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Herbal remedies for seasonal allergies

Updated on February 19, 2013

An herb once prized by Native Americans as an anti-inflamitory and headache cure has received favorable results in a number of European trials for the releif of seasonal allergy symptoms, such as hay fever. That is according to Dr.Mary Hardy, MD, Director of Integrative Medicine at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Petasites japonicus Giant Butterbur, or Fuki
Petasites japonicus Giant Butterbur, or Fuki
Mary Hardy, MD, director of integrative medicine at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles
Mary Hardy, MD, director of integrative medicine at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles

Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) says Hardy, "has had some very impressive clinical trial results." According to The British Medical Journal, a group of Swiss researchers also showed how just one tablet of butterbur four times daily was as effective as a popular antihistamine drug in controlling symptoms of hay fever. The herb avoids drowsiness, sometimes a side-effect of regular antihistemenes. Butterbur or Sweet Coltsfoot as it is also known grows in many forms throughout the world.

Other herbal supplements Dr. Hardy sited as having shown positive results in clinical trials were: freeze-dried nettles and a tonic made from the herb Goldenseal, which she recommends adding to still one more natural treatment -- a saline (salt water) nasal spray. "The saline works to wash out pollen and reduce or thin mucous -- the Goldenseal has astringent and local antibacterial properties which can aid in this process," Hardy told WebMD.

As an alternative to nasal sprays many people now use neti pots an ancient Vedic tool for cleaning the sinuses. Some believe their more gentle action is more beneficial to the alleviation of allergy symptoms such as rhinitis. For more information on neti pots click the link below.,

Common Stinging Nettles
Common Stinging Nettles

Naturopathic doctors also believe certain nutrients can be helpful in relief of seasonal symptoms. Among the most popular are grape seed extract and a flavonoid compound known as quercetin. Flavonoids are secondary metabolites. That is natural substances which are not immediately essential to life but which enhance a metabolisms functions, such as, immune system or reproduction.


Quercetin occurs naturally in many foods -- and is especially abundant in red wine and tea and according to James Dillard, MD, when used in supplement form, they can be helpful in reducing allergy symptoms. Dr Dillard, who is clinical advisor to Columbia University's Rosenthal Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, and assistant clinical professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, notes that the effects are particularly noted when used in conjuction with vitamin C.

Spicy food thns mucus and 'clears passages'
Spicy food thns mucus and 'clears passages'

Spicy food containing cayenne pepper, hot ginger, and fenugreek, as well as the traditional onion and garlic. thins mucus abd aids expectoration.

Avoid foods that make symptoms worse According to New York University allergist Clifford Bassett, MD,

Dr Clifford Bassett MD
Dr Clifford Bassett MD

If you suffer from ragweed or other weed pollen allergies, "you should avoid eating melon, banana, cucumber, sunflower seeds, chamomile, and any herbal supplements containing echinacea, all of which can make symptoms much worse," Dr. Bassett advises.

Marianne Frieri, MD PhD
Marianne Frieri, MD PhD

Clearly many natrual treatments can be extremely helpful. However, allergist Dr Marianne Frieri, MD, sounds a note of caution that natural doesn't necessarily mean better or safer. She points out that it is possible to overdose on even the most seemingly mild preparations, and it is also important to remember that almost anything in nature's pharmacy could cause a toxic reaction if you use too much.

The treatment of allergies caused by airborne allergens such as grass, ragweed and the like seem to fall into two main camps. the orthodox or western traditional approach and the alternative or complementary approach.

The orthodox medical approach to allergy treatment.

These are the areas of treatment that Dr. Brown might typically consider for his patients.

