The Sneezing Season! Herbal Help for Hay fever

The sneezing season….

Finally, the arrival of a proper summer, but it is not welcomed by everyone! The longer evenings, better weather and the flowering of plants in gardens and in the countryside may herald the onset of sunnier times for most people. But for those with hay fever, the blooming of nature means pollen and pain and for hay fever sufferers, summer 2010 may leave many praying for rain! The cold snap in January delayed the spring bloom - subsequent rains and now the recent good weather have created the perfect storm in terms of pollen and hay fever.

"These are boom conditions for pollen production."

Hay fever, or seasonal allergic rhinitis as it is known medically, is an allergic reaction to pollen and spores, the microscopic grains that plants, trees, grasses or fungi use for fertilisation. In spring, plantlife comes into bloom and many forms of trees, grasses, fungi and flowers release pollen and spores in order to reproduce. While many plants rely on insects to transfer their pollen, others release their pollen onto the wind. It tends to be this wind-borne pollen that causes problems for allergic people.

Grass pollen is the most common seasonal allergen in Ireland (90% of sufferers) and approximately 423,000 of  Irish people suffer from hay fever. Hay fever is actually a relatively modern illness. It was almost unknown before 1800 but it has become extremely common worldwide during the last century. The incidence of hay fever has steadily rose and is now common in countries like Japan where it was unheard of 40 years ago.

Studies have shown that environmental pollution, particularly diesel fumes may be contributing factors.

The highest pollen count levels within Ireland are usually found in lowland country areas, especially agricultural areas where there is likely to be a lot of grassland. Levels in cities would be a half or quarter of that and in coastal areas pollen levels would be lower again. The better the summer weather, the shorter the season but the pollen count will be higher. A poorer summer means a longer hay fever season although pollen counts may not be as high.



Hay fever sufferers experience the well-known symptoms of a pollen allergy. A stuffed or runny nose is often accompanied by sneezing. Overproduction of mucus can lead to coughing, watering eyes and a postnasal drip. In some, the eyes, nose,ears and throat can develop an itch, while others find dark circles appear beneath their eyes, due to an increased flow of blood near the sinuses.

The symptoms can lead the sufferer to become tired and irritated. It rarely occurs before the age of 5 in children, symptoms are worse in early childhood and many individuals grow out of it by 30-40 years of age.


·      Runny nose and nasal congestion

·      Watery or itchy eyes

·      Sneezing

·      Cough

·      Itchy nose, roof of mouth or throat

·      Sinus pressure and facial pain

·      Swollen, blue-colored skin under the eyes

·      Decreased sense of smell or taste


Recognise the differences between a summer cold and hay fever


Hay fever


Signs and Symptoms

Runny nose with thin watery discharge, no fever

Runny nose with watery or thick yellow discharge, body aches, low grade fever


Immediately after exposure to allergens

1-3 days after exposure to a cold virus


As long as you are exposed to allergens

5 -7 days


What's happening in the body?

Inhaled allergens from the atmosphere make contact with the mucosal lining of the nose and lungs the body reacts by producing antibodies and releasing histamine. Histamine causes the body to flush and produce extra mucus irritating the respiratory passages causing them to swell and eyes to tear.The main actions required in hayfever are herbs to reduce catarrh, reduce inflammation, support the immune system, and herbs to reduce any risk of infection due to the extra mucus load.

Problems that may be associated with hay fever include:

·      Reduced quality of life. Hay fever can interfere with your work and activities and cause you to be less productive. For many people, hay fever symptoms lead to absences from work or school.

·      Poor sleep. Hay fever symptoms can keep you awake.

·      Worsening asthma. If you have asthma, hay fever can worsen signs and symptoms such as coughing and wheezing.

·      Sinusitis. Prolonged sinus congestion due to hay fever may increase your susceptibility to sinusitis — an infection or inflammation of the membrane that lines the sinuses.

·      Ear infection. In children, hay fever often is a factor in middle ear infection (otitis media).

When to see your Medical Herbalist?

If your hay fever isn't too severe, over-the-counter herbal medications may be enough to ease your symptoms. For more bothersome symptoms, you may need to see your medical herbalist who can formulate a tailor-made prescription for you.

If over the counter the remedies are not helping symptoms or you have additional exacerbating factors such as asthma, chronic sinusitis and recurrent respiratory infections it is best to see your herbalist who can prescribe and dispense an individually tailored prescription. Treatment can help to prevent more serious allergic conditions such as asthma and eczema developing.


Avoid exposure to Pollen, molds, dustmites and pet dander

·      Close doors and windows during pollen season.

·      Don't hang laundry outside — pollen can stick to sheets and towels.

