Best Herbs for Allergy Relief (and how to use them)

by Sarah Natural RemediesComments: 19

best herbs for allergy relief

When the pollen gets thick during springtime, more people than ever are reaching for the over the counter eye drops, pills, or nose sprays for allergy relief. Some even need prescription strength meds.

The number of sufferers of seasonal allergic rhinitis or hay fever is increasing rapidly, with the current rate of one in four nearly double what it was in the 1980s. Experts predict by 2030, half of people will suffer hay fever’s bothersome symptoms of sneezing, runny nose and itchy eyes with increasing pollution and wacky weather making things even worse.

The interesting thing is, as little as 200 years ago, hay fever was virtually nonexistent! No one knows exactly what combination of factors is causing the steady increase in hay fever symptoms in humans and even pets too! Most do seem to agree that it probably has a lot to do with the modern obsession with cleanliness combined with children no longer being raised on a farm so that regular, healthy exposure to the beneficial microbes in their environment is too infrequent to stimulate development of a normal, healthy immune system (1).

With seasonal allergies as predictable as they are annoying, it is surprising that more people don’t know how to harness the power of herbs for fast allergy relief with no drugs needed. Here’s a primer for those who wish to give it a go this coming season.

What Causes Seasonal Allergies?

Seasonal allergies are ultimately the uncomfortable result of a very confused immune system.

Each spring and summer, flowering plants release tiny grains known as pollen. These tiny particles, which are only about one millionth of an inch across, are released into the air by trees, grasses, and weeds for the purpose of fertilization and propagation of their species.

As few as 50 pollen grains per cubic yard is considered a high pollen count. When these grains are inhaled into the nose of someone with hay fever, the immune systems is thrown into hyperdrive.

The protein coat on each grain of pollen is what causes the allergic reaction, and in some people, it can be extremely violent with the body mounting the same type of response as if it were being invaded by pathogenic bacteria or a deadly virus.

Natural substances known as histamines are released into the bloodstream as the immune system mounts a response. This is what causes the inflammation of the sinuses, eyes and respiratory system. Histamines work to stimulate the immune system by increasing the permeability of tiny blood vessels called capillaries to white blood cells and some proteins. This provides access to the tissues where they are needed.

Are Pollen Counts Really Increasing?

People who suffer from full blown seasonal allergies or just tend to sneeze a lot on heavy pollen days typically complain year after year that “the pollen is really heavy this year, isn’t it?”. I’ve been known to whine about it too!

But, is this really true?

In reality, pollen levels were in decline up until 1999 with a reduction in the amount of grasslands in recent decades. Since then, pollen levels have been rising again possibly due to strange weather patterns combined with milder springtime temperatures.

Even with increases in recent years, pollen levels are still not where they were in the 1970s, so pollen is not completely to blame for the doubling of hay fever levels since the 1980s with levels predicted to double again by 2030. The hygiene hypothesis, poorer gut health in general, and increasing pollution seem the most likely culprits not pollen.

Biggest Seasonal Allergy Offenders

According to WebMD, the trees and grasses that cause people the most misery include:

  • Trees: Alder, Ash, Aspen, Beech, Elder, Cedar, Cottonwood, Cypress, Elm, Hickory, Juniper, Maple, Mulberry, Oak, Olive, Palm, Pine, Poplar, Sycamore, and Willow.
  • Grasses and Weeds: Bermuda, Fescue, Johnson, June, Orchard, Perennial rye, Redtop, Saltgrass, Sweet vernal, and Timothy.

Breezy days can cause symptoms to worsen because the wind blows the pollen off the ground and swirls it though the air increasing the odds that each breath will contain a noseful of grains. Rainy days temporarily improve the situation as the rain washes the pollen out of the air onto the ground.

Best Herbs for Allergy Relief

While most people automatically reach for over the counter or prescription meds for seasonal sniffles, herbs can provide allergy relief that is just as effective without any nasty or dangerous side effects and toxicity.

It amazes me that more people don’t use herbs for simple allergy relief.  It makes no sense not to at least try them!

The only drawback with using herbs for allergy relief is that you need to keep using them faithfully throughout the entire pollen season and ideally start using them a week or so before the pollen gets bad.

Can you start using herbs once symptoms have already started?  Yes you can, but you will need to be patient until the full power of the herbs kicks in. The reason is that it takes a few days to build up levels of the herb’s anti-inflammatory properties in your blood and tissues, so immediate relief like what would happen from taking a drug is usually not experienced although you may see a slight improvement in symptoms right away.

If you would like to try herbs for allergy relief this year instead of meds, here are the top four to try alone or in combination as identified in the scientific literature.

Cassia Cinnamon and Spanish Needles (combo)

Cinnamon extract and Spanish Needles (Bidens pilosa) work very well as a combination botanical product (CBP) and the benefits are scientifically proven.  Note, however, that while the type of cinnamon is more of a personal preference for cooking, baking, or insulin control, cassia cinnamon is better than ceylon for allergy relief according to the scientific literature.

