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Botanicals for Seasonal Allergy Support

What are seasonal allergies?


An allergy is a condition where the immune system responds in a exaggerated or inappropriate way against an antigen or allergen. Also known as hypersensitivity reactions.

This post will focus on Type I allergies. And more specifically ‘seasonal’ allergies or hay fever. Other type of allergies are:


Type II or Cytotoxic-Mediated Response

Type III or Immunocomplex Reactions

Type IV or Cell-mediated


Hay fever, also called allergic rhinitis, causes cold-like signs and symptoms, such as a runny nose, itchy eyes, congestion, sneezing and sinus pressure. Intermittent allergies are those which occur seasonally based upon certain exposures. They are often triggered in the spring and fall by pollen, grasses, and weeds. Perennial allergies occur year-round though they often are worse during the winter. These are triggered by indoor allergens such as dust, mold, and animal dander.


Symptoms associated with seasonal allergies commonly include:


  • Runny nose and nasal congestion

  • Watery, itchy, red eyes

  • Sneezing

  • Coughing

  • Itchy nose, roof the mouth or throat

  • Swollen, blue coloured skin under the eyes

  • Post-nasal drip

  • Fatigue


Current available treatment options for seasonal allergies:


  • Reduce exposure to triggers

  • OTC and prescription medications

  • Nasal rinses

  • Acupuncture

  • Supplements

  • Botanical remedies, of course!


A herbalist's approach


The approach will be twofold, one for acute treatment that will focus on the reduction of symptoms at onset. And also a long term holistic approach, focused on prevention and that involves an individual plan that may include nutritional, lifestyle and botanical recommendations.


As herbalists, we may address seasonal allergies through different areas, such as addressing inflammation, immune system support and GI health (gut and organs of elimination). The Herbalist's tool kit may include some botanicals like:


Astringents – e.g. nettles, cleavers, blackberry leaf ​

Expectorants and mucolytics – e.g. ginger, plantain​

Immune modulators – e.g. reishi, astragalus, schisandra​

Adaptogens – e.g. schisandra, ashwagndha ​

Lymphatics – e.g. cleavers, burdock ​

Inflammation modulators – e.g. nettles, turmeric, berries, rosehips ​

Liver supporting herbs – e.g. dandelion, burdock, bitter greens, gentian


In this blog, we will take a closer look at 5 botanicals. Stinging nettles, chamomile, cleavers, butterbur and goldenrod.


Stinging nettle

Latin name: Urtica dioica ​

Parts used: Aerial​

Properties: Anti-allergic, astringent, diuretic​

Preparation: Capsules / Infusion ​

Dosage: 300mg freeze dried 3X day. Or overnight 1oz /1qt Infusion a day ​

Safety: No known contraindications


While the exact mechanism of how nettles work for allergies is unknown, some hypothesize that nettle’s natural histamine content may down-regulate the allergic response. Nettle has also been shown to lower some inflammatory markers, which could also play a role in relieving seasonal allergies. The astringent action of nettle also contributes to by drying a runny nose.


Among practitioners you will find those that recommend only freeze dried plant capsules, as this is what has been used in studies. However, long term clinical herbalists will tell you that drinking it as an infusion has been shown just as effective in practice. You may want to combine it with a mucilagenous herb to balance it's drying effects.


Cleavers

Latin name: Galium aparine​

Parts used: Aerial parts ​

Properties: Lymphatic, diuretic, anti-inflammatory, alterative ​

Preparation: Fresh juice, tincture, infusion ​

Dosage: 5-10g per day​

Safety: None known


Adding cleavers is a personal preference of mine. Because of their lymphatic properties I always like to include them or a similar plant with anything related to the immune system. If we think about spring, which means the beginning of seasonal allergies, the plant world also provides us with early plants - such as nettles or plantain - that help with all that issue, and cleavers is also one of the early and abundant plants.


It is said that for cleavers to be most effective one must use the fresh plant. You can juice it or make an infusion. You could also eat them as a cooked green - once rinsed and cooked they shouldn't be a sticky mess. Or use a fresh plant tincture.





