To heal the itchy eyes, stuffy nostrils and other discomforts of seasonal allergies, simple lifestyle swaps are the first crucial steps, from getting more sleep to embracing an anti-inflammatory diet. But Mother Nature offers some added support in the form of unique plants that arise from her soil to be special medicine for the earth’s inhabitants.
These immune-modulators, as they’re called, inherently possess particular elements that balance and strengthen immune system function to beat the springtime sniffles. They can also help the body avoid colds, the flu and cancer, as well as ameliorate asthma and autoimmune issues.
Although it’s possible to use herbs alone in a symptom-fixing way, this method is all too close to the conventional Western approach to medicine. The truth is that herbs each contain special elemental characteristics and natures, and that they also go on to influence everyone’s individual natural composition differently based on this relationship. Additionally, placing various herbs together influences how they may synergize and balance one another, or send each other’s actions too far in one direction.
Keep this in mind when using herbs, and recognize that herbal medicine works best when incorporated into a more thorough, holistic approach. In regards to the latter, check out this list of lifestyle choices to heal seasonal allergies, and then experiment with the herbs below to see what suits your body best. It might also be an excellent suggestion to find and work with an herbalist near you who can address the fine details.
For a vital and balancing blend, mix a teaspoon of each of the below recommendations (excluding the medicinal mushrooms, which you can use separately) in a tea strainer and steep for 10-15 minutes in a cup of just-before-boiling water. Add raw, local bee pollen (found at farmers markets and natural food stores) or raw, local honey for synergizing sweetness and additional remedial benefit.
1. Medicinal mushrooms
Reishi, shiitake, maitake, cordyceps, turkeytail and chaga mushrooms all contain complex starches called glucans, which cause the body to actually mount an immune system response that takes attention off of combatting allergies while also strengthening immune cells that become better at fending off true harmful pathogens. Glucans possess a phenomenal affinity for bringing the immune system back into balance. Additionally, reishi and cordyceps have specific compounds that strengthen lung function and structure.
Tip: Renowned mycologist Paul Stamets sells an array of organic, sustainably harvested medicinal mushroom tinctures and capsules through his website, www.fungi.com. You can also check out what culinary mushrooms your local health food store carries. Tender shiitake and maitake mushrooms go well in stir-fries and omelets, whereas harder reishi, turkeytail and chagas can simmer for several hours to make teas and broths. Dried mushroom powders are another alternative to add to soups and dishes.
2. Astragalus (Astragalus propinquus, syn. A. membranaceus)
This herbaceous perennial has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for at least 2,000 years to strengthen one’s wei qi, which is the protective energy that prevents illness caused by outside factors. Its fibrous roots serve as an important tonic for strengthening and restoring immunity while upholding vitality. It supports many body systems, nourishes the adrenal glands and increases the body’s ability to cope with stress. Maintaining adrenal health is particularly important for balancing seasonal allergies because chronically high levels of histamine, a symptom of seasonal allergies, burn out the adrenal glands that work to keep inflammation in check.
Tip: This energetically warming and earthy herb blends well with chai spices, soup broths and mushrooms.
3. Goldenrod (Solidaggo spp.)
Goldenrod leaves and flowers are exceptionally helpful for seasonal allergies and sinus congestion, as the plant’s anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine properties help thin and drain mucus while toning the mucosal lining.
Tip: Goldenrod is a diuretic that helps rid the body of excess fluid, so do not use it in cases of kidney disease or with other diuretic pills without the supervision of a medical professional.
4. Elder (Sambucus nigra)
The flowers and berries of the elder tree have deep blue and purple pigments that represent their strong antioxidant content. They’re most commonly blended into a potent syrup that helps the immune system fight invaders for all ages. Elderflowers act as a natural anti-histamine, so they’ll help relieve your allergy symptoms while promoting a healthy immune system response. This is because their medicine moves energy outward, which stimulates circulation and sweating to eliminate toxins, reduce swollen mucous membranes and decrease nasal congestion. Elderflowers additionally nourish the nervous system to soothe nerves, anxiety and depression.
Tip: There exist ancient legends that a wise woman or nymph named Elda Mor (Hylde-Moer) lives in the elder tree to protect it and offer us healing, and that when you seek the healing properties of elder, you must show respect for her powers. Expressing gratitude for a plant’s healing gift is always suggested as a means to connect with the plant and wholly receive its medicine.
5. Nettle (Urtica dioica, U. spp.)
Nettle is an herbaceous perennial, and it is known as a highly nutritive herb due to its rich vitamin, mineral, amino acid and chlorophyll content that makes it significantly nourishing for the blood. This energizing herb is cooling and drying in nature, and it is useful in cases of hay fever and allergies due to its anti-histamine properties that seem to stabilize the walls of mast cells within the immune system.
Tip: For many individuals, an antioxidant called quercetin in combination with bromelain tends to work more effectively than nettle, as these compounds help reduce histamine production as well as break down what has already been created. Often found together in supplement form, you can begin taking these a few weeks before allergy season to prevent or lessen symptoms. Just note that bromelain can thin the blood and is therefore contraindicated with some drugs and conditions.
6. Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra, Glycyrrhiza uralensis)
Known as the “Great Harmonizer” because it is used to blend and harmonize herbal preparations, licorice is a slightly woody perennial whose root and rhizomes are used for widespread medicinal purposes around the world. Its character in our bodies is to restore, relax and soften, and in ancient Ayurvedic medicine, licorice is considered specifically for any inflammation in the mucous membranes throughout the body. Additionally, it treats the immune system via its modulating properties.
Bonus: Essential Oils
One final brief suggestion while discussing herbal medicine is to consider using an essential oil diffuser with well-sourced essential oils. Essential oils are recognized by many herbalists as the “soul” part of the plant, and their volatile aromatic compounds have a wide range of emotional and physical wellness applications. They bathe the inner workings of your respiratory system that serves as the active transportation channel of seasonal allergies, and they also breach the inflammation at a cellular level and promote cell healing.
Lemon and lavender are two very safe essential oils that work as wonderful medicine for seasonal allergies, and peppermint is exceptional for allergies as well, but is not suggested to be safe for infants and small children. Young Living and doTERRA are two reputable brands for the therapeutic grade essential oils you want to look for, and you can often find special blends suitable to your needs. (Check out information on doTERRA’s blend, “Breathe,” for respiratory health here.)
p.s. To work in tandem with these herbal remedies, have you tried getting more sleep, using a neti-pot or shifting your diet?