·      Use air conditioning in your car if you have it.

·      Avoid outdoor activity in the early morning (peak time in the countryside) and early evening (peak time in cities) when pollen counts are highest.

·      Stay indoors on dry, windy days.

·      Use allergy-proof covers on mattresses, box springs and pillows.

·      Use a vacuum cleaner with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. And vacuum regularly (at least once a week).

·      Consider removing carpeting, especially where you sleep, if you're highly sensitive to dust mites.

·      Avoid contact with animals if you have a known allergy. Definitely keep household pets out of the bedroom.

·      Wash sheets and blankets in water heated to at least 60 degrees Celsius

·      Head to the coast! Fresh breezes coming in from the sea tend to keep the high pollen counts inland and many people find great relief by taking the fresh sea air!

·      Wear a hat and wrap around sunglasses to keep pollen out of your eyes.

·      Shower frequently to wash pollen from the body.

·      Get the free Pollen Alert app from the asthma society of Ireland The pollen alert provides a daily province-by-province forecast and gives the outlook for the following day.


Herbs to Consider

Kelli’s Hayfever Blend






Method: Take about a quarter teaspoon of each dried herb and add it to two cups of boiled water, cover and infuse for 10 minutes, strain and drink freely (at least 3-4 cups daily).

Top Tips!

  • If you are familiar with the wild plant, fresh flowers and leaves can be used. Caution! You must be 100% certain of the plant identification.
  • For best effect take from one month before the onset of your symptoms. If you usually get Hay Fever from mid May, start taking the herbs in mid April. Most people have the same pattern year after year.
  •  Herbs can be used very simply as infusions (teas), incorporating them into daily life. They can be made up once daily and taken hot or cold, add local honey for extra sweetness and a beneficial pollen inoculation! Taking them as tinctures (alcohol extracts) is easier but more expensive.
  • These herbs can be used individually but for best results they are used together, combining all of their beneficial actions.
  • Adjust the amounts of herb added, to suit taste.


Nettle Leaf (Urtica dioicia )

Best used fresh or harvested in May and June for drying and storing but hurry! leaves can still be harvested up until the end of July.

The plant is packed full with vitamins and minerals (rich in iron) but also has a significant anti-allergy effect. This action is partly due to the diuretic effect of nettle on increasing urine production, increasing the elimination of breakdown products including those from the overactive immune system.


Nettle can be taken in tincture, fresh plant juice or tea


Plantain, Ribwort (Plantago lanceolata )

Plantain went global many hundreds of years ago; known as ‘the white man’s footprint’, the seeds unintentionally stowed away on ships and was exported to all the colonies from Europe. It is rich in chlorophyll (greens), nutrition and it is mucilaginous (mucous like). It is cooling in nature and has an affinity for cooling and nourishing the mucous membranes of the nasal and digestive tract. It will help to reduce excess mucous produced, is high in silica (beneficial to the lungs) and has a gentle expectorant action, helping to clear the excess mucous, so particularly useful for sufferers with an irritating cough. By reducing excess mucous, you reduce the risk of secondary infection.

Harvest during flowering.

Plantain can be taken in tincture, fresh plant juice or tea.




Elderflowers (Sambucus nigra)

The Elderflower tree is known as the ‘poor man’s pharmacy’ as the flowers and berries have long been used to ease health problems. The flowers are particularly useful for clearing mucous membranes due to ‘colds’, sinus problems or hay fever. Particularly good for those suffering from catarrh. It reduces oedema in the mucous membranes of the nasal passages and bronchi, thereby helping to reduce that uncomfortable swelling and inflammation in the nose.

It is a light, flowery and pleasant tasting herb welcome in ay herb tea blend. It also has a gentle effect on promoting perspiration again aiding the elimination of immune breakdown products.

Harvest early in flowering (usually May).

Can be taken in tincture or tea.


Chamomile (Chamomila matricaria/recutita)

 Usually used to relax the digestive system and the nervous system, Chamomile also has an anti-allergic action. It is cooling and has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties.


Chamomile teabags
This is a low cost effective way of bringing relief to tired irritated eyes. For some hayfever sufferers itchy eyes can be the primary symptom which can become stinging and painful.

Tip! Take two chamomile teabags, cover with boiling water infusing for 5 minutes. Squeeze out excess water, store in the fridge on a saucer until you are ready to use them. Gently place the teabags over the eyes for 10-15 minutes and relax.


Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis)

Here is one of the most useful herbs for catarrhal conditions of the ears, nose and throat. Eyebright has two functions in dealing with allergy. It contains phytochemicals called flavonoids which are anti-inflammatory and they also help to stabalise mast cells which line the nasal passages and release histamine.
Historically the name Eyebright comes from the fact that it was traditionally used as an infusion (tea) and the liquid used to sooth irritated eyes.

