Herbs to relieve hay fever
Jane Wrigglesworth lists the herbs that could provide relief from hay fever.
Jane Wrigglesworth on the herbs that help ease seasonal allergies.
If you have seasonal allergies, you know just how debilitating the recurrent sneezing, sniffling, nasal congestion, sinus pressure, and watery and itchy eyes can be. Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, occurs when your immune system overreacts to an otherwise harmless substance such as pollen. That pollen comes into contact with the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract and triggers the release of histamine into the bloodstream by a type of cell known as a mast cell, which in turn causes the symptoms of an allergic reaction. Treatment Antihistamines are the medications most often used to treat hay fever. They block histamine, which stops allergy symptoms. But a disadvantage of these drugs is that they can cause sleepiness. At night-time that might be OK, but during the day it’s inconvenient or even dangerous; such sedation can impair thought processes and decrease your ability to drive or use machinery.
A number of herbs produce similar effects to antihistamines or decongestants, helping to reduce the symptoms of allergic rhinitis. These include elderflower ( Sambucus
nigra), German chamomile ( Matricaria recutita) and stinging nettles ( Urtica dioica). Vitamin C and the flavonoid quercetin are also helpful in quelling symptoms. Elderflower Elderflower has anticatarrhal and anti-inflammatory properties, courtesy of the plant’s tannins.
Tannins are astringent and therefore have a drying effect, removing excess mucus and reducing inflammation of the mucous membranes. Make an infusion (tea) of flowers to drink daily, or make a tincture.
To make a tincture, harvest the flowers in late spring when some of the flowers on the edge of the cluster are still closed (the flower clusters open from the centre outwards). Leave the flowers to wilt overnight, remove as much of the stalk as possible, then fill a large, wide-mouthed glass jar with the flowers and top with vodka. Store in a dark room for 4-6 weeks, gently shaking the jar daily. Filter, then take half a teaspoon three times daily, beginning six weeks before hay fever season and continuing while pollen count is up. While waiting for your tincture to mature, you can infuse fresh flowers and drink as a tea. Avoid using elderflower if you are taking insulin or other hypoglycaemic medications, or monitor blood glucose levels closely. Elderflower may decrease blood sugar levels. German chamomile This excellent antiinflammatory herb works well when used together with elderflower or drink it on its own. One cup of chamomile infusion 2-3 times a day may help reduce the intensity of allergic reactions, thanks to its antiinflammatory properties. Itchy eyes can be bathed with cooled chamomile tea for relief. It is the flowers that are used for medicinal purposes, and they are typically used dried.
They are a pest plant in New Zealand, but one with many valuable properties, including helping to relieve symptoms of hay fever. One randomised, doubleblind study showed that 58 per cent of its participants rated it effective in relieving their symptoms. A dose of 300mg freeze-dried Urtica dioica was used, but you could use this perennial nettle in an infusion.
A number of herbs produce similar effects to decongestants, helping to reduce the symptoms of hay fever.
Stinging nettles are safe to consume once they have been soaked in water or cooked to remove the stinging chemicals.
This antioxidant is found in a wide variety of foods, including apples, grapes, raspberries, capers, chilli peppers, broccoli, leafy veges, raw red onion and red wine.
Numerous studies have shown that quercetin has an antihistamine effect. In one Japanese study, it significantly inhibited antige nstimulated histamine release (antigen is a foreign substance that induces your body to produce antibodies). Quercetin’s effect was almost twice that of sodium cromoglycate (a mast cell stabiliser that prevents the release of histamine) at the same concentration. You can buy quercetin as a supplement or eat more quercetin-rich foods.
What else helps?
• Vitamin C reduces inflammation and allergic responses. While it does not stop an allergic reaction once histamine has been released, it does help to prevent its release. So a daily dose of vitamin C is recommended.
• Turmeric has also been found to inhibit mast cell activation, as has holy basil ( Ocimum sanctum). • Echinacea and astragalus (Astragalus is a popular herb in traditional Chinese medicine) are immune-enhancing herbs.
In order for an allergic reaction to happen, an allergen must penetrate the mucous membrane. If the membranes are healthy, it will be harder for the allergen to penetrate deeply and reach the mast cells to initiate the allergic reaction.
A six-week, double-blind, controlled clinical trial that tested astragalus as a treatment for seasonal allergic rhinitis found a significant reduction of symptoms. Start taking the herbs six weeks before hay fever season begins. • Relaxation could also help as stress can exacerbate rhinitis (due to lowering of the immune system), so relaxant nervine herbs such as lemon balm ( Melissa officinalis), passionflower ( Passiflora incarnata) and hops ( Humulus lupulus) should be considered too. By combining natural herbal treatments with reduced exposure to allergens (where possible), you should find relief from the irritating symptoms of hay fever and begin to breathe a lot easier.
Hay fever occurs when your immune system overreacts to an otherwise harmless substance such as pollen.
Dried tea herbs, leaves of blackberry, strawberry, varioius types of nettle, fennel and blossoms of chamomile.