Alternative Approaches: Herbs and Spring allergies
Herbs and Spring allergies
As spring bursts onto the scene with all of its lovely color, vibrancy, light, and new growth you may- unfortunately - experience an array of discomforting symptoms. Your eyes may tear, you may have a scratchy or draining throat, your nose may be constantly itchy and you may be always be on the verge of a sneeze or experience repeated sneezing - seasonal allergies.
Seasonal allergies are usually accompanied by "stuffiness", sneezing, watery eyes, excess drainage, runny nose, excess mucus. These symptoms are the body's attempts to flush out an offending allergen. For those with seasonal allergies these symptoms can get out of hand and result in feeling miserable.
Herbs can be added to your medicine chest of remedies to help make your change of season more comfortable and enjoyable. Before deciding which herbs to include as part of your autumn allergy relief program, it is wise to check with a practitioner familiar with herbal health care.
Bioflavonoids to the Rescue
Bioflavonoids are an important constituent found in many flowers, leaves, and fruits that help bring relief for seasonal allergy symptoms.
Bioflavonoids help prevent the formation of histamine. Histamine is one of the substances released by the body in an attempt to get rid of the offending foreign particle - the allergen. It is a hormone that causes tearing eyes and runny noses as the body attempts to flush out the offending allergen. Histamine prompts the body to quickly get rid of the allergen by activating the common allergy symptoms such as itchy and watery eyes, runny and congested nose and sinuses, and swelling and inflammation.
Increasing your intake of bioflavonoids helps prevent the formation of histamine (as opposed to commonly used over the counter anti-histamines which interfere with histamine's action after it has been produced). Herbs that help alleviate sneezing, watery eyes, runny noses contain substances that prevent the formation of histamine. Without histamine, your seasonal allergy symptoms can be significantly reduced. Many bioflavonoids are also anti-inflammatories, which decrease the swelling of tissues caused by reacting to an allergen.
Anti-allergenic and bioflavonoid rich herbs include German chamomile, lemon balm, Baical skullcap, mints, anise, ginger, peppermint, spearmint, feverfew, milk thistle, and yarrow.
Hawthorn is an anti-histamine herb that blocks the release of histidine decaroxylase needed to convert histamine in the body. Licorice, ginkgo, cinnamon, cardamom, rosemary, many mints and the essential oils of orange, tangerine, lemon are antihistamine and anti-allergenic and help relax the nasal passages and airways. German chamomile may slow allergic reactions by increasing the adrenal glands' production of cortisone, which reduces lung inflammation and makes breathing easier. These herbs can be taken as teas or in tincture form.
Herbal Baths and Teas Help Soothe Irritation
Essential oils of chamomile, clove, caraway, and lemon balm contain natural antihistamines that can be useful for soothing itchy hives. Mix a few drops of the essential oil with an ounce of carrier oil such as almond or olive and apply to hives. Never apply the essential oils directly to skin, as they can be caustic. Never take essential oils internally unless directed by a health care practitioner.
Taking an herbal bath can also relieve itchy hives. Dried antihistamine herbs such as thyme, German chamomile, basil, fennel, and tarragon can be mixed together and made into a soothing bath for allergy relief for skin reactions. To make an effective herbal bath use a quart glass jar and fill the jar one-third way of the dried herb mixture. Pour in boiling water to fill the jar. Put a cap on the jar and let it sit for at least one hour. If you want a stronger bath, you can let the mixture sit four to six hours. Strain out the herbs and pour the remaining herbal liquid into the bath. Soak and relax.
These same bath herbs can be used to make an anti- allergy tea to help relieve those worrisome symptoms. To make a tea use one teaspoon of the herbs to one cup of boiling water. Steep for 20 minutes. Drink one to three cups a day.
More Herbal Allergy Helpers
An allergic response can cause tissue lining the sinuses to swell, which can block the outlets of the sinuses to the nose. When this happens mucus build up in the sinuses can cause headaches and mucus draining from the back of the nose into the throat (the common postnasal drip). Using an over-the-counter anti-histamine with these symptoms can thicken the mucus even more so that it cannot drain. It is better to help dilate the sinus passages and thin and liquefy the mucus so that it can drain easily. Hot chili peppers are very effective at draining thick, congested mucus and relieving these symptoms. Herbs such as ginger, yarrow, lemongrass, chickweed, red clover, fenugreek can be effective decongestants that thin and liquefy the congested mucus.
To help relieve the scratchy, sore throat that accompanies seasonal allergies herbs that soothe and coat the mucus membranes - demulcents- can be effective. Demulcent herbs include: marshmallow, malva, slippery elm, and violet. If a cough accompanies the sore throat, you can try plantain, wild cherry bark, or horehound all of which act as excellent cough relievers. Plantain also supports the adrenals, acts as an anti-spasmodic and helps expel mucus.
Nettles helps to prevent the excessive release of inflammatory substances such as leukotrienes. Leukotrienes are one of the natural body substances released when an allergen enters the body resulting in an inflammatory response. This leads to irritated and swollen mucus membranes, which secrete excessive mucus. Nettles is also anti-allergen, enhances the immune system and increases the body's ability to handle stress.
The herb ginkgo contains ginkgolides that interfere with the chain of events that results in allergic reactions. Phytochemicals found in Ginkgo biloba block the action of platelet-activating factor that activates immune cells responsible for inflammation. Several studies suggest that ginkgo improves the ability to tolerate allergens. Follow label directions on the bottle as far as dosage is concerned. Avoid taking in excess as excessive ginkgo can lead to diarrhea, irritability, and insomnia.
Another helpful herb to use to increase the body's ability to resist reacting to allergens is milk thistle. Milk thistle protects the liver and improves its ability to clear antigens from the body and strengthens mucus membrane integrity while providing bioflavanoids.
Herbs can be a definite benefit in helping you enjoy the early days of spring and move energetically and free from allergy symptoms into the warm days of summer.
Before taking any herbs always learn about the herb you are taking to be sure it is compatible with you and check with a knowledgeable herbal health care provider. Enjoy!
If you are taking anti-anxiety and/or anti-depressant medications, any other medications, have a diagnosed condition or illness, are pregnant, breastfeeding, elderly or very young it is important to work with a knowledgeable health care practitioner before using herbs.
Consumerlab.com is building a database of natural remedy brands that it tests and rates. Not all are yet available.
Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration has a program called MEDWATCH for people to report adverse reactions to untested substances, such as herbal remedies and vitamins (800-332-1088).
A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions.
Mary Ann Copson, a Certified Licensed Nutritionist and a Wellness and Life Coach is the founder of the Evenstar Mood & Energy Wellness Center for Women. You can visit her online at www.evenstaronline.com or reach her by phone at 434-263-4996.