Seasonal allergies can destroy an otherwise beautiful day, especially among those of us who have done a lot of travelling or have moved from one bioregion to another. Many folks turn to Benadryl in desperation, then waste the rest of what would otherwise be a lovely, productive day sacked out on the porch with a medicine-head high. While I understand the desperation behind reaching for the magical decongestants, I urge you to reach for homemade allergy syrup instead. You can make it yourself, and you can still drive the tractor without fear of passing out and rolling the thing. If you take it every day the intensity of your allergies may lessen over time. Seriously, the pharmaceutical companies will not take as good care of you as you can take of yourself.
Allergies Attack! Allergies are essentially your immune system overreacting and slaughtering innocent bystanders. Your immune cells have to tell the difference between things that belong in your body and things that don’t, and then annihilate the intruders to protect the fortress. If your immune cells are lazy or drunk on the job, they could miss an intruder—and then you get sick—or they could overreact and attack cells that aren’t really a threat. Pollen, dog hair, dust, and small children are not threats to your wellbeing, and yet some people develop allergies.
It’s not clear what causes folks to develop allergies, but it’s probably connected to an inappropriate inflammatory response related to chronic physical stress, especially from eating unhealthy fats, having chronic vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and being exposed to significant pollution. There’s a reason allergies and asthma affect the urban poor more than other populations: if your body is in a constant state of hypervigilance (from pollution, junk food etc.), your immune cells are more likely to overreact because they’re halfway to red alert already.
How to Eat Right, in 15 Seconds or Less: Eat real food. Immune cells are made out of fat and need vitamins and minerals to work. If you’re plagued by allergies, quit eating that processed garbage and focus on anti-inflammatory foods, especially omega-3 fatty acids (“good fats”) like in avocados, nuts, and fish. Vitamins and minerals are found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and animal products—in other words, actual food. If you eat like crap your cells will be made out of crap. Don’t be a dumbass and buy into the myth that the FDA or big pharma has your back because they don’t, fool—they directly benefit from your poor health choices.
Honey, Nectar of the Gods/Bees: Honey is a famous seasonal allergy tonic (something you take for a long time to reduce a chronic problem). I also use it as a formula base for other kinds of allergies and chronic inflammation including inflammatory autoimmune disorders. Promoting healthy immune function reduces inappropriate responses like allergies, so honey probably works because it’s an anti-inflammatory and a probiotic nutritive. Honey contains vitamins, minerals, amino acids, bioavailable enzymes that aid digestion, and healthy bacteria that enhance the function of your body. These nutritive aspects of honey are anabolic, meaning honey builds the body’s reserves of strength and nutrition, enhancing overall structure and function. Honey is especially appropriate for folks who tend towards deficiency and are chronically frazzled or worn out.
Only use raw honey because pasteurization kills the probiotic critters and denatures many of the proteins that give honey its medicine. Use local honey exclusively; yes, honey from Brazil is cheaper than the fancy local stuff, but the fancy local stuff contains trace amounts of the pollen that’s actually making you feel sick, and exposure to tiny amounts of pollen over time desensitizes your immune system. My favorite is wildflower honey, which is dark and rich with all that wild plant magic, but blueberry or tupelo or whatever is made in your area will do just fine. More about honey here.
So to make a really great formula against allergies, start with honey. You can keep it simple and just eat a tablespoon of raw, local honey every morning (darn), or you can add herbs to make it work better. Honey will help allergies eventually, but if you feel sick today you want something that will help right now—and that’s where the herbs come in.
As always, I strongly recommend choosing herbs that grow in your bioregion. These examples have a wide range, but you’re better off using a local substitute than ordering this or that miracle wonder herb from wherever. The land around you provides; figure out what categories (herbal actions) you need, and then find a local version. No sense in ordering something from Siberia when a fresher, cleaner version is growing in your neighbor’s hedgerow. Remember to look up any herb you’re planning to use to make sure its precautions are safe for you.
Goldenrod: High summer is the ideal time to make your allergy syrup because it’s goldenrod’s heyday. Goldenrod is a strong astringent, so it sucks up extra moisture and tightens mucous membranes (mouth, sinuses, GI tract, etc.), giving an anti-inflammatory effect. When you take the gooey wetness and inflammation out of mucous membranes, most allergy symptoms disappear (also great for UTI’s, but that’s another topic). The beauty of goldenrod is that it kicks in right away: you feel sick, you take goldenrod, you feel better. If you don’t feel better, take more goldenrod, and then you feel better. It’s safe for your kids, too.
