Hay fever season
Depending on which particular plant pollen you are allergic to, you may already be dreading the start of the hay fever season. People who are allergic to tree pollen can start experiencing symptoms as early as February (usually lasting through to June). Grass pollen is released from May to July, and weed pollen spans April to September. Some particularly sensitive individuals may be allergic to all or a combination of plants, meaning that they can suffer for many months. People who are allergic to mould (a big problem in Cornwall, where I live and practice) may suffer symptoms all year round, although peak season is September and October.
Hay fever symptoms
People who suffer from hay fever often only seek treatment when they start experiencing symptoms, which include streaming and itchy nose, throat and eyes, or blocked nose and sinuses, fatigue, headache, poor sleep and low mood. Prior to the onset of symptoms, they tend to take an optimistic ‘wait-and-see’ approach: it might not be as bad this year. And sometimes it isn’t. But when it is as bad as ever, or worse, there is little to be done apart from treat the symptoms (and stay indoors).
Herbal medicine can help relieve and manage the symptoms of hay fever and alleviate the need to take conventional medication which can have side effects and lead to other health problems. When you see a qualified, experienced herbalist, the underlying cause of hay fever, ie why you react adversely to substances that other people cope perfectly well with, will also be addressed, the aim being to reduce your sensitivity and therefore your allergic reaction.
Desensitise your body
A more effective strategy is to seek herbal help before the hay fever season starts and you start experiencing symptoms. Using a personalised approach and herbs chosen specifically for you, a herbalist can help rebalance, strengthen and, in effect, desensitise your body, reducing and hopefully preventing a reaction to the substances it was previously sensitive to. A herbalist will take into consideration any other allergies or sensitivities you may have. Allergies tend to have a cumulative effect, so the more substances you are sensitive to, the more you are likely to become sensitive to, or the more severe your symptoms may become, as your body becomes more and more stressed and weakened, and less able to cope.
There is a wide choice of herbs to choose from, including those with antihistamine, anti-inflammatory, anti-pruritic (anti-itching) properties, and it is the skill of the herbalist that determines which herbs are best suited to you.
I believe that using local plants is particularly beneficial, in the same way that many people find eating local honey helps alleviate their symptoms. The theory is that the local bees are feeding off the same pollens to which your are allergic, so their honey has an immunomodulatory effect. In other words, it acts like a natural vaccine.
Herbs for hay fever
I harvest my own herbs, and prepare my own tinctures for use when treating people for hay fever and other allergies. I live on The Lizard peninsula in Cornwall, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, where much of the land is organic, and the medicinal plants and herbs I harvest here are rich, strong and vibrant, and have an almost tangible energy. Those that commonly feature in remedies for hay fever include nettle, plantain, elderflower and eyebright.
Pre-hay fever season
The sooner someone with hay fever seeks herbal help, the better. Ideally, I like to see patients 2-3 months before ‘their’ hay fever season starts. That way, we can strengthen and rebalance all the body systems, including the immune system, so that it recognises, and stops overreacting to, natural substances.
Find out more about herbal medicine
If you’d like to find out more about how herbal medicine works, please take a look at my About Herbal Medicine page.