As April showers are replaced with May flowers, many of us rejoice at the thought of spring being fully sprung.
And then there are the more than 50 million Americans who dread the blossoms on the trees, the pollen in the air because for them, spring doesn’t bring flights of fancy, but rather boxes of tissues for their runny eyes and noses.
Seasonal allergies are no joke. According to The Asthma and Allergy Foundation, allergies cost more than $14 billion each year. That’s a lot of sneezing!
Is there any relief that doesn’t involve you feeling like the walking dead?
Mother Nature has provided us with some pretty potent ways to relieve our symptoms.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale):
Yes, the weeds in your lawn; those dandelions. If you have an organic lawn and your neighbors don’t spray pesticides, the answer to relieving your symptoms may be right in your back yard. Pick the leaves and toss them in a salad or brew them into a tea. You can also purchase dandelion in many natural food stores and farm markets.
Compounds in dandelion leaf and root can help reduce swelling in the sinus cavities as well as thin the mucus so pollen doesn’t ‘stick.’
Dandelion also works as liver and kidney support, aiding them in their detox work in our bodies. As a diuretic, dandelion quickly removes waste from the body. Its bitter flavor stimulates the digestive system, so you digest more efficiently.
Why is this important? When nutrients are readily available to the body, less waste is generated. In turn, the liver can focus on the really important tasks, like helping to rid the body of excess fat stores, which can exacerbate allergy symptoms.
If you can’t get past the idea of eating weeds or drinking weed tea, simply take dandelion capsules (6 a day), although these will not be as effective.
Nettles/Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica):
If you know anything about wild plants, you’ll know nettles, the spiky green plants that grow anywhere that’s damp or near water that are covered with little stinging needles on the leaves.
Nettles are rich sources of iron, vitamins and trace minerals, as well as being good sources of magnesium and calcium (which, interestingly, in this form, are very easy for the body to assimilate, much more than in supplement form because all the nutrients combine in a way the body can use).
Nettles are helpful with allergy symptoms because they help clean metabolic waste from the blood and act as a diuretic, so the kidneys and urinary system have an easier time with all their filtering and cleansing work.
Nettles can be brewed into a tea or stirred into soups. The challenge with nettles is you need a lot of them. So most people simply buy the concentrated tincture and take a full dropper daily in water.
If you decide to forage and harvest your own, please wear gloves (remember these are called “stinging nettles”…and they do). Also, be sure to steep, steam or dry leaves before eating or brewing into tea to take the sting out of the nettle.
Burdock (Arctium lappa):
This is a really solid cleansing herb and root. Burdock is renowned for helping to clear the skin, relieve achy joints and help the liver with general toxic congestion, which in turn relieves allergy symptoms. It strengthens immune function and purifies the blood. It contains inulin (which mimics insulin in the body) it can aid in stabilizing blood sugar.
You can take burdock as tea (buy it in its dried form). You can pick the leaves and sauté them as burdock grows wild. The leaves are bitter with an astringent effect in the body like dandelion.
You can create this classic recipe with burdock root: Burdock Kinpira
If you don’t care to forage or cook the burdock, you can take it in capsule form, but again, this is the least effective way to use it.
An important thought on this information: you may not see immediate relief with these teas and recipes, but over time, will see the result you want. It takes time and patience to alter a condition like seasonal allergies. But if you are consistent with the use of these foods in tea, tincture and supplement form, you will see results.
During allergy season, we have to really pay attention. We can use herbs and foods and natural remedies to give us relief of symptoms but we have to play our part. Ditching refined sugars and flours, fried foods, dairy products, sticky sweets and heavy foods will work against you in your battle with pollen.
It’s all about digestion and giving your system a bit of a respite, allows it to rally to the job of keeping allergy symptoms at bay. No need to fast, but just eat lighter foods, the foods of the season, like sprouts, asparagus, dandelion, baby arugula, lemon, fresh fruit…and lots of water.
One of the best ways to help alkalize the pH of your digestive tract is the use of Cape Aloe Ferox products which can change your digestive life for the better. They certainly changed mine. From carbonized aloe crystals to a natural and gentle detox, I have found these products can help re-balance your digestive tract.
To support the body in its work to stay balanced and free of allergy symptoms, the European herb butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is becoming something of a star with impressive clinical trial results.
The British Medical Journal reports that just one tablet of butterbur four times a day was as effective as an antihistamine drug in controlling symptoms of hay fever (without side effects like sleepiness). In a second study, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI), put their stamp of approval on butterbur's effectiveness in relieving grass allergy symptoms. Pretty cool, I’d say.
Another herbal remedy that’s been shown to be helpful is a tonic made from the herb goldenseal, especially when added to a saline (salt water) nasal spray. The saline works to wash out pollen and reduce or thin mucous, while the goldenseal has astringent and antibacterial properties which help in this process. You can also use this mixture in a netti pot daily for relief.
In addition to herbs, many natural health experts contend that certain nutrients can be helpful in settling seasonal symptoms. Grape seed extract and a flavonoid compound, ‘quercetin’ are especially promising. Although both occur naturally in many foods, they seem to be more helpful in reducing allergy symptoms when taken in supplement form, particularly in conjunction with Vitamin C.
"There is even some evidence that quercetin may control the release of histamine and other chemicals that help initiate the allergic response," says James Dillard, MD, clinical advisor to Columbia University's Rosenthal Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, and assistant clinical professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Your Kitchen Farm-acy
As we talk allergies, it’s time for the big guns. Let’s move from the herb garden and the medicine chest to the pantry and the fridge because a lot of your relief…or aggravation with allergies can be linked to what you eat…or don’t eat.
It’s time to spice things up…add some sizzle to that your sauté in the form of hot spices like cayenne, chili, curry, ginger…even onion and garlic. Not only yummy, the heat in spices can help thin mucus secretions which help clear nasal passages.
The bad news is that some of your favorite foods may not be your best pals during seasonal allergy season. Food intolerances are at the forefront of allergy studies to see if there’s a link. New information leads experts to believe that sensitivities to food may be more intricately entwined with seasonal allergies than previously thought.
So you need to look at what you’re eating and set aside anything that seems to provoke symptoms, even mild stomach upset or occasional breakouts. Getting rid of foods that upset your equilibrium can help reduce the burden on your immune system which in turn can help reduce the impact of allergies.
According to New York University allergist Clifford Bassett, MD: if you suffer from ragweed or other weed pollen allergies, "you should avoid eating melon, banana, cucumber, sunflower seeds, chamomile, and any herbal supplements containing Echinacea, all of which can make symptoms much worse."
So you may need to re-think those bananas you’re using to thicken your morning smoothie.
But there’s great news. We have all heard the buzz about the connection between probiotics and our immune system. Now experts are linking the ‘flora and fauna’ in your gut to relief of seasonal allergies. The stronger your digestive tract, the less you might be bothered by symptoms.
You can take a supplemental probiotic…or you can consume the greatest (and probably oldest known to man) probiotic in the form of miso in your favorite soup.
Here’s hoping you enjoy a sneeze-free season!