Herbs For Hay Fever Prevention

Photo of Sharol Tilgner

Herbs to Prevent Hay Fever

Photo of a woman with a field behind her, a hanky to her face, experiencing hay fever.

This article covers herbs used to prevent hay fever reactions before they start, as well as continuing them into hay fever season.

In other hay fever articles I mentioned hay fever is a reaction of an out of whack immune system with other underlying causes. Although it is easy to see that the immune system is identifying pollen as a threat and attempting to protect the body from the offending pollen intruders, it is less obvious that the immune system is itself in need of support and that the immune system reaction is actually just a symptom of a deeper issue. (I should add that for some people it appears there are genetic susceptibilities also.)

Generally, the reaction of the individual is to calm the immune system by providing anti-inflammatory herbs. This is helpful, in both acute situations as well as over the long term to decrease the overall inflammatory burden of the body. However, we also need to support the immune system with good nutrition and with herbs and supplements that assist various body organs as is appropriate for each individual. Just decreasing the immune system's overactive aspects will never solve the issues. Long term changes can be achieved through use of respiratory tract support, immunomodulators, antioxidants, as well as digestive, and liver herbs to help the immune system function optimally.

The reason the immune system is out of whack is often related to digestive and liver issues. So it is important to support these organs. The use of herbs needs to be undertaken in conjunction with the previously discussed lifestyle and dietary changes one needs to implement. (See other articles on hay fever) By addressing the lifestyle and dietary changes as well as supporting these various body systems, deeper issues are addressed. It is important to keep in mind that the individual issues are not the same for each person. Keep in mind that this article will examine very general ideas that can be applied as appropriate for each individual. In some people, due to other issues they have, the suggestions will not be applicable and may even be harmful.

Herbs can be used both in a preventative manner as well as in acute situations. The categories of herbs used most by people are those that astringe the upper respiratory tissues, decrease inflammation and edema, as well as vulnerary herbs to heal irritated tissues. Some of the herbs will also decrease histamine and other bodily substances that produce inflammation in response to pollen. Additional herbs that are often used are those for digestive support and stimulation, liver support and stimulation, and herbs that support  the neuroendocrine system.

Starting Early Before Hay Fever Season

Using herbs for hay fever, starts two months prior to hay fever season. This is the time we want to start a program that will support and nourish the body with a focus on the respiratory tract and the immune system.

 

Why This is Necessary

In the winter there are not as many fresh healthy vegetables and fruits available as the rest of the year, and there is a lack of health giving sun for a large chunk of us that do not live near the equator. People spend a lot of time indoors in the winter. Often they are in rooms with large groups of people where there is inadequate ventilation, breathing air that has a mix of chemicals, mycotoxins, and viruses. It is also a time of year when there are many holiday celebrations, which in themselves can be as stressful as they are entertaining and heart warming. This leaves some individuals run down from the physical and emotional stress, affecting the individual’s ability to modulate body inflammation. This is not a good way to start hay fever season.  This is why it is important for an individual who is susceptible to hay fever reactions to support their body in advance of hay fever season.

Two months prior to hay fever season is the time to begin taking supportive herbs to enhance nutrition, decrease overall inflammation and maintain tissue health. It is good to continue to support the respiratory tract with nutrition, daily life activities, as well as herbs through-out the entire hay fever season.

Some of the supportive herbs used are listed below. They are choices, and not intended to all be thrown into a formula and used all at once. The ones that get used in a formula will depend on the specific individual’s needs. It is necessary to look further into each herb and learn about the specifics of that herb. Often people will need to change up the herbs over time.

Respiratory Support

The focal point here is to decrease overall body inflammation with a focus on the respiratory tract and support the respiratory tract through nutrition and herbs.

 

Nettles (Stinging Nettles) – Urtica spp.

In my neck of the woods, we have a lot of Nettles growing. Many people use them for acute symptoms of hay fever, however I find they really shine when used ahead of time, much before the start of hay fever season. This is often the base of any pre-hay fever season formula I give an individual. Nettle leaf contains many of the nutrients that have been found to be beneficial to hay fever sufferers in scientific research. I believe this is one of the reasons they are useful when consumed prior to hay fever season as well as through-out the season.

Nettles have shown in-vitro inhibition of several proinflammatory substances that cause the symptoms of seasonal allergies. This includes decreasing the release of histamine, as well as inhibition of prostaglandin formation through inhibition of Cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1), Cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), and Hematopoietic Prostaglandin D(2) synthase (HPGDS), which are enzymes involved in the pro-inflammatory pathways.

