Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Herbal Medicine: Allergy Relief

The sniffles in my nose have let me know that yep, Spring is finally here!  I love this time of year but my body does not enjoy all of the plant fertility blowing around on the breeze.  We just covered Allergy & Respiratory Care in our 6 week comprehensive course during part 4 this past Saturday.  I am currently sipping on the Allergy Care Tea we made as our class project.  Everyone took a bundle of tea bags home with them.  I am so grateful for the soothing effect of this tea on my sinuses, clearing of the post-nasal drip, clarity brought my vision and the opening of my lungs.  And it tastes great!  Here in Ohio, the pollen is just getting started because of our long winter, so this tea will be my best friend for the next 3 months.  I try to use all herbs for allergies in the form of tea or tincture to ensure a rapid response.

Not meaning to be a tease, but I'm keeping the tea recipe secret (you'll have to take the next class!  oh devilish me), but because I really want everyone to be able to find some tried and true natural alleviation of symptoms, I will share with you a few of the herbs and some other natural methods that work well for me--and better than any combo of pharmaceuticals ever did (mainly, Zyrtec-D, Nasonex and Singulair combined, to be specific).  I'm not saying I never sneeze, have eye itching, running noses or other things, but I can say since embarking on herbal medicine my springtime pollen allergies drastically improved to a degree never before seen with conventional medicines.  My allergies are much more manageable, I rarely contract a sinus infection, and I can spend more time outdoors all without compromising my immune system, lowering my blood pressure to crazy levels or other side effects that pharmaceuticals delivered...all thanks to plants!  

So let's see, what major common symptoms come with pollen allergies that need to be addressed?  

  • Itching eyes
  • Itching, running nose, sneezing
  • Swollen, congested sinuses
  • Wheezing lungs/asthma

All of this comes from your body inappropriately responding to the influx of pollen as a pathogen, triggering a hyperactive immune response and inflammation, the inflamed tissue getting irritated further by continued exposure, and the cycle compounds itself miserably.  Next thing you know, you are stuck inside laying on the couch, tissues stuffed up your nose and ice cubes melting over your eyes, water dripping down your face.  So the goal is to not only manage symptoms when they appear, but to keep them from popping up severely in the first place.

Allergy Alleviating Ally #1:  Goldenrod, Solidago ssp.

Goldenrod, pictured is one of many Solidago ssp.

I love this plant.  Goldenrod is blamed for Fall allergies, because it is showy and blooms everywhere in the fall.  However, it is insect pollinated, not wind pollinated and really is not the culprit.  The true devil for Fall allergies is in disguise--Ragweed, which has green, inconspicuous flowers, no nectar and large, wicked looking pollen that is wind-pollinated and takes to the breeze with much enthusiasm.

Pollen of Ragweed, Ambrosia artemisiifolia
picture by Marie Majaura on Wikipedia
The Solidago canadensis strain of Goldenrod is considered official, but there are oodles of varieties and they are generally considered interchangeable.  Goldenrod is phenomenal at keeping your body from having an allergic response to pollen or animal dander, or calming a reaction down!  Yes, if you turn into a puffy-eyed, stuffy-nosed monster around cats, dogs, trees, grass or flowers, this is the plant for you.  It is wonderful at stopping the eye itching.  I could not get through allergy season without this plant.  Goldenrod also is astringent and tightens up your sinuses that get all puffy and runny.  The leaf and flower are used.

Allergy Alleviating Ally #2:  Mullein, Verbascum ssp. including Verbascum thapsus, Verbascum olympicum (West Coast), Verbascum densiflorum


Mullein, Verbascum thapsus in flower
Photo by Forest & Kim Starr

Mullein is a biannual whose leaves are excellent for the lungs.  They open up the lungs, reduce inflammation and constriction, and moisten and nourish the tissues.  Mullein leaves are also great at reducing muscle pain.  Mullein flowers are antimicrobial and the main ingredient in ear oils!  This plant really helps reduce the wheezing of springtime allergies.  Phyllis Light taught me that Native Americans powdered together Mullein root and Black Walnut Hulls and sprinkled this mixture in water to stun fish.  Who says you need a fishing rod?  Cultures the world over have used various plants in this method.

