June's Health Genie In-Depth: Nutritional & Botanical Support for Sufferers of Seasonal Allergies


By Heather Irvine, Wellness Buyer

Note:The informational in this article is not meant to be an exhaustive list and is based on the traditional uses of plants. Statements about the research have been simplified. This article is meant for informational purposes and it is not meant as a substitute for proper medical advice. Please consult with your medical practitioner before using any type of remedy, herbal or otherwise.

Many people suffer from seasonal allergies. Allergy symptoms occur when an individual’s respiratory and immune system are reactive to a particular foreign substance whether or not it is otherwise harmful. Below are some popular approaches to alternative allergy relief. While most of these approaches are not recognized by the FDA as therapeutic treatments for allergies, all have a long history of use and current research that supports this information. A few have potential negative interactions with medications; you should always check with your medical practitioner before starting a new remedy.

Nettle (Urtica dioica): Stinging nettles have traditionally been used for a number of conditions involving inflammation. Australians have long used the herb to open bronchial passages. Nettles are currently a popular herb for allergies. The plant has been found to contain natural antihistamines and anti-inflammatories including quercetin (see below).  Fresh or dried herb, tincture, tea or capsules may be useful. Nettles grow locally here and are in their prime for harvesting in May and June. City Market offers fresh locally wild-foraged nettles in our Produce Department in the spring, dried local nettles year round in our Bulk Department, as well as nettle in capsules and tinctures in our Wellness Department.  Dried or lightly steamed, this fresh herb will not sting when eaten because drying and steaming wilt the small barbs.

Source: Duke, J.A. Ph.D. The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook. Rodale Inc. U.S. 2000.

Quercetin:  This bioflavonoid present in nettles was first discovered in oaks and has also been found in black and green tea, onions, red grapes, apples, citrus, tomatoes, broccoli and other leafy green vegetables, sea buckthorn and many other berries, lovage herb and many other plant foods. Flavonoids lend pigment to plants and are secondary metabolites of plants. Secondary metabolites are compounds made by plants that aid in plant disease resistance or adaptation to adverse conditions or attract, repel or otherwise affect other organisms in a way that benefits the plant. Most botanical compounds considered medicinal are secondary metabolites. Quercetin has been recognized by many research groups as a potential therapeutic for many conditions involving inflammation, particularly those of the respiratory system. It may lessen the inflammatory response causing a myriad of hay fever symptoms. City Market offers several quercetin supplements, some of which contain nettles and bromelain (see below).

Bromelain:  This enzyme, most abundant in pineapple, has been found to increase intestinal absorption of quercetin. For this reason, many quercetin supplements contain bromelain.

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid):  Vitamin C has been included in formulas with quercetin and bromelain to support a healthy immune response in allergy sufferers. Vitamin C is generally recognized as a potent antioxidant. In the body, antioxidants help manage irritation to many tissues by interacting with and changing the structure of a group of molecules termed free radicals.

Butterbur (Petasites hybridus):  Butterbur, like nettle and herbs mentioned below is rich in flavonoids. This is a European herb that has been recognized by the National Institute of Health Office of Dietary Supplements (U.S.) which regulates what health claims can be made by producers and sellers of nutritional and herbal supplements. In individual studies, Butterbur has been found to be as effective as a commonly used oral antihistamine for allergy symptoms such as itchy eyes. There is evidence that the extract can decrease the symptoms associated with nasal allergies and has also been found to be useful for migraine sufferers. Butterbur is a relatively potent botanical and, as such, it can cause adverse effects in some. To avoid ill effects it may be preferable to use a supplement that is free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs). 

Source: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/butterbur

Goldenrod (Solidago canadense):  Goldenrod pollen is a leading cause of seasonal allergies in the United States. For most, the pollen must be inhaled to cause an allergic response. Herbalists have long suggested a tincture of goldenrod flowers may relieve many seasonal allergy symptoms, such as sore throat and itchy eyes. Because most seasonal allergy suffers are affected by contact with pollen through their nasal passage and not by ingesting it, it may be worth a try.

It is important to note that this method is not advised for anyone who has experienced or has a family history of anaphylactic reaction to this or any substance. Goldenrod is relatively high in flavonoids and is available at City Market as a tincture.

Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadense): Though not botanically related to goldenrod, goldenseal shares a deep yellow pigment, though in a different part of the plant, the rhizome.  The pigment is partly due to flavonoids, though goldenseal also has a high amount of berberines - another group of compounds that are believed to be medicinal.  Goldenseal is often suggested for cold and flu symptoms but is also included in many seasonal allergy formulas by herbalists. It seems to reduce irritation and excess mucous in the sinus and throat.

Goldenseal is a potent herb. It is important to note that goldenseal is not advised for use during pregnancy and is also contraindicated with some important medications. City Market carries Goldenseal as a powdered herb, a tincture and a capsule.

Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis):  Eyebright, as its name suggests, has traditionally been used for eye irritations; however, there is less evidence about its uses than many other herbs. Information about its use is primarily from folk lore, herbalists or individual practitioners. 

Eyebright is available at City Market as a homeopathic pellet and an eye solution, in tinctures for sinus health, and as a bulk herb. Tinctures are meant to be consumed orally. The tincture should never be used directly in the eyes as the alcohol in it is very irritating. A tea of the herb can be used as an eyewash, but only if sterile clear water is used and the solution is strained with a very clean cloth to eliminate even the smallest solids. It is useful to put the tea in a white porcelain dish to inspect it carefully for solids and to allow it to cool to body temperature.

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