Poor goldenrod has a false reputation for being a major allergen. We can be allergic to pollen that floats through the air from wind-pollinated plants. Although goldenrod is blooming when folks are sneezing, it’s pollinated by bees. Goldenrod pollen isn’t floating through the air, hoping to land on a flower and make little goldenrod babies to continue the genetic line—the bees do that. The culprit is ragweed, a wide spread wind-pollinated plant that blooms at the same time as goldenrod. Looking at the two plants side by side, it’s easy to see that ragweed is wind pollinated, with its little green flowers hanging down from its armpits and swaying in the breeze, whereas goldenrod is covered in bees, who are in turn covered in its pollen.
There’s a staggering number of species of goldenrod (Solidago spp.), and you can use any species for medicine as long as chewing on the leaf dries your mouth out unpleasantly right away. Harvest goldenrod by cutting the stem with pruners. Choose flowers that are about to open; they will continue to open as they dry. Chop goldenrod up and tincture it fresh at 1:2 75%, or hang the stems in a dark, cool place to dry for tea.
Nettles: I’m sorry to repeat myself, but nettle is so wonderful against allergies that it would be herbal sacrilege not to mention it here. Nettle is a cooling anti-inflammatory strength-builder (like honey!) that is a famous tonic against seasonal allergies and allergies that manifest themselves in skin and mucous membranes. Using nettles in your allergy syrup requires some planning ahead, since we harvest nettles in the spring. I use spring nettles tincture in allergy formula, or you can use dried nettles. It’s important not to harvest nettle leaf once it blooms, as it can have weird effects on your hormones and irritate the kidneys. Please see the article in Issue #2 for more about harvesting nettles.
Holy Basil: Holy Basil, also called Tulsi, Tulasi, or Sacred Basil, is an adaptogen, an herb that balances different body systems by changing how our endocrine system (hormones) reacts to stress. Different adaptogens work best on different body systems, called having an affinity. Holy basil has an affinity for the immune system: if the immune system is overreacting, like with allergies, holy basil will calm it down; if it’s underreacting and you’re sick all the time, holy basil will jumpstart it. It also has an affinity for the nervous system (stress, anxiety, depression, memory) and digestive issues related to stress or immune function, among other uses. You should feel something immediately, but its real effects take time to kick in. Taken daily, holy basil can help retrain your immune system’s lousy response to allergens.
Harvest holy basil when it’s in full bloom by cutting it part of the way up the stem, at an angle above a leaf node, to give it a chance to come back this season. Hang dry for tea, or tincture fresh at 1:2 75%.
Some Other Adaptogens: Adaptogens are one of the main types of herbs that people order from far away because of their supposed miraculous properties. Again, there’s something in your area that will work, you just have to figure out what it is. I love holy basil for allergy syrup because it’s delicious, effective, and it’s insect-pollinated (meaning you’re not allergic to it and it’s got trace pollen). That said, there are a lot of other adaptogens that work well on the immune system, so if your growing season is too short for holy basil, try something else. Nice cold climate adaptogens include artist’s conk (Northern reishi, Ganoderma applanatum or tsugae, which is milder), chaga fungus (Inonotus obliquus), licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota or G. glabra), and schisandra (S. chinensis). If you can’t grow holy basil, maybe one of these will be your herb.
Seasonal Allergy Syrup Recipe
In its simplest form, syrup is medicinal tea mixed with sweetener. This one is made to work well and last for a long time. It contains tea, honey, and tincture, yielding a delicious, potent medicine. It tastes like medicinal candy and is safe for kids. You can substitute dried herbs for fresh if you’re making it out of season, but then also try to make a fresh one next summer–it’s very potent. Yields about 15 ounces.
You will need:
6 oz raw local honey
- Goldenrod, 2 T fresh
- Holy Basil, 2 T fresh
- Nettles, 1-2 T dried
- Your 4th herb, ½ T dried or 1 T fresh
1 oz each of the following tinctures:
- Holy Basil
Follow the syrup-making instructions here, way down at the bottom. Put about half of each herb in the honey and half in the tea.
This article was originally published in The Country Grind Quaterly, an excellent rag full of fabulous articles. Check it out.