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Sunday, 24 March 2013

Hayfever (seasonal allergic rhinitis)

Now is the time to be thinking about hayfever - ie. before your symptoms kick in.

Symptoms occur following inhalation of airborne particles, such as grass pollen. Hayfever may be accompanied by asthma. Minimising exposure to known allergens may reduce symptoms. Sometimes, however, it is difficult to identify the allergen concerned, or it may be difficult to reduce exposure to it.

Can herbs help?

There are a great many reports of hayfever responding well to Herbal Medicine. However, each person is an individual, with their own unique medical history, so their hayfever must be addressed accordingly.

The Medical Herbalist's approach to hayfever: herb combining for the individual.

The first visit involves a discussion of the person's entire medical history, including their hayfever. This information allows a combination of herbs to be selected and tailored to the individual. The combination which works for one person, may not be appropriate for another.

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There are many herbs which have been used traditionally for allergy such as hayfever. There is an increasing volume of scientific research focusing on uncovering some of the actions of these herbs.

The final prescription will include herbs with actions appropriate for the individual's hayfever symptoms, such as anticatarrhal, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, with simultaneous consideration of other health complaints, such as a tendency to cystitis or poor sleep. It is for this reason it is often stated that in addressing one complaint, other complaints are often helped too. This is also the reason why a combination of herbs is used - as one herb will not provide all required actions.

Nettle (Urtica dioca) is possibly the herb most commonly read about in hayfever self-help articles.

Nettle (Urtica dioica)

However, there are a great many more which are considered to be equally as useful. Golden rod (Solidago virgaurea) may be included in a hayfever prescription. This would be especially indicated for someone who also suffers from frequent urinary tract infections as it has a history of use for this complaint too (in conjunction with other urinary herbs). Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) is another example of a herb which has been used in hayfever, especially, although not exclusively, if the eyes are badly affected. In fact, its combination of astringent and anti-inflammatory constituents makes it a valuable addition to prescriptions for many conditions requiring mucous membrane repair, for example, sinusitis. Elderflowers (Sambucus nigra) also have a history of use by people with the catarrh accompanying hayfever. Unfortunately the sugary bottled cordial often found on supermarket shelves is not a substitute for the "real thing" found in the hedgerows!

Elderflowers (Sambucus nigra flos)

Depending on the specific symptoms and the medical history of the individual presenting, other more expectorant, and possibly antimicrobial, herbs may be added, in addition to herbs to support the immune system as part of a preventative strategy.

If symptoms are very severe, the herbalist may consider using a stronger remedy, such as Poke root (Phytolacca decandra) or Ephedra (Ephedra sinica). Research is uncovering which constituents in Ephedra might be responsible for it's reported bronchodilating and anticatarrhal effects.

For more details on Herbal Medicine, visit

"Drugs tend to destroy tissue and do not cure; herbs strengthen tissue and do cure" (Mrs C.F. Leyel)!

An interesting quotation, taken from Mrs C.F. Leyel, founder the Society of Herbalists (now called the Herb Society) and Fellow of the Royal Institution of Great Britain.

Green Medicine by Mrs C.F. Leyel (1952)

Although this quotation was published in "Green Medicine", written in 1952, most modern day herbalists would agree that herbs provide a plentiful supply of bioavailable vitamins and minerals, so facilitating tissue repair.

Nettle (Urtica dioica) is an example of this, being rich in many vitamins and minerals, including iron. However, it is also rich in vitamin C, which improves the absorption of the iron. The stomach upsets which can accompany iron tablets are much less likely with the iron in plants.

Similarly, dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) has a history of use as a diuretic. Whereas pharmaceutical diuretics (water tablets) can deplete the body of essential potassium, dandelion leaves are rich in potassium, so this potential problem is unlikely.