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Alternative Treatments for Hay Fever

Try these alternative treatments for hay fever, includes Q and A with leading natural health experts.
By the Mother Earth Living editors
September/October 2005
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Try these alternative treatments for hay fever. Schisandra berry is effective for excess respiratory phlegm and congestion problems.
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These alternative treatments for hay fever include herbal and dietary suggestions to help with excess phlegm and congestion problems.

Read about alternative treatments that can be used to treat macular degeneration: Alternative Treatments for Macular Degeneration.

Alternative Treatments for Hay Fever

I have hay fever and a problem with a lot of phlegm in my throat. The phlegm is a year-round thing, but is worst in the winter. I sometimes have trouble breathing and have to use an inhaler. I have had X-rays and they say I don’t have asthma, but pills for asthma seem to give me some relief. Can you help?
C.R.
Pine River, Minnesota

Keville responds: Pills for asthma are designed to help open the airways and clear away congestion, so it makes sense that they would help you, as will the inhaler. Although you may not have asthma, chances are that you are reacting to something airborne in your environment. You likely have either an allergy, which sets off an immune reaction, or a sensitivity, which causes local irritation in your sinuses or throat. The fact that it gets worse in winter when your house is probably more closed is a clue that it is something indoors.

I suggest you not only work on eliminating the phlegm with herbs, but also look around for possible causes. Start with common allergy-causing substances, such as pet dander, dust mites, mold, synthetically perfumed products and cleaning solutions, including fabric detergents. Consider having your house heating ducts cleaned. Keep in mind that it may be more than one thing. Experiment with eliminating what you can to see if it makes a difference. If that doesn’t help, you also can try eliminating for a couple of weeks, one at a time, the foods you commonly eat to see if that makes any difference.

No matter what we call your condition, the herbs we choose will be a similar formula. Phlegm in the throat usually is a result of postnasal drip. If that’s your case, then use one of my favorite combinations to treat the sinuses—yarrow (Achillea millefolium), elderflower (Sambucus nigra) and peppermint (Mentha x piperita). Herbs that help alleviate sensitivities and allergies include chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and echinacea (Echinacea spp.). If your throat is irritated, use marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis) to soothe it. These herbs are tasty enough to make into a tea. Buy them dried in bulk and blend them in equal parts. Using 1 teaspoon of herb per cup of water, bring the water to a boil, add the herbs, cover and let steep for 15 minutes. You’ll also find similar formulas available as tinctures or pills.

Sometimes sinus congestion stems from an infection. A lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) steam will address either a fungal or bacterial infection. Simply add a few drops of lavender essential oil to a simmering pot of water, lean your face over it and inhale. Place a towel over your head for a stronger dose. See if gargling with a strong cup of mint tea with 1/8 teaspoon of salt relieves the phlegm. This also can be used in a neti pot, which is a technique used in Ayurvedic medicine to clear the sinuses. You should start noticing a difference in a couple of weeks.

Herbs that dry your sinuses, such as goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), also may be helpful. (Just be sure to purchase cultivated rather than wildcrafted goldenseal.) Goldenseal isn’t tasty, so take it in tincture or capsules.

Khalsa responds: You don’t specify the type of asthma medication you’re using, but presumably it helps because it is a bronchodilator, which increases airway diameter, reducing blockage from phlegm, or a decongestant, such as ephedrine, which dries mucous secretions.

Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis) berry is outstanding for this condition. Traditional Russian and Chinese medicines have long used schisandra for a wide variety of conditions, including coughs and other respiratory ailments, insomnia and kidney problems. Chinese medicine practitioners consider it specific for asthma.

The seeds contain lignans, which are believed to be active constituents. Modern Chinese research suggests that these lignans stimulate the immune system, protect the liver, increase stress coping and may produce a mild sedative effect.

The astringent qualities of the berry make it ideal for what the Chinese call “preserving the essence”—keeping leaking fluids retained where they belong. Used largely for the lungs (to arrest mucous discharges), this quality also marks schisandra for postnasal drip. In my experience as a clinical herbalist, this remedy is especially effective for excess respiratory phlegm of the type you describe.

By the way, in Asian medicine, this berry is essentially a general tonic, used to “prolong the years of life without aging”—a sort of “poor-man’s ginseng.”

Dried schisandra berries actually taste pretty good, so they can be taken as a tea, or even cooked into food, such as soup broth. You can find schisandra berries at Chinese herb shops and in bulk at some health-food stores. This herb is quite mild, so feel free to use as much as you care to. Use a high dose acutely, then a small daily dose for maintenance. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the dose is 10 grams a day in food or tea.

Kathi Keville is the director of the American Herb Association (www.ahaherb.com) and author of 11 herb and aromatherapy books, including Herbs for Health and Healing (Rodale, 1996). She teaches seminars throughout the United States.

Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa has more than 25 years of experience with medicinal herbs. He is a licensed dietitian/nutritionist, massage therapist and board member of the American Herbalists Guild. Khalsa’s book Body Balance is available on our Bookshelf, page 58.

Please send your questions to Herbs for Health “Q & A,” 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609; fax (785) 274-4305; or e-mail us at letters@herbsforhealth.com. Provide your name and full address for verification, although both will be kept confidential.

The information offered in “Q & A” is not intended to be a substitute for advice from your health-care provider.


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