In 2008, Nutrition Journal published the results of a  randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study involving 20 subjects. The subjects were given a combination extract containing cassia cinnamon and Spanish Needles. This was compared with the effects of a placebo or the pharmaceutical anti-histamine loratadine, which is sold under the brand names Claritin, Alavert, Select, and Fad (2).

The scientists concluded that the combination extract of cassia cinnamon and Spanish Needles significantly reduced the symptoms and inflammation associated with allergic rhinitis in a manner comparable with the loratadine.

If your allergy symptoms are not too severe, I have personally found that cassia cinnamon works great all by itself for relief of congestion related to either allergies and also the common cold. I mix 1 teaspoon of cassia cinnamon (freshly grated cinnamon is by far the most potent!) in a small cup and mix with 1 teaspoon of raw, local honey preferably from bees that obtained nectar from plants flowering in the same season you are have allergies to. The honey mixed with the cinnamon is delicious to eat and will temporarily provide relief from watery, itchy eyes, sneezing and nasal congestion.

Stinging Nettle for Allergy Relief

Stinging nettle, Urtica dioica, is one of the very best herbs for allergy relief as it is a potent anti-histamine. Hence, nettle is able to effectively counteract the release of inflammation inducing histamines that a sufferer of hay fever experiences in response to pollen exposure.

According to the international journal Phytotherapy Research, nettle extract inhibits pro-inflammatory pathways related to allergic rhinitis by antagonizing histamine 1 receptors and inhibiting prostaglandin formation. This reduces hay fever symptoms and overall severity (3).

In the Journal Alternative Medicine Review, a prospective, double-blind, comparative study of 69 allergic arthritis patients noted a significant benefit using nettle extract versus placebo (4).

The best ways to use nettle for relief of allergy symptoms is via a concentrated nettle supplement or preparing a herbal infusion. Obviously, the supplement approach is faster and easier for most people.

If you wish to prepare a nettle infusion instead of supplements, source one ounce of dried nettle leaves (preferably organic) per quart of filtered water. You can also use three ounces of green nettles leaves instead if you have a place to buy them fresh.

Place the dried or fresh nettle in a quart mason jar and fill to the top with boiling water. Screw the lid on tightly and leave at room temperature for 4 hours.

Once the nettle leaves have steeped for the proper amount of time, strain out the plant matter. The dosage is 2 cups per day if you weigh between 125 – 150 pounds (57 – 68 kilograms).

Add an additional half cup per day for every 30-40 lbs (14-18 kg) additional weight. Similarly, if you weigh less than 125 lbs (57 kg), reduce dosage by one quarter cup for every 15-20 lbs.

Please note that herbal infusions spoil rapidly. Use them up as soon as possible and store unused portions in the refrigerator for no more than a day. Discard any portions stored for longer than a day and prepare a fresh batch.

Turmeric: Anti-Inflammatory Powerhouse for Allergy Relief

Turmeric is a product of Curcuma longa, a perennial plant belonging to the ginger family. Native to tropical South Asia, as many as 133 species of Curcuma have been identified worldwide!

Turmeric is known as the golden spice because of its brilliant yellow color and seemingly endless applications as safe, nontoxic herbal medicine including use as a natural antibiotic. Modern medicine has begun to recognize its importance, as indicated by the over 3000 publications dealing with turmeric that have come out within the last 25 years!

Dr. Kelly Brogan MD uses turmeric widely in her holistic practice.  She writes,

This wonder-spice is a mainstay of my anti-inflammatory work with patients in my practice where I use liposomal preparations of curcumin, the natural phenols responsible for turmeric’s yellow color, when I suspect their symptoms stem from a challenged immune system.

To defend against the symptoms of seasonal allergies, look for pure, organic turmeric either off the spoon chased with water, mixed into a beverage or food (like raw, local honey), or in capsule form. Dosages of 400 to 600 mg taken three times daily or as directed by your holistic physician should do the trick.

Have you used other herbs alone or in combination to successfully obtain allergy relief in your home? Please share which botanicals you have used and how you used them in the comments section.

Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

Comments (19)

  • Brian Nemer

    Sarah – You should have told your subscribers about ” Gut and Psychology Syndrome ” you and I both know that Dr. Natasha Campbell- McBride groups seasonal allergies into ” Gut and Physiology Syndrome”.
    which is part of the ” Gaps ” , and the only way to cure seasonal allergies is to implement the
    ” Gaps Diet “

    April 12th, 2016 8:46 am Reply
    • Sarah

      I link to my “Pollen is not the Problem” post in this article above which discusses this important point in depth :) The problem is that it takes a long time for GAPS to reverse allergies and in the meantime, herbs for relief are important to avoid the meds. That is the main crux of this article.

      April 12th, 2016 2:59 pm Reply
  • Tracy

    We keep tulsi (aka, holi basil) tea on hand during allergy season. My daughter discovered if she was having watery eyes and runny nose from working in the yard, that drinking a cup of tulsi tea dried everything right up and she was back to normal again within a few minutes. It was so miraculous, I didn’t believe her at first when she told me it worked that fast. I had to watch for the change the next time she had an attack, and I was surprised to see my 13yo hadn’t been exaggerating. Some friends find regular consumption around allergy season is necessary for them to keep symptoms at bay, but it works for them too, nonetheless, just not so instantly.

