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Herbs for Hay Fever

fotolia_65436981Spring arrives with good weather and bright evenings. For some people this is a mixed blessing. Spring brings the miseries of Hay Fever. If you have the yearly running nose, watering eyes and sneezing problems, it can spoil anything from football to a walk in the countryside or the local park.

Suppressing the symptoms with antihistamines and steroid nasal sprays is one way of managing the problem but as soon as the medicine wears off the problem returns. Also the problem returns year after year.

Herbal medicine is helpful in managing the symptoms but it also has value added. Over the last ten years I have treated people regularly for hay fever and related immune problems. The herbs work on the nourishment of the mucous membranes and by dampening the immune response. In my opinion the combination of both of these actions lead to year on year reducing of the impact of seasonal immune problems.

Of course it is difficult to prove or disprove claims for herbs and allergies, especially with such a variable condition as Hay Fever. It can be very severe one year and less severe the next depending on the pollen count amongst other things. However the research on various herbs tends to attest to the positive effects on Hay Fever symptoms.

Also herbs can be used very simply as infusions (teas), incorporating them into daily life, think of a blend of herbs used as medicinal water. They can be made up once daily and taken hot or cold, add apple juice for a little added sweetness if you like. Taking them as tinctures (alcohol extracts) is easier but more expensive.

For best effect take from one month before the onset of your symptoms. I can’t emphasize his enough. If you usually get Hay Fever from mid May, start taking the herbs in mid April. Most people have the same pattern year after year, so look at the pattern for your symptoms over the last few years.

The herbs I recommend are;

Chamomile ( Chamomila mat/rec); Usually used to relax the digestive system and the nervous system, Chamomile also has an anti-allergic action. This herb neatly underpins the unity of the nervous system, the digestive system and the immune system! The sceptical might think ‘how can it have all these different actions?’ but if you consider it another way ‘what if all these actions are linked?’ This is the way herbalists consider the action of herbs. What is the normal function? How did it go wrong? And how do we
support the body to allow normal function?

What if the hay fever response is an exaggerated response of a protective mechanism?

Nettle leaf (Urtica dioica); This needs no introduction and I invite you to go to the garden
or your nearest field and pick the tops of the nettles. Any part of the stems and leaves will do the trick! Put them in the teapot according to taste (start with a tablespoon of sprigs and add two cups of boiling water). This is a welcome, nourishing spring green after the stored winter parsnips and turnips (pre-supermarket!). In addition to the iron rich mineral content this herb has an anti-allergy effect. This action is partly due to the diuretic effect of nettle on increasing urine production, increasing the elimination of breakdown
products including those from the overactive immune system.

Plantain or Ribwort (Plantago off.); This herb covered globalisation hundreds of years ago! Known as ‘white man’s footprint’ Ribwort was exported to all the colonies from Europe. Not for any deliberate reason, it is just such a successful weed. It stowed on board
ships setting up successful colonies on landing. It is rich in chlorophyll (greens), nutrition and it is mucilaginous (mucous like). It is cooling in nature and has an affinity for cooling and nourishing the mucous membranes of the nasal and digestive tract. (We often forget that the lining of the nose and sinuses is continuous with that of the digestive tract).

Elderflowers (Sambucus nigra; flos); The Elderflower tree is known as the ‘poor man’s pharmacy’ as the flowers and berries have long been used to ease health problems. The flowers are particularly useful for clearing mucous membranes due to ‘Colds’, sinus problems or hay fever. It is a light, flowery and pleasant tasting herb welcome in any herb tea blend. It also has a gentle effect on promoting perspiration again aiding the elimination of immune breakdown products.

Eyebright (Euphrasia off); As you can guess from the name this herb is traditionally thought to have an affinity for the eyes, particularly the mucous membranes. Again it is pleasant tasting in a herb tea blend.

Top Tips
1. Wear wraparound sunglasses, this prevents pollens irritating the eyes.
2. Rub little Vaseline around the nostril openings and a little inside the nose. This traps the pollen preventing the allergic response further up the respiratory tract.
3. Keep windows closed on high pollen days.
4. Chamomile or Fennel tea bags make soothing eye-pads, drink the tea and let the teabags cool and apply to the closed eyes.
5. Make Eyebright tea eye-pads by making the tea in a teapot or mug. Filter through fine muslin or a coffee filter paper. When cool dip a round cotton wool pad into the tea, squeeze out excess moisture and apply to the closed eyes.
6. Use herbs as simples (individual herb) or as blends. They tend to have a better effect used together, more than adding together the individual actions of the different herbs. This is an example of synergy where the herbs working together have enhanced effect.
Dr Dilis Clare MBBCh, DRCOG, BSc(Herbal Medicine)

Dr Clare in an experienced GP who has worked as a Herbal Medicine Practitioner for the past ten years at her practice in Galway and more recently Co Cork. She speaks regularly on radio broadcasts.

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