Nothing to sneeze at

Herbal remedies help alleviate troublesome allergies

Seasonal allergies.

Raw fruits and vegetables help ease allergy symptoms primarily because they are packed full of flavonoids.

Can you feel it coming? There’s that tickle in your nose, tears running from your eyes, a perpetual crimson hue that takes up residence in those baby blues and the episodes of sneezing attacks where you cannot put a sentence together.

It really isn’t a graceful way to greet spring’s arrival, but as the magnolia buds pop and the crocus peek their heads out of the earth, so, too, do the allergies begin.

Many gardeners suffer from seasonal allergies, me included. However, I’ve noticed that for some reason when I’m pregnant I don’t suffer from allergies – odd, huh? And even to a greater degree my symptoms have lessened from before the times when I was kidless and fancy-free.

It’s a wonderful side effect and a welcome tradeoff to not be in a foglike state throughout the course of my favorite season, spring. But this year I have no new family members expected and I’d like to continue to stay alert, so I thought maybe we could explore natural remedies to help alleviate allergies while still retaining that spark in our stride.

Around 40 million Americans are affected by seasonal allergies. Allergies are a result of our bodies’ overreaction to things like pollen, grass and airborne fungi. We combat these irritants by using anti-inflammatory chemicals, such as histamine. This attempt by our bodies to search and conquer the allergens brings on familiar symptoms like runny noses, watery eyes and sneezing. The word “allergy” is basically a catchall for a substance the body deems foreign.

In my experience, I cannot seem to find an over-the-counter antihistamine that does not make me drowsy, regardless of what promises are emblazoned on the box.

Ocoee Miller, a Lawrence herbalist, says of over-the-counter cures: “Allergy medicines are all just temporary fixes. I think that for a permanent fix a person needs to do a series of liver cleanses as well as clean up their diet – in particular, omitting dairy, sugar and probably wheat.”

Raw fruits and vegetables help ease symptoms primarily because they are packed full of flavonoids, which inhibit leukotriene and histamine release from mast cells. So, we can eat a healthier regimen. I guess I’ll need to dump the Valentine’s candy we are still munching on.

What else can I do to put my fate in my own hands?

“I think that folks who are troubled with allergies need to be vigorous about getting all toxic substances out of their lives,” Miller suggests. “This means everything from cleaning supplies to body care products, to nonorganic foods, to clothing treated with flame-retardants or no-iron surfacing. A good place to start is to eat organic, eat fresh foods rather than pre-fab prepared stuff in a box. In my experience, white sugar definitely exacerbates allergies.”

Uh-oh. Does that include peanut M&M’s? What else can I try?

Miller suggests eating stinging nettles, a type of flowering plant.

“A person needs to ingest nettles (either tea, or as a food or in capsules) for much of the winter in order to be prepared for spring,” he says. “Nettles are actually quite delicious as a cooked green (with olive oil and apple cider vinegar). Right now is a good time to start a stinging nettle regimen. Once cooked or prepared as a medicine, it no longer has the ability to sting.

“Since it grows wild, it is easy to find once the weather warms up. Nettle should be harvested only in the spring and fall. It should not be used while it is flowering and trying to make seed. For people interested in gathering their own wild nettle it bears mentioning that they must wear long-sleeved shirts and gloves.”

Miller also advises that grape seed antioxidant capsules are a powerful anti-histamine and should cease most allergy attacks within minutes. Also, feverfew leaves are excellent at treating headaches associated with allergies. Chamomile and garlic can also be incredibly useful in reducing the symptoms of plant pollen allergies.

Other natural remedies for sneezing and aching:

¢ Butterbur, a shrub that has been proven to fight allergies.

¢ Ephedra is an herb used to treat bronchial and inflammatory issues as well as asthma.

¢ Echinacea, or purple coneflower, increases T-cells and their distribution into the blood, hence aiding the immune system.

¢ Saline and salt water sprays cleans any pollen irritants out of the nasal cavity.

But remember it is not a one-size-fits-all scenario.

“There are different types of allergies,” Miller explains. “A person who is allergic to plant pollen has a different condition than a person who is allergic to toxic building materials or body-care products. Likewise, an entirely different category is the area of food allergies. Being allergic to peanuts can be life-threatening. Each of these types of allergies needs to be handled differently, but I feel that pretty much everyone can benefit from ingesting nettles. And everyone can benefit from cleaning up their environment and their eating habits.”

Nettles it is. I will try just about anything before giving up on my peanut M&M habit.