Nettles can be taken as a tea (1 cup, 2-3 times per day), a capsule (2 capsules, 2-3 times per day), or eaten as part of your food. I do not suggest tincture as the tincture will usually not have the minerals intact unless they were added back into the tincture in ashen form as is done in Spagyric tinctures. Since the minerals add to it’s effectiveness for respiratory support, a tea,  capsule or food would be more efficacious. Do not eat them fresh though as they will sting you. This is how they got the name Stinging Nettles. The part you want to use is the aerial parts. The young aerial parts are harvested in the spring to use in stir fries, casseroles, soups and other cooked foods, similar to spinach. I think they are tastier than spinach though. They can be harvested to dry for tea, or to encapsulate, or to make into a cooked meal any time prior to flowering. Do not harvest after flowering, as at this time they can become irritating to the urinary tract.

 

Red clover - Trifolium pratense

Red Clover  builds up the respiratory tracts resistance to allergies also. It has a long history of general respiratory tract health support. It is the flowers as well as the leaves immediately under the flower that are used. Red clover is often used for it’s phytoestrogen effect. If this is not an effect you want, I would suggest you do not use this herb. They are usually used as a tea but can also be used in capsule form or again added to food. The flowers by themselves are more likely to thin the blood than with the leaves intact, so may sure you include both unless you are attempting to thin the blood. They are harvested when the flowers are young, at their peak. Don’t harvest flowers after they start to look old (have a tinge of oranage or brown on them). 1 cup of tea twice per day is the average amount used.

A close up of Stinging Nettles starting to flower.
A photo of a Red clover flower
A photo of the plant Mullein putting a spike of buds up into the sky.
Mullein – Verbascum Thapsus

If someone has had trouble removing mucus for some reason, such as a lingering, winter, lower respiratory infection, it can be helpful to add an expectorant such as Mullein.  I would only add it as long as necessary though. Mullein will help keep debris out of the respiratory tract  and help get the tissues and cilia that line the respiratory tract into tip top functioning order. If there is indeed a lingering respiratory tract infection, the person needs to remedy that. Mycoplasma should be considered as a possible infection involved and I suggest looking around the person's environment to see if there is something in their home or work space that might be causing respiratory tract irritation or lowering their immune response.

 

Liver Support

Research studies indicate that individuals with chronic liver disease often have raised histamine levels in the body. In the body histamine is broken down by enzymes called diamine oxidase (DAO) and histamine N-methyltransferase (HNMT). HNMT is expressed in most body tissues, and more abundantly in some tissues including the liver. If the liver is not functioning to its fullest potential, histamine levels may remain high in the body, causing histamine intolerance. If the person has had issues with chemical sensitivity as well as hay fever, or has had other indications of poor biotransformation activity, I would make sure they add liver herbs to this protocol during this time. Liver herbs that are known to help lower the bodily inflammatory load and have evidence of acting to stabilize mast cells or lower histamine such as Turmeric, Milk Thistle or Licorice would be some of my first choices.

These liver herbs are also antioxidants, which is beneficial in hay fever as they also decrease the inflammatory level in the body and help all the cells function better. Each of these herbs support multiple organ systems, so you are getting a whole body make over when you start adding some of these heavy hitters into your daily protocol. Turmeric and Milk thistle have little chance of side effects while Licorice has the possibility of many side effects if you don't know who can and can not use Licorice. For some people Licorice is a blessing, while for others it should not be used. Now even though I said Turmeric and Milk thistle have less chance of side effects, I must admit I have seen a reaction to almost every herb and food under the sun, so one should always be careful when ingesting something for the first time.

Turmeric – Curcuma longa

This wonderful liver herb is useful for both long term and acute relief of hay fever. It is a great choice for liver support in your two month formula. It can be used liberally in food or taken in a capsule. I have not seen anyone overdose on Turmeric yet. Often people add it to food and take capsules in addition. It can also be used as a powder. For prevention, 1-2 teaspoons 2 times per day will work for the average person. In food it works well as a curry, sprinkled on many different foods or the powder can be mixed into shakes, smoothies, or honey. A nice tea with ginger can be made with turmeric. This tea is a great anti-inflammatory combination. Ginger has been shown to lower IgE levels (measurement of allergic reaction) in people with hay fever. The longer people in the study took the ginger capsules the better the outcome. Many of the hay fever symptoms were significantly reduced.

Turmeric contains the constituent curcumin, which helps to reduce histamine as well as decrease other avenues of bodily inflammation. Many people take the constituent curcumin by itself. One product that I have used with good results is called Meriva. Curcumin has been shown to have low solubility, be poorly absorbed by the intestines and have low systemic bioavailability. Another constituent in Turmeric called tumerone has been shown to facilitate absorption. (Once again proof of the whole herb being better than individual constituents).  Piperine in black pepper appears to make curcumin much more bioavailable. One of the ways the piperine helps is by decreasing glucuronidation. Glucuronidation is a pathway used to remove toxins and as I explain in my book, "Herbal ABCS's" this may have repercussions, we really don't know.

