March 27, 2017

5 HERBAL COCKTAILS TO SOOTHE SPRING ALLERGIES

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Photo by JoAnn Torre

“And spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the spirit of love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on earth’s dark breast
rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.”

—Percy Bysshe Shelley

Spring is in the air. Well, maybe not yet where you live, but it’s coming. It is a beautiful time of year to meander outside and see the flowers and trees blossom. BUT… for many people, spring comes with an allergy vengeance.

Most people equate spring allergies with sneezing, itchy eyes, and running noses associated with being allergic to pollen spores from ragweed, flowers, trees, and various grasses. It is a little more complicated than that, so you should know your own triggers. Your allergy can come from mold and fungus and not pollen or ragweed and may last all year round. The best way to identify your allergy is to visit an allergist and get a skin prick test to accurately diagnose the allergy. If you currently see an allergist, receive allergy shots and/or medication, hopefully you received diet recommendations and natural remedies to help relieve allergy symptoms as well.

NOTE: The following information is to provide you with some natural, herbal remedies that are easy to prepare. Information and statements given here are for educational purposes and not intended to replace medical advice from your allergist or physician. Some herbs can negatively interfere with specific medications. Consult your health care practitioner with any concerns.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

WHY HERBS MATTER FOR SPRING TIME ALLERGIES

There are many herbs that can alleviate sneezing, watery/itchy eyes, and a runny nose caused by common spring time allergies. These herbs contain compounds that prevent the formation of histamine, a hormone that is released from cells when an allergen (foreign substance) enters the body. The uncomfortable symptoms of teary eyes, runny noses, and sneezing are an extreme response, and defense mechanism, to rid the body of the allergen. The drugs most widely used to fight this response are called antihistamines. Although antihistamines can be useful, they may have side effects which can cause drowsiness, heart rhythm disturbances, and blurred vision. On the other hand, herbs containing bioflavonoids have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and can help control allergic discomfort. Common antihistamine medications only work by interfering with histamine AFTER it has been released into the blood and tissues. Some clinical studies on asthma have shown that bioflavonoids prevent histamine from forming in the first place. 

Spring time allergies are caused by the immune system’s overreaction to a harmless substance like pollen or ragweed.  It makes sense to keep some spring time allergies at bay by keeping the immune system strong and by eating foods rich in bioflavonoids. Quercetin is a bioflavonoid found in fruits and vegetables with the highest levels found in apples and onions. Quercetin helps block the release of histamine and acts as a great assistant to other bioflavonoids increasing its effectiveness. In addition to herbs, foods with bioflavonoids should be part of a regular daily diet.

COMMON POLLEN SPORES AND RAGWEED FOUND THROUGHOUT NORTH AMERICA 

 
Plants use a variety of strategies to transport pollen grains from one flower to another. According to the United States Forest Service, wind, water, and animals are the important transporters. To attract animals, plants have evolved sexy enticements, traps, and attractive odors that draw pollinators to the flowers.

TEA TIME FOR SPRING TIME

Here are 5 herbal teas that may help reduce spring allergy symptoms. For best results, drink approximately 32 ounces of tea a day. Since herbs work best as a preventative, it is wise to start before allergy season begins. However, if sneezing and/or itchy eye symptoms already began, it is not too late to start herbal remedies.

1.) EYEBRIGHT TEA

As its name suggest, Eyebright is used today much as it was during the seventeenth century….as a cure for all “evils of the eye”. The tannins in Eyebright make the herb an anti-inflammatory, and stringent, which makes it useful to drink as a tea and use as a compress for swelled, itchy eyes. Eyebright tea may help relieve mucus congestion associated with allergies. 

2.) NETTLE TEA

Stinging nettle is a perennial flowering plant that has been used medicinally for ages, dating back as far as Ancient Greece. If you ever experienced a stinging sensation after brushing up to one of these plants, now you know how this plant got its name. Stinging nettle’s anti-inflammatory qualities affect a number of key receptors and enzymes in allergic reactions, to prevent hay fever symptoms, especially if taken when the symptoms first appear. Although the leaves of the plant contain histamine, and seem counterproductive in allergy treatment, there is evidence that low levels of histamine (as opposed to high levels) helps reduce allergy symptoms. A study from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine found that stinging nettle use for allergy relief was rated higher than placebos in a 98-person, randomized, double-blind study and concluded that 58% of the participants who were given freeze-dried nettles for treatment of hay fever experienced a reduction in symptoms. In a strange way, nettle may act as an anti-histamine. WARNING: Make sure the nettle you use is dried and prepared properly. A nettle tea cure should not last longer than 4 weeks or used by those with a weak heart, weak kidneys, or any serious chronic condition. Consult your physician. 

3.) BLACK-ELDER FLOWER TEA

Traditionally referred to as “Nature’s Medicine Chest”, Black Elder is a versatile herb. Its berries, called elderberries, the black-elder leaf, and the black-elder flower can all be used for different ailments. The berries were once thought to increase longevity; the flowers can be brewed into a tea that may promote sweating and reduce fever. The black-elder leaf should only be used externally for irritated skin/minor burns with wraps and compresses. It is a tea made with Black-Elder Flowers that can increase resistance to infection of the nose and throat and also be effective in treating hay fever and chronic congestion. For spring allergies, it is the FLOWER you want to brew into tea.

4.) LEMON BALM TEA

Lemon balm was widely used in ancient Greece and Rome. Made into curative tonics, lemon balm was grown by European monks and valued for its medicinal and culinary uses. Lemon Balm’s antihistamine action is useful to treat allergies, eczema and headaches and accounts for the centuries old tradition of placing the fresh leaf on insect bites and wounds. Due to its anti-inflammatory and calming effects on the nervous system, physical symptoms of allergies may be reduced as a result of drinking this tea daily.

5.) PEPPERMINT TEA

When we think of peppermint we often think of candy, cordials, liqueurs and desserts. Among the 600 varieties of mint, peppermint ranks high as a very pleasant tasting remedy for sore throats, indigestion, headaches, colds and irritable bowel syndrome. In addition, the combination of peppermint’s menthol oils and tannins makes it a powerful decongestant. Breathing can be improved by steeping fresh (or dried) peppermint leaves in boiling water to create a sinus-clearing tea. 

ALSO TRY THESE HERBAL TEAS FOR SPRING ALLERGIES

Chamomile Tea, Thyme Tea, Fennel Tea, Sea-Holly Tea, and Red Rooibos Tea. Many tea concoctions can be made by combining herbs together for medicinal purposes and added flavor. Incorporating good quality honey, ginger, and fresh lemon to some of these tea recipes adds a flavor punch with even more anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. These herbs can be found in a health food store or specialty herbal shop. Be careful shopping online and make sure the herbs are of good quality.   

U.S. SEASONAL POLLEN TIMELINE MAP

In the past, it was not as easy to obtain allergy season information as it is today. Besides looking at maps like this one on the Internet, there are also phone apps that are available for tracking and getting the latest allergy alerts. 

The National Allergy Map is an interactive map to receive allergy forecasts. Just type in your zip code. There is more allergy information, ongoing research studies, and e-tools for allergy sufferers. 

Spring time can be so uplifting and beautiful as winter’s end is seen with blossoms all around us. Spring time can also be so uncomfortable and stopping to smell the flowers is just not an option. For those people I say….Keep trying new remedies, try to keep it as natural as possible, and share what works with anyone else who suffers from spring allergies. 

“What the eyes perceive in herbs, or stones, or trees is not yet a remedy; the eyes see only the dross.” Paracelsus