Dr. Michael Tierra L.AC., O.M.D.
Spring is a time of new growth and the flowering of ideas generated through the Winter. It is also a time when animals typically shed their heavier winter coat for the lighter one of summer. The air seems filled with new hope and positivety together with various pollens, dust and animal fur which for many, seem to be the stuff with which allergies are made.
Could it be that for many, spring allergies is an expression of underlying psychological resistance to expansion and growth? Traditional medicine teaches that diseases of one season are actually created in the season previous. This being possible, what is it about our winter lifestyle that predisposes some to allergies in the spring?
Winter is a time of storage, where we might occupy our mind with weightier ideas as we nourish our bodies with heavier foods. An inability to digest the stuff of winter could leave us with undigested reactive residues in the form of mucosal proteins which trigger a histaminic reaction; the cause of springtime allergies.
Perhaps one of the most important considerations in successfully dealing with respiratory allergies is the elimination of dietary stress. Certain foods seem to be particularly allergenic and one of the most important to try eliminating is dairy products in the form of milk and cheese. Refined foods, foods high in sugar and white flour are also a problem. Many are also allergic to wheat and wheat flour. Finally, raw fruits, juices and especially citrus seem to create a predisposition to allergies.
Certainly one of the ways to prevent allergies is to include more local wild foods in our diet, especially nettles. When harvesting fresh nettles it is necessary to wear gloves and bring a knife to clip the young shoots and leaves. These can be dried for future use as a tea or immediately made into a delicious soup along with other complimentary vegetables.
Nettles is fantastically high in vitamins A and C, many important minerals and an unusually high percentage of protein for a leafy green, up to 40% protein! When cooked, nettles loose their sting an the early spring shoots that are best. Many people have found very good results from taking nettles tea three times daily to prevent springtime allergies.
Other herbal approaches to prevent and treat springtime allergies include the use of certain spicy tasting herbs that help stimulate digestive fire and dry mucus. One such formula is called Three Spices Sinus Support. It consists of equal parts powdered black pepper (Piper nigrum), ginger (zingiberis officinalis) and pippli long pepper (piper longum) mixed into a paste with honey. A combination of black pepper and ginger with honey will also work well. Three Spices Sinus Support with pippli pepper is available as a Planetary Formula. This is especially useful when one suffers from internal coldness with clear mucus draining from the upper respiratory passages.
For runny eyes and to dry the sinuses, eyebright (euphrasia officinalis) is used. This can be taken internally by steeping a teaspoonful of the tea in a cup of water. Drink three cups daily.
Ma Huang (ephedra sinensis) is probably the best known herb for the treatment of respiratory allergies, colds and asthma. Ma Huang is a natural source of epinephrine which has a physiological effect that is similar to adrenaline. It tends to grow in high deserts and is found on many continents including Asia and North America. The Asian Ma Huang is considered to have the highest concentration of ephedrine but there is some difference among herbalists as to whether the North American varieties are effective. All species are known to have similar usage, which besides the treatment of respiratory ailments, include treating arthritic and rheumatic complaints (another auto-immune disease).
Ma huang is best taken in formula with other herbs to help catalyse and buffer its stimulating effects. One combination which I call Mullein Lung Complex consists of 3 parts ma huang (ephedra sinensis), 2 parts elecampane root (inula helinum), 2 parts mullein leaf (verbascum thapsus), 2 parts wild cherry bark (prunus serotina), 2 parts licorice (glycyrrhiza glabra), 2 parts platycodon (platycodon multiflorum), 1 part ginger root, 1 part cinnamon (cinnamon zeylandicum) and 1 part wild ginger (asarum canadensis). It can be freely taken at least three times daily to help control and ultimately overcome respiratory allergies as well as clear the lungs and bronchioles. Mullein Lung Complex is a good combination to help lessen the damaging effects of tobacco for those who are unable to quit smoking.
Still another herb which is considered a pest on most continents and that figures prominently as a treatment for allergic rhinitis is commonly known as cocklebur (xanthium stramonium). It is the prickly fruit of this plant that is used by the Chinese as an alternative to ma huang to clear the nasal passages. Crush about two teaspoons of the fruit pods and combine with six spicy magnolia blossoms and a teaspoon of licorice root and steep in a cup of boiling water 20 minutes, covered and drink warm. Both cocklebur and magnolia blossoms must either be harvested and dried for future use or they may be purchased from Chinese pharmacies.
I have literally treated hundreds of people over the years for allergic symptoms using the dietary and herbal approaches described above. Allergies seem to be one condition for which diet and herbs are a very effective methods of treatment.