It’s that time of year.
You open your window on a warm day, breathe deep, and all of a sudden the itchy, watery eyes and sneezes set in.
When allergies strike, there are natural alternatives to Claritin and similar over-the-counter drugs.
Boulder herbalist Brigitte Mars suggests reducing the amount of dairy and wheat in one’s diet, because those substances can produce phlegm. Another dietary adjustment involves eating more spicy and pungent foods, like cayenne, ginger and garlic, because those can open up nasal passages.
Mars says temporary lifestyle changes as simple as doing errands outside the home in the morning, when pollen counts are lower, might reduce allergy symptoms. Even avoiding drying clothes outside on a line, where they can collect pollen, can make a difference.
She also recommends taking a homeopathic remedy that actually includes local pollens, like Allergena Zone 6, because it stimulates an immune response similar to taking a flu vaccine.
In addition, Mars advises taking quercetin, a bioflavonoid that is a good vitamin supplement for hayfever, and using a “neti pot,” an Ayurvedic tradition from India that involves flushing out nasal passages with a mixture of water and salt.
But one main question in the war against allergies revolves around whether you are currently in the throes of an attack or are simply wanting to prevent the onset of such symptoms.
Finding the herbs that are key to your relief may be as simple as reading the ingredients listed on the bottles in your local health food store.
Local herbalist Matthew Becker, an instructor at the North American Institute of Medical Herbalism and lead practitioner at the Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy in North Boulder, says there are herbal remedies for both prevention and treatment.
For those who want to take a proactive approach to heading off common spring allergy symptoms before they begin, Becker recommends preparing the immune system. And preparing does not necessarily mean boosting. Allergic reactions, he explains, are usually caused by the immune system over-reacting to changes in the environment, so one can take an herbal remedy that simply modulates the immune system’s natural defense mechanisms.
Becker recommends a variety of preventative natural cures, especially when Boulder-area trees like poplar and pine are preparing to pollinate. One option is astragalus, and another is nettles, which, taken a week or two before allergy season, can mitigate symptoms, whether imbibed as capsules, tea or a tincture.
Another natural medicine that fights allergies is NAC, or N-acytelcystiene, which stimulates glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that the body naturally produces, he says. It is good for respiratory symptoms and detoxifies the liver, among other things.
“NAC really works on a lot of levels,” Becker says, adding that NAC is used in hospitals for conditions that vary from congestion to Tylenol overdoses.
Becker adds that there are two mushrooms that can be effective for allergies, especially when taken a month to six weeks before the season sets in: Cordyceps and Reishi. When combined, he says, they can lead to a dramatic decrease in allergy symptoms, especially asthma.
When it comes to protecting your kids from allergies, Becker recommends giving children probiotics, at least a month in advance, if possible.
But if it’s too late for prevention — if symptoms have already descended — there is a whole different battery of natural weapons.
For those who have a chronic inflammatory condition that surfaces year after year, Becker recommends bromelain, a digestive enzyme that’s found in pineapples. It is a powerful anti-inflammatory that must be taken on an empty stomach, he says, ideally twice a day.
Xanthium and magnolia flower are other herbs widely used in Chinese medicine for allergies. Becker says there are a variety of formulas that incorporate the two, including Bi Yan Pian and Magnolia Clear Sinus, which he says is particularly effective.
As for Western herbal medicines, he recommends Eyebright, which is found in numerous formulas and is especially good for watery eyes and sinuses.
Becker also suggests the use of osha, which is not only effective, but local. It can be found in Colorado above elevations of 8,000 feet, he says, and has been used for hundreds of years by Mexicans and Native Americans. Put two or three dropperfulls of the tincture in a small amount of water, Becker advises, and it can work quickly, especially if taken every couple of hours.
He also recommends grape seed extract, tablets that can treat upperrespiratory symptoms within minutes when taken four or five at a time.
Like Mars, Becker advises taking quercetin, which he describes as a “broad-spectrum, dramatic, powerful antihistamine” that can be taken throughout allergy season if it proves effective. He recommends taking three tablets three times a day, and adding bromelain into the mix.
Finally, Becker says two widely known remedies, Echinacea tincture and vitamin C, can also deter allergy symptoms, especially when the latter is ingested at least twice a day in a total of one to four grams.