Written by Meghan Rhodes MCPP MAPA
Seasonal allergy season is just around the corner. Whilst many of us are looking forward to fresh air and the landscape bursting into life, some dread this time of year, because it means itchy eyes, sneezing and the lot are on their way.
But did you know preparation is the key to priming your body in the face of hay fever? And there are plenty of herbs popping their heads up now that are perfect to help!
First thing's first
Most people who tend to experience seasonal allergies get them year after year and will often have parents, siblings, or children who are the same. Likewise, people who experience seasonal allergies are often (but not always) also prone to things like eczema, food sensitivities, rashes, sensitive skin and so on.
This may be linked to a few things. First, there may be a predisposition in the family to have a heightened histamine response, which means your system is already on high alert and so will elicit a more pronounced reaction to pollen in the air than an occasional sneeze, for example. Second, your body may be letting you know something you're eating, putting on your skin or using to clean your home or work environment isn't suiting you - and if it's already in a state of high alert for this reason, it may be more reactive to other irritating stimuli (like pollen). Third, it may be constitutional. From the Ayurvedic perspective, spring is the time when vata (air and ether) get all whipped into a frenzy (which we know because this time of year is often very windy, blowing everything that's making your eyes itch and run and triggering your nose around in a whirl). So if you already have vata out of balance in the body (meaning lots of toing and froing, eating on the go or forgetting to eat at all, spinning lots of plates, or what I generally call modern life for most of us!), your body is not surprisingly going to be in a position to protest all those additional irritating things!
So what can you do about seasonal allergies naturally?
Whether it's new news or you've heard it before - all roads lead to the gut. If your gut microbiome is poor and if you're regularly eating processed/pesticide-laden food, your body is already on the back foot when spring kicks into high gear. Both of these things are connected to lowered immune function and inflammation, so the body is more reactive to any other assaults. So make a point of swapping processed foods for whole, organic foods and include probiotic foods (the internet is laden with lists and recipes) in your diet or a good quality probiotic supplement.
There are, of course, herbs that can help moderate an over-active histamine response.
Whilst improving your gut microbiome, there are herbs you can support your body in moderating its histamine response, which in turn help reduce the sneezing and red, itchy eyes.
Nettle (Urtica dioica) is tops when it comes to seasonal allergies, and it's no coincidence it's coming up everywhere with fresh shoots in the spring. It is excellent at modulating inflammation, supports healthy circulation, as well as clearing out toxins built up in the body, whilst being full of minerals. Essentially, it's a brilliant spring tonic for anyone, hay fever sufferers or not. It makes both a nourishing soup and a delicious tea. If you suffer from seasonal allergies each year, start drinking nettle tea daily as soon as the fresh shoots appear and throughout the allergy season. You'll be priming your body for a measured histamine response when the air is full of pollen, rather than an overreactive one.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is brilliant for all things calming. It's anti-inflammatory and soothing, as well as prebiotic and probiotic (so it helps from that gut health angle, as well). Chamomile is the herb to use if you've got caught out on a high pollen count day with eyes that have gone puffy and are driving you mad. Get two organic chamomile tea bags (and it's important they're organic, as chamomile is one of the most mass produced, and thus, heavily pesticide-sprayed herbs, sadly) and pop them in a mug to cover with water from the kettle. Let steep a good ten minutes until the water is still quite warm, but not scalding. Squeeze out the tea bags so they're not dripping and place one over each eye with a dry wash cloth on top to catch any drips. Tilt your head back and rest your eyes for ten minutes.
Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) is the herb classically associated with all things eye health, including light sensitivity, watering, redness and itchiness, so if you're thinking of making yourself a herbal tea blend to drink throughout the season, it's definitely worth considering including eyebright.
Consistency is key
As with all things health and herbal medicine, supporting your body to be and stay in balance is a very different aim from just squashing symptoms when they crop up each year. This is why it pays to begin preparing yourself in late winter/very early spring with your herbal teas, tonics and nutritious foods. Use your remedies throughout the season to avoid frequent exacerbated symptoms.
You can blend the three herbs above to make a tea for daily use and enjoy giving nettle soup a go. If you need something that's a bit easier to use on the go, included in the wide range of herbal medicine cabinet alternatives available in The Members' Apothecary is a Hay Fever tincture - ready for taking a daily dose before carrying on with your day. There's also an Eczema tincture and balm if the dawning of spring seems to stir up your dry skin, as well.
And if it's something more complex you can't seem to get on top of on your own, get in touch to work with me 1:1 to get support with your histamine responses, hay fever, eczema or seasonal allergies.
So if you haven't already, put a spring in your step and get drinking your herbal tea daily! You'll be glad to be able to enjoy the sunnier, greener days.