Note to all asthmatics, you should always carry a rescue inhaler with you at all times, even if you get relief from some herbal supplements.  It's a sensible rule of thumb.

Allergy Alleviating Allies #3 & #4, The Mint Family Duo:  Peppermint, Mentha piperita & Ground Ivy, Glechoma hederacea

Peppermint, Mentha piperita

Peppermint.  Ever been annoyed at this plant taking over your garden??  Mints are invasive, but oh so helpful.  Stimulating and cooling both at the same time, Peppermint is diaphoretic, deeply stimulating, contraindicated in pregnancy other than in small amounts, and its potent aromatic oils open and cool congested, irritated sinuses.

Ground Ivy, Glechoma hederacea @ extension.umass.edu

Ground Ivy, Glechoma hederacea, is also in the mint family and acts similarly on the sinuses as Peppermint, being soothing, cooling, anti-inflammatory and opening. Ground Ivy has the bonus of being fabulous at knocking out sinus infections.  It is also widely regarded as safe, and not contraindicated in pregnancy as it lacks the potent stimulating action of Peppermint.  This plant I give major credit to with regards to my drastic reduction in sinus infections.  I always use this plant every spring.  If you want to learn more about Ground Ivy, read my post dedicated to this most wonderful of plants.  Ground Ivy is not commercially available, so if you do not have it growing in your yard (or have a positive ID of the plant), Peppermint will be easy enough to find.

Other Natural Allergy Care Methods

Quercetin is a flavonoid found in onions, mainly in the skins of red and especially yellow onions.  The white varieties carry low amounts of quercetin.  Other plants contain it too.  Quercetin is sold concentrated in tablet form and is amazing at stopping a histamine reaction. The tablets with bromelain (a pineapple enzyme) are best for easier digestion of the tablet.  Quercetin is pricey, but even if you take only half the recommended dose to make it last longer, it is a worthwhile investment.

Local Bee Pollen and Local Honey. I find the dark fall wildflower honeys to be best, as they contain more antioxidants than light honeys, plus have goldenrod nectar in them which delivers that allergy soothing goodness. The nectar from plants that comprises honey is medicinal...I've heard (not tried) that taking poison oak honey (which is supposedly delicious and buttery) will keep you from having an allergic reaction to poison oak.

Nettipot after coming inside for the day so pollen doesn't sit in your sinuses all night.  Boil water first to kill microbes/potential deadly amoebas and let cool to lukewarm before using, or alternatively used distilled water.  Add 1/4 tsp. baking soda or sea salt, or a salt packet that comes with the nettipot to a nettipot full of lukewarm water.  Stir until completely dissolved and follow instructions that come with the nettipot.  First you flush one side, then repeat on the other.  I've noticed it is easier to do this in the shower than over a sink.

Shower after spending time outdoors, especially before bed.  Otherwise the pollen will fall out of your hair and get on your pillowcase, and you get to breathe it in and mash it in your eyes while you sleep.  The goal is to wake up without allergies going wild, as you will have had about 8 hours without any allergy supplements in your system.  You want your body to re-set to calmness in your sleep, not have constant aggravation.

Allergy Eyedrops are a lifesaver for when the wind kicks up a load of pollen into your eyes.  You can wash it out!

There are plenty more herbs out there that can help deal with spring and fall allergies, but this is just meant to give you a good, solid introductory foundation.  If you want to learn more, I will be offering another 6-week Comprehensive Course on Herbal Medicine this summer (dates to be posted soon) or look for an herbalist near you!  Alcohol or glycerine extracts of the herbs discussed here as well as quercetin tablets and nettipots should be readily available at your local health food store.  If not, ask and they can probably special order them for you!

Happy Spring.  May the pollen not be so bothersome to you this year.

These statements obviously have not been evaluated by the FDA.  This information is for educational purposes.  It is not intended to be a replacement for advice from a licensed medical professional.  It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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