If you suffer from seasonal allergies, the excitement of spring can be marred by sneezing and stuffy noses. Many clients come into my office at this time of year looking for allergy relief. Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine can be quite effective at helping to ease symptoms and boost the body’s natural ability to respond less reactively. Seasonal allergies have a strong correlation to our overly clean lifestyle and overuse of antibiotics, and some communities are also hit hard due to pollution exposure and poor diet. Vitamin D deficiency is another common underlying factor in people with allergies, and I generally recommend using a good quality supplement daily. As inevitable as allergies may seem, there’s quite a bit you can do to minimize and potentially eliminate this seasonal occurrence.
First, aim for a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet focused on whole foods like fresh local vegetables – especially seasonal bitter greens, fish, free-range animal products, nuts, seeds, and other plant foods. Incorporate fermented foods like kimchi, live kraut, kombucha, and shoyu into your daily routine, which can improve the wellbeing of your body’s beneficial bacteria and make you less reactive to various allergens. (One exception would be in histamine intolerance, where fermented foods can make symptoms worse.) Avoid any food allergens or intolerances that are problematic for you – common culprits include wheat and dairy. Avoidance of these specifically reactive foods can make you less reactive to environmental allergens.
Eating raw honey has numerous benefits. It is a great antioxidant and has antibacterial, antifungal and anti-allergenic properties. The practice of consuming raw local honey is a popular natural remedy for allergies. Bees collect pollen from the environment as they gather nectar from flowers, and in turn, honey from local sources will contain safe amounts of this pollen. It is thought that eating raw local honey conditions the body to the presence of these local pollens. Herb infused honeys are a wonderful way to include many added benefits. (Stay tuned for another recipe…)
Use a Neti Pot daily to irrigate and cleanse the nostrils and sinuses. Neti flushes out irritants and thins the mucus, which results in less congestion and easier breathing through the nose. It also alows the cilia in the nasal passages to do the job of filtering the air more efficiently. Stress reduction techniques such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, aromatherapy and massage are also helpful in reducing allergies. In response to stress the body releases hormones and other chemicals, including histamine, the powerful chemical that leads to allergy symptoms. While stress doesn’t actually cause allergies, it can make an allergic reaction worse by increasing the histamine in your bloodstream.
Also consider the following herbs & a sparkling tea recipe for some all natural allergy relief…
The benefits of nettles have been documented for centuries. Nettle tea is used to improve heart action, for headaches and for any internal bleeding. Nettle is said to be extremely beneficial for the kidneys, being useful in expelling gravel from the bladder and dissolving kidney stones. It is a powerful blood purifier that drives out toxins and metabolic wastes by stimulating the kidneys to excrete more water. Nettle tea is said to clean out the entire intestinal tract while activating the body’s natural defense mechanisms. It is used as an overall health tonic and to treat high blood pressure, anemia, skin inflammations and more. It is tonifying for the Liver and Kidneys, builds blood, and it is full of vitamins, minerals, protein and amino acids. Stinging nettle contains various compounds that decrease allergy-related inflammation and histamine. This is somewhat surprising considering that nettle’s stingers actually contain histamine. Although the effects of freeze-dried nettle capsules are modest, it is a very safe herb. Anecdotally, herbalists report immediate symptomatic relief with nettle fresh-plant tincture.
Sparkling Nettle Lemon Mint Tea
Nettle tea is springtime’s natural elixir. One of the earliest green plants to emerge each spring, nettles can be easily brewed into a tea which has healthful, restorative benefits which boost the immune system and awaken the body to spring.
- Dried nettle leaves and stems, as needed (see note)
- Boiling water, as needed (see note)
- Ice, as needed
- 1 tbsp honey per serving
- ⅛ preserved or fresh lemon (or a ½-inch [1.5-cm] chunk) per serving
- several mint leaves per serving
- 1 cup sparkling water per serving
- To steep the dried nettles, place the nettles in a teapot or a nonreactive pot and pour the boiling water over them. Let the nettles steep for 15 minutes, then strain them from the water.
- Add ice to a tall glass and muddle the honey and mint with the preserved lemon. Pour in ½ cup (120 ml) of the strong nettle tea and finish with the sparkling water.
As a general rule of thumb use 1 tablespoon dried nettles per 1 cup water. But to make this strong to enjoy with ice and sparkling water, use 2 tablespoons dried nettles per 1 cup water. For example, to make 4 servings, use 8 teaspoons nettles and 4 cups water. *Best – Use double the amount of fresh nettles leaves if you have access and steep overnight for a stronger tonic.
Other common herbs for allergy relief:
Reishi & Astragalus
These immune tonics help modulate or regulate immune system response when taken on a regular basis. This means that your body is better able to fight germs yet less over-reactive in allergies and autoimmune disease (for some with autoimmune disease astragulus may stimulate the immune function too much to tolerate well – reduce intake to build up slowly). Complex starches, called polysaccharides, in medicinal mushrooms and astragalus send your immune system back to boot camp, improving immune cell function and signaling. Polysaccharides extract particularly when simmered in water for hours. Reishi and astragalus blend well with chai spices like cardamom, star anise, cinnamon, and a pinch of nutmeg for tea, or you can add them to soup broth. Feel free to include other medicinal mushrooms like shiitake and maitake, which have similar polysaccharides. Reishi has unique anti-inflammatory and adaptogen properties and has performed well in preliminary studies for asthma and allergies. If you don’t tolerate mushrooms, astragalus root has similar polysaccharides and has been shown to decrease the severity of seasonal allergies.
Among all the herbs used for allergies, butterbur has by far the most clinical research to back its use for allergies, with widespread use in Europe for seasonal allergies, migraines, and asthma. Studies have found it significantly better than placebo and comparable to common allergy medications Zyrtec and Allegra. It can be used symptomatically for occasional symptoms and daily in chronic allergies. Unfortunately, this isn’t a do-it-yourself remedy because butterbur root contains liver-toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Seek PA-free butterbur such as Petadolex.
I hope this helps you get outside and enjoy this beautiful weather!
*The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Evergreen’s Wellness Center; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
About the Author
Freya Farley is Evergreen’s Executive Director and an Acupuncturist at the Wellness Center at Evergreen. Her practice focuses on Women’s Health and Fertility, which at its essence is the manifestation of balance and health within the body. Along with acupuncture, and herbal medicine, Freya practices a food-as-medicine approach, helping her clients utilize the healing powers of food to nourish their bodies mind and spirits. She offers private consultations & treatments as well as a weekly Community Acupuncture Clinic. The presence of yoga throughout Freya’s life has influenced and informed her ongoing path of health and wellness and she offers Open Studio morning yoga sessions to join in her practice – (free to those registered in another class!).