Herbs to re­lieve hay fever

Jane Wrig­glesworth lists the herbs that could pro­vide re­lief from hay fever.

NZ Gardener - - Contents - Grass re­leas­ing its pollen.

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.

Sting­ing net­tles

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.

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