  • Avoid smoke and other irritating fumes
  • Keep heating and cooling system filters clean
  • Limit alcohol consumption if it aggravates the condition
  • Minimize carpeting
  • Avoid outdoor activities that aggravate the condition
  • Reduce mold exposure
  • Over-the-counter remedies

Dr.Ronald C. Brown, MD, FACP, Vice President of Medical Programs for Oxford Health Plans and a board-certified internist, stands by orthodox treatments and in a recent article stated, "Allergies occur when the immune system overreacts to foreign materials. When treating allergies, you can either modify the allergic immune reaction, or you can decrease your body's inflammatory response. Allergies are one of the health conditions for which I believe conventional medications are much more effective than complementary and alternative remedies, but certain alternative approaches may help relieve some allergic symptoms."

Air filtration systems seemed to have little effect on allergy suffers in trials but there did seem to be some clear advantage to using a mask while performing tasks where exposure to allergens is high. Altogether the orthodox western medicine approach is to limit exposure to allergens and treat the symptoms with antihistamines.

Over-the-counter remedies usually means antihistamines. As the name suggests they target histamines. These are the substances the body releases to trigger an allergic reaction. In the past they where associated with drowsiness and other side-effects, but a new generation of prescription antihistamines is now available without this disadvantage. If these remedies are ineffective other prescription remedies,such as, cromolyn or corticosteroid nasal sprays or the new synthetic cortisone sprays, may be used depending on the severity of the outbreak.

Complementary & Alternative Approach

  • Diet remedies
  • Vitamin remedies
  • Quercetin and Bromelain
  • Traditional Chinese medicine remedies
  • Aromatherapy remedies
  • Acupuncture remedies


"You are what you eat." is a tenant of may alternative therapies.A vegetarian-based diet with plenty of deep-water fish can decrease your level of inflammation. With more severe allergies, some people find that fish fat capsules can offer relief.


Vitamin E has proven beneficial in fighting the symptoms of some allergies. Taking Magnesium as a supplement and reducing the salt and sugar in the diet has also seen marked improvements in patients symptoms. Some alternative practitioners believe that vitamin C is a natural antihistamine and it has been shown in trial to enhance the effects of other treatments. It's efficacy as natural cure for all allergies remains unproven.

Quercetin and Bromelain

The bioflavonoid, Quercetin, blocks the release of histamines, preventing anallergic reaction in the body. Bromelain, an enzyme mixture found mostly in the stems of pineapples, supports the absorption of Quercetin and soothes inflames sinuses. Together they, provide an excellent defense against the irritation and suffering that allergic rhinitis can cause, especially when the pollen count begins to rise.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Licorice, skullcap, cordyceps, and perilla are just some of the substances traditional Chinese health practitioners might use to treat inflammations caused by an allergic reaction. The guidance of an experienced practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine is strongly recommended with this alternative medicine practice.


To relieve nasal congestion, try mixing one drop of lavender oil and one teaspoon of a carrier oil, such as sweet almond or sunflower oil; massage into the skin around your sinuses once a day. Eucalyptus, cedarwood, and peppermint oils also act as decongestants. Massaging these fragrant oils around your nostrils or inhaling them from a cloth can quickly relieve congestion.

Accupuncture is an ancient Chinese medical practice.
Accupuncture is an ancient Chinese medical practice.


Dr Bassett also pointed to what he referred to as a, "small but significant" study of 26 hay fever patients. published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine. This showed that acupuncture reduced symptoms in all 26 -- without side effects. A second study of some 72 people totally eliminated symptoms in more than half of the patients, after only two treatments.

Dillard told WebMD,

"Acupuncture can be particularly useful if you are suffering from multiple allergies, since it works to quiet the areas of the immune system that are overstimulated by exposure to multiple irritating factors."

Some Facts About Hayfever (Allergic Rhinitis)

According to the American Acadamy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology:

  • Roughly 7.8% of people 18 and over in the U.S. have hay fever.

  • In 2010, 10% of U.S. children aged 17 years and under suffered from hay fever in the past 12 months.

  • In 2010, White children in the U.S. were more likely to have had hay fever (10%) than black children (7%).

  • Worldwide, allergic rhinitis affects between 10% and 30 % of the population.

  • Worldwide, sensitization (IgE antibodies) to foreign proteins in the environment is present in up to 40% of the population.

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