Butterbur

Latin name: Petasites hybridus​

Parts used: Rhizome​

Properties: Antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, antitussive​

Preparation: Standardized extract

Dosage: 7.5 mg of petasin and isopetasin​ X3 a day

Safety: Not recommended during pregnancy and lactation, or people with liver disease


A specific butterbur extract (Ze339) has been used in multiple clinical studies effectively for

the treatment of allergies and found to be as effective as popular pharmaceutical solutions such as Zyrtec. It has been widely used in Europe for seasonal allergies, migraines, and asthma. It can be used symptomatically for occasional symptoms and daily in chronic allergies.


Because of the content of pyrrolizidine alkaloids in this plant, is important to purchase the standardized extract that has had this chemical removed, especially when we are using it long term.


Goldenrod

Latin name: Solidago canadensis

Parts used: Aerial parts ​

Properties: Astringent, anti-inflammatory, expectorant

Preparation: Tincture , infusion

Dosage: 0.5-1ml X3 day.

Safety: Avoid in kidney disease and if known allergy


Often blamed for spring allergies, when the likely culprit is ragweed, it's also a member of the aster family. Goldenrod is pollinated by insects not wind, its pollen is heavy and sticky and does not readily float through the air. Practitioners find it useful in seasonal allergies and other respiratory complaints by acting as a mucolytic, meaning it helps thin and remove excess mucus and congestion, particularly in the sinuses.


Of course, if you do know that you are allergic to goldenrod then avoid it.





Chamomile

Latin name: Matricaria recutita ​

Parts used: Aerial parts ​

Properties: Anti-inflammatory, histamine inhibition ​

Preparation: Tincture, infusion

Dosage: 1-4ml x3 day​ / 1-9g

Safety: Avoid if known allergy


Chamomile is a very gentle and versatile plant. Better known for its ability to help promote a restful sleep and anti-inflammatory, carminative properties for the GI system. Some research has suggested that chamomile may have some histamine inhibition properties. And because of all of these mentioned properties, I also see it as a possible ally for the season.


Remember: The use of botanical products will depend on the person, their medical history and current prescription medication. Consult with a clinical herbalist before self-treating.

Other


Spirulina

Spirulina is a non-toxic blue-green microalgae whose name is inspired by its spiral shape. While it was originally believed to be a plant due to its photosynthetic capabilities, spirulina is now recognized as a type of cyanobacteria (cool fact I just learned too!).


Spirulina has shown in some studies to help reduce symptoms of allergic rhinitis, though research is still at an early stage. In a randomized controlled trial spirulina supplementation given daily for two months was as effective as cetirizine at reducing symptoms of nasal itching and sneezing and more effective than cetirizine at reducing rhinorrhea (runny nose) and nasal congestion. The proposed mechanism is that it may inhibit the release of histamine from mast cells.


Quercetin

Quercetin is a flavonoid found in plants; this phytochemical gives plants it's bright colours. It's an antioxidant that may help reduce inflammation and allergy symptoms. Though so far the research on quercetin and histamine reduction I have seen is in animals, including these foods in your diet can still provide nutritional benefits. Quercetin rich foods include: Capers, peppers (yellow and green​), onions, shallots, asparagus, cherries, tomatoes, red apples, red grapes, broccoli​, kale​, red leaf lettuce, berries. Tea, green and black.


Note that the amount of quercetin in foods may depend on the conditions in which the food was grown.


Volatile oils

While I am not aware of research or information on volatile oils helping with the prevention of seasonal allergies, they can be a great addition to support symptoms. In a small 2016 study, fifty-four men and women between the ages of 20-60 were randomized to inhale aromatherapy oil containing volatile oils of sandalwood, frankincense, and ravensara or almond oil (the placebo) for 5 minutes twice daily for 7 days. The results found that the aromatherapy group had significantly less nasal blockage and clear breathing as compared to the control group. The blend was equal parts of the oils in a 0.2% dilution, with 1ml total applied to a cotton pad for inhalation.


Other oils can be used to help with the onset of symptoms: Eucalypus, chamomile, helichrysum, peppermint, canadian balsam.


Other factors to consider


Wearing a mask ​- especially if you will be spending a lot of time outside on a particular high pollen or dusty day.

Keeping well hydrated ​

Change clothes after spending time outdoors ​

Clean bedding often

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