Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is one of my fave plants for allergies - once it is dried though!
Whether it's spring, autumn, or somewhere in between, we can all count on allergies to make life vaguely unpleasant!
And while herbs are not necessarily going to do the trick for acute relief of allergies, as long-term supports they can be amazing at lessening your allergic reactions overall.
You see, we often blame the pollen, dust, animal dander etc for making us feel all puffy, stuffed up and sneezy. And while they have their part to play, an allergic reaction is really an immune system that is over reacting to things in the environment.
There is a genetic component that we can't do much about, but there are things that we can do to support our immune system and help it become less reactive.
A full consult can be super helpful for allergies, because we can often identify what the contributing factors are for you specifically - sometimes food intolerances can play a role, as can gut dysbiosis (an imbalance of bacteria in your digestive system) and other digestive issues. Chronic allergies, especially if you have blocked sinuses, can become chronic fungal infections, in which case we need to look at that.
However, there are a few super simple things that you can add into your life that are safe and pretty accessible (especially if it is spring for you - spoiler alert - it's Nettles!).
While herbs may not work like a pharmaceutical decongestant, there are totally things you can do at home to help yourself when allergies strike!
**Disclaimer - the suggestions made here are generally pretty safe, but if you have a serious medical condition or are on medication, then please chat to a qualified practitioner before self-prescribing**
1. Use steam and heat
Using a hot cloth draped over your nose and sinuses can be really helpful to relieve pressure and get things moving. Just make sure that it is not so hot that it burns you - this advice goes for the suggestions below too!
A steam can be great for getting stuck sinuses moving. Boil the kettle and put the hot water into a pot or large (heatproof) bowl. Get a big towel and drape it over your head and inhale the steam. The heat can help to break up sticky mucus.
You can also add herbs or essential oils to your steam. Herbs that are high in volatile oils such as Thyme, Oregano, Rosemary, or Ginger can go straight into your steam. It's like making a pot of tea for your sinuses! A couple drops of essential oils such as Eucalyptus can also be great for some added oomph.
2. Use herbs internally - acute support
Like I said above, these herbs may not work quite like a decongestant, but they can go a long way in helping to manage some of the symptoms of allergies, and bonus, they all tend to support your immune system and overall health at the same time.
Elderflower (Sambucus nigra) is one of my favourite herbs for helping to break up sticky mucus. It can be used safely long-term as well. I often use Elderflower in a tea for long-term support for clients with allergies and hayfever, or bump up the dose in a tincture for acute support.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a punchy little antimicrobial herb that also relaxes spasms in the respiratory system (great if you get a bit of a cough with your allergies - or if you are not sure if you have allergies or a cold!). Use it in a steam, in a tea with lemon and honey, and in your cooking to just really amp up your dose.
**Side note - kitchen herbs (like that you buy from the supermarket) can be ok for steams, but if you want a really medicinal effect, get your herbs from a health shop or trusted herb supplier. The difference in quality in medicinal-grade herbs can be pretty profound. However - in a pinch - just use what you have on hand!
Horseradish and Garlic are amazing for opening up sinuses with their pungent flavours! They are both antimicrobial, and you probably have garlic in your kitchen. If you know you suffer from allergies, I would highly recommend making some Fire Cider in the winter so you can dose yourself up with this pungent little remedy come allergy season!
3. Use herbs internally - long term support
Like I mentioned above, allergies are really about your immune system overreacting to stimulants in the environment. So let's help calm it down!
Investigating issues such as food intolerances, underlying chronic infections, digestive issues and gut dysbiosis can go a long way to helping to alleviate allergies. But we can also support ourselves with some basic herbs and nutrition at home.
NETTLES (Urtica dioica). What are Nettles NOT good for? This common "weed" is super anti-inflammatory and full of vitamins and minerals and has been shown to work on numerous pathways in the body to support normal inflammatory response. Inflammation is part of the immune response and is what causes the symptoms of allergies. Normal inflammation in the body is important, chronic or overreactive inflammation can be a problem.
I think most people would benefit from drinking Nettle tea daily, but especially if you suffer from allergies, I'd be mixing it in with some Elderflower (and maybe a bit of Thyme) and drinking 3+ cups daily, especially in the lead up to and during allergy season.
4. Diet and Nutrients
As I alluded to, chronic inflammation is part of the picture of allergies. So it goes to stand that shifting your diet to one that is anti-inflammatory would be a super helpful step!
In a nutshell, an anti-inflammatory diet is one that is full of whole foods, particularly TONS of colourful fruits and veggies. It should also contain healthy fats (think olive oil, avocados, and omega-3 rich fats from nuts and seeds or fish) and protein. This article by Vancouver dietitian Desiree Nielsen contains a great overview of an anti-inflammatory diet and I trust the info she puts out (also, she has great recipes if you need some).
Anti-inflammatory foods don't need to be exotic - many standard veggies are full of anti-inflammatory nutrients!
Certain nutrients can be helpful, too. Again diet should be your first port of call, but sometimes to get things started a supplement is great.
Zinc (food sources - meat, shellfish, legumes, and seeds such as hemp hearts and pumpkin seeds), Quercetin (found in apples and onions), Bromelain (an enzyme found in pineapple), and N-Acetyl Cysteine (cysteine is found in eggs, poultry, yogurt, cheese, sunflower seeds and legumes) can all help with allergies due to their abilities to support the immune system, clear mucus and support healthy inflammation.
Allergies are a pain but you don't need to submit to a lifetime of staying inside and anti-histamines. Herbs, nutrients, and diet and lifestyle support can go a long way to helping you to feel well, manage symptoms and even lessen your allergic response.