A Home Remedy for Allergies

Soothing allergies with herbs

| May/June 1998

  • Licorice and mint are antihistamine and anti-allergenic.Pictured above:licorice root sticks and a sprig of mint.

If you turn to natural medicine for ­allergy relief, it’s important to select herbs that will help you, not make your misery worse. To assess the ability of herbs to ease your seasonal suffering, start by taking stock of your symptoms.

Beyond Seasonal

If you’ve suffered most of your life from year-round allergies and such symptoms as hives, eczema, fluid retention, dark circles under the eyes, dermatitis, coughing, and/or rapid reactions to minute amounts of some foods, then you may have allergies that are more than seasonal. Testing for allergies to identify what’s causing them is the first step in treatment.

Temporary Torment

On the other hand, if your symptoms are mainly seasonal, then easing your suffering may be simple, as the tips below suggest. Allergy season “stuffiness” can lead to respiratory infections that tend to linger, so using natural approaches to decrease the severity of allergies can help you feel better and keep you from getting sick. You may wish to add the recommended herbs to your medicine chest, depending on your symptoms and the advice of your herbally informed health-care provider.

Sneezing, Watery eyes, Excess Drainage

If you’ve been using antihistamine medications to control allergies, then herbs rich in bioflavonoids offer a natural alternative. Allergens (substances that the body perceives as foreign) provoke certain cells to produce histamine, a biochemical that is responsible for the characteristic watery eyes, excess mucus, and runny nose that accompany allergies. These responses are the body’s means of flushing out the offenders, but for people with allergies, the body’s reaction gets out of hand and causes discomfort.

Bioflavonoids are found in flowers, leaves, and fruits. When taken internally, they affect humans; in this case, they help prevent the formation of histamine, as opposed to common antihistamine medications, which interfere with histamine’s action after it’s been produced. Many bioflavonoids are also antioxidants, meaning that they fight cancer formation, and are anti-inflammatories, meaning that they decrease the swelling of tissues associated with allergic reactions.

Quercetin is one of the most effective bioflavonoids to use when fighting the effects of histamine and allergens. It is found in high concentrations in onions, garlic, cayenne, apples, and tea. You can eat a lot of these foods in order to increase your quercetin intake, or you can take quercetin in capsule form. I advise my patients to take at least 1,000 mg daily when their allergies act up. (For more information about quercetin, see “Inside plants” on page 18 of the March/April 1997 issue of Herbs for Health.)

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