Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Echinacea purpura and E. pallida
On first whiff, it might smell odd to treat seasonal allergies with plant medicines. Case in point coneflower (Echinacea species) - it's a member of the allergenic aster family but suppresses a histamine response to bee stings and snake bites. Since echinacea only works for acute reactions, other plants are better for prevention of more persistent respiratory allergies - runny nose, itchy eyes, headache, and fatigue. Formulas for chronic problems usually include an alterative for the involved organ system, specific herbs for the problem, and an adaptogen for whole person recovery.

Nettles flowering in late spring
We know nettles (Urtica species) as a digestive and kidney alterative (see Alteratives in Herbal Formulas) but it also reduces allergic reactions and helps to eliminate mucus. The young leaves have fewer stinging hairs and can be picked in early spring for a fresh or dried leaf tea. Use gloves to harvest aerial parts of mature plants from the edges of yards, gardens, or fields for drying and tincturing.

Goldenrod in late summer

Goldenrod (Solidago species) is sometimes blamed for fall allergies caused by it's less showy companion ragweed. However, the pungent leaves and flowers of goldenrod have the opposite effect, relieving red itchy eyes and fatigue. Added to tea or tincture formulas, goldenrod has been especially helpful for cat allergies.

Barberry in the fall
Barberry (Berberis species) can be added to an allergy formula when excess mucus is affecting both respiratory and gastrointestinal function. Pull up the bitter yellow root by cutting off most of the prickly shrub, squatting to grasp the stem with both hands, and pulling upward by straightening the legs. A little of the dried root tincture will add a lot of relief for chronic effects of allergies.

Finally, holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) is my adaptogen of choice for allergies because it also helps to stabilize mast cells, reducing the allergic response.(see Adaptogens in Herbal Formulas) Since it's not usually possible to avoid all allergens, a tea or tincture formula containing these or other herbs more specific to the individual can help to prevent reactions and reverse chronic symptoms.

HERBALIST'S NOTE: Formulas are much simpler to prepare when you have a home apothecary of single herb teas and tinctures.


basil tincture - 4 parts (2oz)
goldenrod tincture - 2 parts (1oz)
nettles tincture - 1 part (1/2oz)
barberry tincture - 1 part (1/2oz)

1) Pour the proper proportion of the tinctures into a small liquid measuring cup with a pouring lip and with adequate increments for precise measurement;
2) Gently swirl or stir the tinctures until thoroughly mixed;

3) Pour the mixture into 1 or 2 ounce bottles for dispensing;
4) Label bottles with formula name, date, and herbs;
5) Take 1/2 to 1 dropper (15-30 drops) once a day for allergy prevention, three times a day for treatment.

DOCTOR'S NOTE: Acute allergic reactions associated with shortness of breath, wheezing, and dizziness may need immediate evaluation by a healthcare professional.

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