The Herbal Approach to Allergies - Herbal Health

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Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Herbal Approach to Allergies

About this time of year, I usually get many queries on allergies, particularly hayfever. However, hayfever falls into the category of atopic allergy (of which eczema and asthma are others) so in discussing herbal rememdies for hayfever, one really needs to start by looking at allergies on the whole.

Flower pollen is a common cause of seasonal
allergies, particularly hayfever (allergic rhinitis)
Whenever discussing this problem, it is firstly important to define what an allergy is compared to the more common intolerance. With an increasing incidence of both conditions, many people can become confused about their symptoms which can make theidentification process of the cause or trigger that much more difficult. In short, an allergy is an immune response to a range of things from certain foods, pollens, pets, synthetic chemicals to prescription drugs, the living environment and toiletries to name but a few. The herbal approach is to initially identify thecausative agent (referred to as allergen) and to offer comprehensive and practical advice on eliminating it or avoiding it as far as possible. The holistic aspect of treatment will examine theimmune system (after all, allergy is very much an immune response) and making a thorough review of gut function. Often, many patients who are prone to allergies have a leaky gut – this means that food substances (including some waste material) pass directly through thegut wall into the tissues and spaces within the gut cavity, rather than being absorbed into thebloodstream. This has disastrous consequences for thehealth, not only because of possible toxic burden but also because the immune system can get to thepoint where it cannot cope. Combined with poor digestive function, imbalance in the gut flora, stress and other illnesses can put a heavy strain on the body resulting in immune breakdown.
Firstly, cutting out trigger foods such as dairy and wheat for example can reduce thesymptoms significantly as they are known allergens. Preparing theground for proper gut function is very important. Bitter herbs such as gentian or wormwood will improve digestive function as well as taking some probiotics (depending on the severity of the allergy) to boost gut flora. This will ensure that any toxic burden is reduced to a minimum because thegut will be able to fend off any invasion of potential allergens ingested from food. Examining digestive patterns is also critical as this will determine possible causes in cases where theallergen has not yet been identified.

The next step is to address the immune function and boost this system which has probably become overburdened with thetoxic triggers on a regular basis. Herbs such as echinacea, marigold or ginseng will all boost the immune system. After this, the traditional allergy herbs such as nettle, eyebright, elderflowers, ephedra and chamomile will all address the various symptoms of allergy such as inflammation, watery and itch eyes and sneezing etc… and supplements such as quercetin and omega 3 essential fatty acids will replenish the system with theimportant nutrients. Supplements of butterbur (petasites) has shown favourable results in trials but sadly, now removed from sale due to concerns over liver toxicity/damage. A herbalist should be able to make a comprehensive review of each case and work out an individual dietary plan with specific herbal treatments for the allergy in question.
Hay fever

This is also called allergic rhinitis and much of the same treatment approaches apply as in allergies (see above). However, a consultation with a herbalist is strongly advised so that an individual treatment plan can be worked out and to identify which pollens are theculprits in each case.


ymptomatic Approach to Treatment

Sore throat, blocked nose, catarrh

Honey & lemon, oils of eucalyptus, menthol, peppermint and cajeput (inhalation), licorice
Sinus congestion

Inhalations of clove, menthol and eucalyptus oils
Headaches & migraines

Feverfew tablets, willow bark tablets
Earache, blocked ears or sinuses

Garlic oil, mullein, echinacea, goldenseal

Specific Help for Allergic Rhinitis

Allergic reactions
Petasites or butterbur (no longer available for sale or use), echinacea, eyebright, chamomile, quercitin supplements

For further information, contact the College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy ( or the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (

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