    March 25th, 2016 7:09 pm Reply
  • umut

    What I found to be very effective is a teaspoon of local honeycomb a day for about a week.

    March 17th, 2016 11:17 am Reply
  • Sarah

    I have a bottle of Organic freeze-dried nettle capsules that I’d like to supplement my 3 year old with. I know that she wouldn’t drink a tea, what about mixing the capsule in with honey? Any idea the dosage if giving in capsule form, I only saw tea dosage.

    March 16th, 2016 8:51 pm Reply
  • Laura N.

    My seasonal allergies are so bad that dried nettles never work for me. I take fresh nettles and put them in vodka for 6 weeks (I do this in the very early spring before the pollen arrives) and then take 1 tsp. of this tincture 3x/day. It removes all symptoms.

    March 16th, 2016 6:10 am Reply
    • Sarah

      Thank you for sharing! This is an excellent idea!

      March 16th, 2016 8:05 am Reply
    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

      Laura, would you mind sharing how much fresh nettle you use in how much vodka? Thank you!!

      March 16th, 2016 12:52 pm Reply
    • Alicia Lawrence

      Wow! These are some of the best homemade remedies I’ve heard of so far for Allergy relief. I live in PA and my allergies are just AWFUL, especially when I visit my in-laws who live in farm country. Really looking forward to trying the nettle tincture Laura mentioned as well!

      March 24th, 2016 3:49 pm Reply
      • Sarah

        Let em add too that sugar really makes allergies worse! Try to stay off it as much as possible during pollen season (completely if at all possible!) and the herbal remedies will work soooo much more effectively for you!

        March 24th, 2016 4:11 pm Reply
  • Sarah S.

    Can these herbs be used for a breastfeeding mother?

    March 15th, 2016 11:25 pm Reply
    • Sarah

      I’ve used all of them before while breastfeeding. Watch out for nettle though as it greatly increases milk supply … you might find yourself engorged so just be on the lookout for this potential problem.

      March 16th, 2016 8:07 am Reply
  • Rachel

    I drank nettle infusions (by the quart most days) through a spring and summer and found my allergies were much better. A side benefit was that the severe eczema I had on my hands and arms mostly cleared up almost completely. When I stopped drinking the nettles in the fall because my allergies weren’t an issue any more, the eczema started back and I realized the connection. At some point I must have cleared that detox pathway effectively because I no longer have to continue with the nettles to keep down the eczema.

    For nettle supplements, an herbalist I personally know, as well as well-known herbalists like Matthew Wood, recommend freeze-dried. I believe he was the one who said it’s one of the rare situations where the capsule (when freeze-dried, not just dried stuffed into pills) is actually more effective than the plant in it’s more natural state. I’ve also found them very effective and much easier to get into my child who has seasonal allergies.

    Vitamin C also helps quite a bit to reduce the histamine response so acerola powder, even better with a bit of salt, is a go to for reducing reactions.

    Long term, gut health is the most important, we’re working on that with probiotic foods and iodine supplementation in particular. I’ve also had amazing success with a chiropractor who practices kinesiology who was able to turn off allergic responses for me for dairy, cats, dust mites, and the fall allergies (have to go back for these spring allergies).

    March 15th, 2016 8:56 am Reply
    • Sarah

      Thanks for sharing … glad to know the nettle helped with long term healing as well as relief of symptoms in the short term.

      March 15th, 2016 12:13 pm Reply
  • Tina

    Thank you for the info. I plan to get myself and my family started on these before things kick in. My husband has used stinging nettle for his asthma before, but I hadn’t thought of these other herbs or their application for the rest of us. Can you share where to get the Spanish Needles and how to use it?

    March 15th, 2016 8:47 am Reply
    • Sarah

      There is a link in the post to a source that has Spanish Needles extract combined with cassia cinnamon which works incredibly well (I actually use it for colds!). I have not found a source for dried Spanish Needles or extract by itself as of right now. Perhaps you can find a fresh source locally?

      March 15th, 2016 12:12 pm Reply
  • RobinP

    Thank you for this. I have a 12yos who was adopted from China 6 years ago who has horrific seasonal allergies. He came from the pollution of Shanghai to our little farm and his allergies seem to worsen every year. We eat primarily a WAPF diet which we produce ourselves on our farm but I have no idea what his diet was like before he came to us. Do you think any of the “dosages” should be reduced for him?

    March 15th, 2016 8:33 am Reply
    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

      For my kids, I always start out with half and go from there (once they were school age). If half works, then I would stay with it. You might feel most comfortable consulting with a local herbalist or holistic practitioner though.

      March 15th, 2016 12:49 pm Reply
  • Pam

    I’ve tried nettle before with mixed results, but I expected immediate improvement and stopped using it when I didn’t feel better within one day. I didn’t know it took a few days for the full benefits to kick in. I will try it again! Thank you!

    March 15th, 2016 7:42 am Reply

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