Photo of a pile of turmeric roots.
A photo of a hand holding a Milk thistle seed.
Photo of Licorice root flower
Milk thistle - Silybum marianum

This herb is well known for supporting the liver. A less well known fact is  it's ability to reduce allergic, inflammatory, and histaminic reactions.  The Milk thistle constituent silibinin has been shown to stabilize mast cell membranes and prevent release of histamine. Milk thistle works in multiple product forms. I have even seen someone get effects from putting whole seeds into a cup of water and microwaving it. Not that I suggest that route. However, I would suggest the use of powder, or capsules of whole Milk thistle. I generally have people powder the seed and keep the powder in the freezer until needed, as it goes rancid quickly. It can be used in spoonfuls. 1/2 - 2 tablespoons per day (taken in two doses) followed by a water chaser. Don’t breath in herbal powders when swallowing them. I give the upper levels of 2 tablespoons per day to people who have serious inflammatory/liver issues.

 

 

Licorice – Glycyrrhiza glabra/spp.

Licorice is an amazing herb for liver support, however it also quells inflammation through a variety of mechanisms. Whole books can and have been written on the mechanisms of action of Licorice.

In relation to hay fever, besides its liver support and digestive assistance one of it’s active ingredients has been studied for its ability to decrease allergic response. Glycyrrhizin and it’s active aglycone glycerrhetic acid have been shown to inhibit several features of the allergic inflammatory response including histamine synthesis and release.

In Japan, glycyrrhizin has been used as an injection for allergic inflammation since 1948.

Licorice helps retain moisture in the body which is good for allergy sufferers who tend to be dry, always thirsty and pee a lot.  However, for someone with edema or high blood pressure, or chronic kidney failure this is an herb that would not be good for them.

Licorice in general helps decrease inflammation.  For this reason you will see it used in many herbal formulas. It can be used as a tea, as a capsule, as a tincture or powder. One cup of tea 2-3 times per day or 20-60 drops of tincture 2-3 times per day should be good for people who will not have side effects from Licorice.

It is important to note that Licorice has a long list of side effects. So, make sure you look up these side effects first in case this herb is not appropriate for a given individual. The extensive list of side effects can be found in both of my books, "Herbal ABC’s" as well as “Herbal Medicine From the Heart of the Earth”. You will also find various lists on the internet.

 

 

Immunomodulators

All of the immunomodulators used with hay fever will help to quell the overzealous response of the immune system to allergens such as pollen and give the immune system the support it needs to function optimally.

Licorice, Milk thistle and Turmeric that we mentioned previously also have immunomodulator aspects to them. A couple additional immunomodulators used to tone up the body prior to hay fever season would be Astragalus - Astragalus membranaceus, and Reishi - Ganoderma lucidum. These two herbs are also herbs that support the liver and is part of the reason I feel either of them would be a good choice for the 2 month formula.

Astragalus - Astragalus membranaceus

This is an herb that is usually used long term, rather than in acute situations. It is tonic to the lungs. Using it prior to hay fever season can be helpful to reduce the allergic reactions and prevent an acute asthmatic attack in those who are predisposed to hay fever induced asthma attacks. A human clinical study in patients with hay fever showed a decrease in symptoms when Astragalus was compared to placebo.

It has been shown to improve airway inflammation and reduce airway hyper-responsiveness. It mitigates excess production of IgE and Th2 cytokines. Over time it helps decrease allergic airway hyperactivity. It is a good choice for the two month formula. In patients with hay fever, Astragalus significantly improved their symptoms and quality of life in a 6 week, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.  This herb makes a nice and almost bland tea. It can also be added to soups if in the "tongue depressor" form or taken as a capsule/tablet.

For those with prior asthma attacks, Astragalus has been shown to improve airway inflammation in studies. Animal studies show a reduction in airway excessive response, decreases mucus production and decreased collagen deposition, along with lowered inflammatory cytokines. It is especially useful in people with hay fever who have had asthmatic attacks previously.

Reishi - Ganoderma lucidum

This mushroom has been shown to activate non-specific immunity and dampen the allergic response. It decreases allergic hyperactivity and airway inflammation. Reishi normalizes Th1 and Th2 imbalance. Reishi has shown good results at 1-2,  500 mg tablets used twice per day.

Some Things to Consider

Some people may need neuroendocrine support and will be helped by adding adaptogens or nervous system herbs to the mix.

These have been suggestions for herbs that can be included in a two month formula, used prior to hay fever season. Some of them will be better for some individuals and some will not be good choices for certain individuals. So study up on each herb.

There are other herbs that are equally wonderful to use. I have simply chosen some specific herbs I wanted to share with you. If you have a favorite not on the above list, by all means keep using it.

Additionally during this two month time period, supportive foods that build healthy respiratory tissues should be consumed. I would suggest increasing foods with vitamin C, beta-carotene, B vitamins, healthy fats, healthy proteins, foods/herbs high in minerals and flavonoids (a type of polyphenol). Make sure it includes a majority of brightly colored vegetables and fruits.

During the two month period it would also be helpful to read through the additional articles on hay fever to become better educated on what hay fever is and how it can be a thing of the past.

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