us experience the “green” season so negatively? Physiologically hay fever is an inflammatory response of the mucosal membranes lining your nose, eyes, and throat, caused by various allergens. What happens is that your immune system misinterprets a normally benign substance to be a harmful invader. The body then responds to this perceived threat by producing histamines, the lovely chemical in your body that produces those annoying bodily reactions (i.e. runny nose, sneezing…) we know as hay fever. While this response makes sense when confronting a real threat, like a cold or flu viral infection, when it occurs with something benign, like pollen or dander, congestion, watery eyes, and headaches may soon follow. So what’s a person to do, can one find relief? The good news is that there’s much you can do to prevent and lessen the severity of the hay fever symptoms.
Preparation, Prevention, and Balance
There are basically 3 seasons of allergy sufferers differentiated by what pollens trigger the symptoms. February through May marks the tree pollen season; weeds, trees, and grass become a problem late spring through summer; while fall brings with it the dreaded ragweed. So it is important to know your enemy, what sets off your symptoms? Once the “attack” has begun, it is very difficult to quickly stop it. Because of this a path of prevention and preparation is best. It is wise to begin treatments as far in advance as possible, don’t wait for allergy season to begin before giving it and yourself the attention it is due. Ideally this should be well before the trees and flowers begin to bloom.
Many factors contribute to or cause this over-active and misdirected immune response. The liver overproducing histamines, an under-active thyroid leading to an over-reactive liver, adrenal insufficiency producing inadequate levels of cortisol to manage inflammation, digestive health, and immune balance can all play a part in the development of allergies. For this reason my 1st choice for allergy relief is a tonic par excellence.
Mother Nature has provided what may be the perfect anti-allergy remedy, which is of all things, a mushroom, the Reishi mushroom. Reishi is such an all-around powerful balancing tonic that I coined the phrase “tonic for the 21st century.” As a long-term allergy-fighting ally, Reishi works in multiple ways, on multiple levels. It improves liver function, supports the adrenals, balances the immune system, and reduces inflammation on the macro level while significantly inhibiting all 4 types of allergic reactions. It contains triterpenes that have been shown to inhibit release of histamine. To access the fullest range of Reishi’s actions it is essential that the mushroom be extracted in both hot water and alcohol. Please remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is doubly true when it comes to seasonal allergies.
Another tonic that may be beneficial for preventing and lessening hay fever symptoms is Ashwagandha. This long used herb from India contains substances that are natural steroidal compounds that may help stabilize or balance allergic reactions. It may also strengthen the body as a whole, reduce stress and support the thyroid.
Botanical Allergy Fighting All-Stars
Two herbs standout as must haves for all who are in the runny nose itchy eyes battle. The first is the nutritional blood-building spring tonic Nettle, or Stinging Nettles, as
those of us who have brushed up against it know it as. Several studies show that Nettle may ease some of the symptoms including nasal congestion, itching, and sneezing. A double-blind placebo-controlled study found that the freeze-dried nettle leaf at least slightly improved hay fever symptoms.
This second herb you may not be as familiar with. Butterbur is a shrub found in Europe with some promising research for allergy sufferers behind it. Two separate studies showed it worked as effectively as two different leading pharmaceuticals anti-histamines while not producing drowsiness. While Nettle is a wonderful long-term supportive tonic, Butterbur is best utilized for short-term symptomatic relief. One of its beneficial actions is reducing inflammation by blocking leukotrienes. And proving that Mother Nature can be ironic as well, if your sensitivity is to ragweed then you need to avoid its relative, Butterbur. (Also be sure to use only “PA-free extracts)
Supportive herbal allies
Turmeric: it makes sense that this common spice found in curry with its antioxidant and anti–inflammatory actions would benefit allergy sufferers. A 2008 study confirms this with evidence that it prevented mast cells from releasing histamine.
Eyebright: is a wonderful remedy for mucous membrane problems, offering anti-inflammatory, astringing, and anti-catarrhal benefits. It is particularly useful for stinging, weeping, red eyes. As a mild decongestant Eyebright may help stop a runny nose.
Magnolia: an herb with a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine, it opens the nasal passages, reduces mucus, and supports the adrenals. Magnolia is specific for allergy related headaches. There is a traditional Chinese patent formula containing Magnolia called Pe Min Gan Wan or Nose Allergy Pills used to relieve the most common symptoms.
Licorice: is also found in Pe Min Gan Wan. It soothes the respiratory passages, thins the mucus, supports the adrenals, reduces inflammation, and contains a compound that is similar to corticosteroids, which are widely used to reduce swelling and irritation. Licorice is particularly useful after a round of corticosteroids because it may help re-establish the body’s own production of cortisol.
Angelica: a traditional remedy for allergies, it soothes the bronchioles and contains several constituents that may reduce the allergic response from antibodies, which may reduce histamine levels.
Ginkgo: yes the “brain” herb. It may lessen the body’s reactions to allergens and histamine, while reducing inflammation. So you can “get smarter” and find relief all in one.
Cordyceps: may be useful as a tonic preventative, strengthening and balancing the whole respiratory and immune systems.
Now is the time
By incorporating some of these allergy preventing and relieving suggestions you may find, come spring and summer next year, that you are able to fully enjoy and participate in the beauty and wonders of the flowering seasons. You may also find that you are able to significantly reduce the discomforts of the current season by including these amazing remedies and dietary suggestions. Remember though, it is much more effective if you embark on your allergy prevention and treatment as soon as you can, ideally long before you start to experience any of the symptoms of allergy season. So don’t delay, grab your herbs, and welcome and enjoy the flowering seasons.