Harvest the flowers and leaves July-September

Euphrasia can be taken as a tincture or tea, although the tincture may be easier to come by in the shops.

Tip! Infuse dried or fresh chamomile and eyebright, leave to cool and use to bathe puffy, itchy and sticky eyes. Instant relief!


 How Can My Diet Help?

1.   Eat Natural Antihistamines

Vitamin C and antioxidants are natural antihistamines. Antihistamines reduce the allergic reaction to allergens. The best way to get more vitamin C is to eat a diet rich in fresh fruits. The general rule is the more colorful the food the healthier it is.

Beta carotene rich foods, such as the red, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables, are  rich in bioflavonoids and vitamin C. Hayfever sufferers require greater amounts of these nutrients. Try to find good quality food, organic if possible - the vitamin levels will be higher and it will be free of synthetic pesticide residues.

Beta-carotene and vitamin C can be taken as supplements.

 Dark green foods are also helpful as they contain large amounts of beta carotene. Choose dark green leafy salads like watercress, rocket and chard; vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, freshly picked nettles, green beans and kale. Sprouted seeds and bean sprouts are also very beneficial. Add to salads and soups.


2.   Probiotics

A double-blinded and placebo controlled study showed that drinks containing the probiotic lactobacillus casei stop the immune system from over reacting to pollen, the primary cause of hayfever.

The probiotic strain tested change the way the body's immune cells respond to grass pollen, restoring a more balanced immune response.

Blood samples were taken before the grass pollen season, then again when it was at its peak (June), and 4 weeks after the end of season. There were no significant differences in levels of IgE  (a measure of the bodies allergic response) in the blood between the two groups at the start of the study, but IgE levels were lower in the probiotic group both at the peak season and afterwards.

At the same times, levels of the antibody IgG were higher, a type of antibody that in contrast to IgE is thought to play a protective role against allergic reactions.

Take a little live yogurt but if you suffer from excess catarrh or are allergic to dairy take a supplement.

3.   Honey

A 1995 study of pollen- sensitive patients found that they did not respond to honey with traces of pollen in it. This could suggest that honey desensitises the body to the pollen, so that it no longer causes a reaction. This in turn reduces hay fever symptoms.

The most effective honey you can use is a locally produced cold pressed honey which is likely to contain a good selection of local pollen grains from a variety of plants.

4. Omega 3

Omega 3 also helps fight hay fever, so eat plenty of oily fish such as mackerel, sardines and salmon and also nuts and seeds. These all contain a chemical called prostaglandin which helps to reduce inflammation.

5. Garlic and Onions

Garlic and onions are also natures cures for hay fever so add lots to your meals. Garlic and onion increase the production of white blood cells which again helps boost the immune system. Onions also contain a high level of quercitin (see below).

 Garlic helps to reduce excess catarrh. Eat 2 raw cloves daily. Have on toast or stir into food at the end of cooking. If you dislike the flavour, consider taking a supplement.

6. Quercitin

Eat more apples, peppers and onions. These contain the chemical quercetin which helps to stop the immune system from creating histamines when an allergen invades the system.

7.Cut down on mucus forming foods

Many people notice a marked reduction in symptoms, simply by reducing their intake of the following foods.

8. Avoid Dairy: all dairy produce is mucus forming. In an ideal situation one would cut it all out, with the possible exception of yoghurt, but for many this is difficult. Goats, sheep, rice, oat and small quantities of soya milk products are preferable to cow's milk products, which should be avoided totally. Eat dairy in small quantities.

9. Reduce Refined foods: cut out white bread, white rice, white pasta, white sugar and brown sugar (still a highly refined product). Substitute wholemeal versions of these foods and local honey for sweetening.

10. Avoid Processed foods: avoid pre-packaged foods as much as possible, especially those that contain additives you would not use in your own cooking, (E numbers and preservatives for example).

11. Avoid Alcohol: if you can't avoid it, dilute it with carbonated water (ideal for white wine and whisky); or alternate each drink with a large glass of water.

12. Avoid Tea and coffee: regular consumption of caffeine drinks make it more difficult for the body to cope with stress. Caffeine also depletes the absorption of minerals.

Substitute these drinks with rooibosch tea, decaffeinated green tea, or herbal teas.



Please note that the advice given in these notes is not intended to be a replacement for professional medical advice and treatment. Always visit a fully qualified medical herbalist or G.P. for diagnosis. If you are pregnant, have an existing condition or are currently taking medication consult a medical herbalist to see which herbs are appropriate for you to take.

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