The flowers are blooming, the birds are chirping… and your seasonal allergies are acting up again. But instead of reaching right for an over-the-counter antihistamine that can make you feel groggy and less than 100 percent, consider relying on some of these all-natural herbal remedies to combat itchiness, headaches, and congestion.
According to Irina Logman, LAc, MSTOM, founder of Advanced Holistic Center in NYC, Chinese herbs are a great way to soothe the symptoms of seasonal allergies.
“Ancient Chinese medicine experts believe that allergies are related to the element of wind,” she explains. “After winter, our Wei qi, or protective energy, is a little deficient. This imbalance allows for wind to enter the body and create issues such as stuffy nose, itch eyes, and sinus congestion.”
As for how to consume these herbs, Logman recommends brewing them as a simple tea, either alone or in combination, though in some cases, tinctures are easier to find.
Here are ten common herbs used in Chinese medicine and beyond that you can use to combat seasonal allergies naturally.
1. Stinging Nettles
Many over-the-counter and prescription medications for allergies and asthma work by stabilizing mast cells, the cells responsible for releasing histamine during allergic and inflammatory reactions, to prevent the body from reacting to perceived threats. Organic stinging nettle leaf tea works in the exact same way, making them the ideal herbal allergy remedy, according to Modrn Sanctuary's naturopathic Dr. Lana Butner. She notes that nettles can be made into a tea that will help alleviate allergy symptoms naturally.
Naturopathic Dr. Elizabeth Trattner also loves using stinging nettles in her practice, citing one study that proved their ability to reduce the Histamine-1 receptor, and another double-blind 1990 study from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon that found that freeze-dried stinging nettles improved the symptoms of patients with allergic rhinitis.
2. Japanese Catnip
Logman recommends Japanese catnip, also known is jing jie sui or by its Latin name, Schizonepeta tenuifolia. In Ancient Chinese Medicine tradition, it is believed to dispel wind and thus soothe seasonal allergies.
Logman references one research analysis completed by Kamal Patel for Examine.com, which shows that this herb is a fairly powerful anti-inflammatory, soothing inflamed nasal passages and sinuses during allergy season. Try it in a certified organic tincture dissolved in juice or water.
3. Ledebouriella Root
Logman recommends ledebouriella root, also known as fang feng. According to the Chinese Journal of Natural Medicines, fang feng is commonly used to treat allergic rhinitis, thanks to its anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antioxidative properties. Try fang feng as a tincture or an organic tea.
4. Angelica Dahurica
This root, also known as bai zhi, has traditionally been used to treat colds, headaches, and nasal congestion, among other ailments, in Traditional Chinese Medicine. One study provided pharmacological evidence for the anti-allergic benefits of this root, taken in tandem with other herbs like xanthium, trichosanthis, and mint, in accordance with Korean tradition. Try it as an organic tincture.
Xanthium, used in the cited formula above, is also powerful on its own thanks to its ability to dry phlegm and mucus, notes Logman.
Nationally board certified acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist Sherri Taylor, L.Ac, also recommends xanthium, also known as cang er zi san or cocklebur fruit, noting that it unblocks the nose and alleviates pain associated wit sinus headaches and blockage.
Try it as part of a formula along with angelica, mint, and magnolia.
6. Magnolia Flower
Both Logman and Taylor recommend magnolia flower, also known as xin yi hua, for its ability to soothe nasal congestion. Try it as part of the formula above, or enjoy it alone in an organic tea.
7. Chrysanthemum Flower
Many of our experts recommend quercetin, a powerful antioxidant that helps regulate histamine response. While you can purchase synthetic quercetin, this flavonoid is also naturally present in berries, ginkgo biloba, St. John's wort, buckwheat tea, and chrysanthemum flower. Taylor's favorite allergy tea formula pairs chrysanthemum with gou qi zi (lycium fruit) for a tea that, she notes, “specifically targets the symptoms in the head, such as eye irritation and headache.”
Brew your own organic chrysanthemum flower tea, either on its own or with other allergy-fighting herbs.
Butterbur has been shown in some studies to be as effective as prescription anti-allergy medications. But Logman cautions against taking butterbur if you have a known ragweed allergy.
“Butterbur is of the same family,” she says, “and if taken it will worsen, not alleviate your symptoms.”
Try butterbur in the form of an organic tincture.
9. Red Ginseng
Functional medicine Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DC recommends red ginseng, which studies have shown is is a powerful anti-allergenic and reduces symptoms of allergies like nasal inflammation, runny nose, and itching.
Try brewing whole, organic red ginseng as a tea.
Since an allergic response is, after all, an inflammatory response, other anti-inflammatory herbs can be useful for combatting allergy symptoms too.
Olivia Anderson BSN, RN, CCRN touts, in particular, the benefits of ginger tea.
“Over 80 percent of our immune system is in our gut and when we have inflammation it can cause the immune system to go haywire and overreact to environmental stimulants like pollen,” she explains. “Ginger is really great for calming inflammation in the gut.”
Try brewing organic ginger root as a tea, and don't neglect other anti-inflammatory herbs and foods, like turmeric, green tea, and more. Your allergies will be clearing up before you know it!
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