Woman with hayfever

Walking around the Oxfordshire countryside last week, I couldn't help notice the many fields of yellow at different stages of flowering. Of course, a very familiar sight at this time of year, not only in Oxfordshire, but across the country. Rape has many benefits to the farmer, firstly it controls blackgrass through stale seedbeds and then because of the earliness of maturity it provides an early entry for winter wheat, helping to spread the workload, free up storage as well as the farmer’s cash flow. Rape seed is grown for animal feed, vegetable seed oil and biodiesel.

This blog is not about Rape, but rather potential hay fever that flowering Rape can cause as well as the dust that is created when harvesting, also causing allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and extending the hay fever season by several months. My horse suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary disease (COPD) and on seeing the beautiful yellow fields I started applying “Allergy” drops to the inside of his nose on a daily basis to dampen the sensitivity and limit the histamine response.

Symptoms of hay fever vary from person to person, but commonly include streaming eyes, sneezing, mucous, thick head and the inability to sleep well. Sometimes the symptoms can be so bad that nothing from the chemist is effective in dampening the allergic response, making the life of the hay fever sufferer miserable.

These familiar symptoms of hay fever are caused by the release of histamine and other inflammatory chemicals usually worse in hot weather.  Hay fever can be an atopic condition, meaning there is a hypersensitivity to developing a certain reaction to that stimulant, often occurring when immunity is lowered.

Start Treatment Early

For treatment to be most effective beginning before the pollen season gets underway is important, as this helps the body to de-sentise the immune system prior to being mobbed by the many pollens that fill the air in springtime.  Supporting the immune system is a wise preventative making daily life bearable during the worst part of the season.  Two beautiful natural remedies include local honey (1-2 tablespoons, 2-3 times daily), as well as 8-10 drops of Echinacea taken daily for approximately 1-2 months prior to the season beginning.

If you are already too late for prevention in this year, you are looking at treatment to limit the inflammatory response and therefore anti-inflammatory herbs such as Turmeric (Curcuma longa), Nettle (Urtica doica), Chamomile (Matricaria recucita), and Lemon Melissa (Melissa officinalis). These herbs will help with the reduction of symptoms once they start. To help your body build its defences try drinking organic Chamomile, organic Nettle or organic Lemon Melissa teas. Teas made with these herbs can be mixed together or drunk separately.

Nettles (Urtica doica), are already rampant and ready for picking. The tops picked and brewed with some boiled water make a delicious tea. The actions of nettles are anti-histamine, anti-inflammatory, clearing heat and toxins from the body while nourishing and cleansing the blood. Nettle tea is also an excellent way to conducting a spring cleanse.  If using fresh ingredients, use the leaves at the top of the plant to make an infusion with two spoons of leaves to two cups of boiled, filtered water.  Drink several times a day for best results. When the elderflowers come out you can also do the same with them.

Plantain (Plantago major and lanceolata)

If caught out in the countryside with an attack of hay fever Plantain (Plantago major and lanceolata) can be chewed to de-sensitize the mucous membranes to the allergens, drying up any mucous as well as streaming eyes within about 15 minutes, overall making the countryside experience more bearable and fun.

This fantastic herb ally can be found on most countryside walks as well as in your lawn. The variant found in the lawn is usually Plantago major. The roundish ribbed leaves lie flat on the ground becoming a part of the lawn. While out walking Plantago lanceolata is often more common than major and easily spotted as its long-ribbed leaves stand almost upright in the grass, like a periscope assessing the situation around it. The leaves can grow to about 12 inches in height and when flowering have the distinctive brown flower with little white pollen sacks making the flower look like a microphone that is drawing attention of the pollinators.

As hay fever causes hyperactivity of mucous membranes picking and chewing a leaf for about 15-20 minutes, without swallowing can be a great relief. Spit the macerated leaf out and if needed pick a fresh leaf to chew. Plantain is astringent as well as a decongestant, expectorant and bronchodilator, thus relieving irritated airways.

Plantago is a hiker’s and camper’s friend from another angle, as the astringency of the herb will also stop bleeding, including nose bleeds. Chew the leaf to soften it and then apply to the cut and either hold in place for 5-10 minutes or tie it up with a handkerchief, scarf or other suitable item.

The other hazard that might befall you when out hiking or camping is an incidental insect bite. Applying a macerated leaf will decrease inflammation and draw out any infection. The leaves can also be used in the mouth for the treatment of gum infections. Hold the chewed leaf against the gum as you would for rolled tobacco leaf when you want a nicotine-fix without actually smoking.

Tips to Dampen the Histamine Response

To dampen the histamine response, it is also important to avoid foods that heighten sensitivity, including all dairy products, fast and processed foods and sugar, as well as any food additives, especially Tartrazine (E102) which is found in processed foods and surprisingly can be found in some vitamin supplements.

Increasing your intake of fruit and vegetables that have high vitamin C content can also be helpful, as Vitamin C appears to reduce histamine production as well as boosting the immune system.  Found in peppers, berries, citrus fruits and green vegetables from the cabbage family, amongst others, often together with carotenoids, providing Vitamin A as well as a wide variety of antioxidants.  Selenium and Vitamin E is also important.  Sources of the latter can be found in nuts and seeds, while selenium is found in Brazil nuts, whole grains, many raw berries, and avocados. When possible, be sure to eat foods from an organic source, to limit intake of chemical toxins present in foods due to spraying with herbicides and pesticides as well as watering from polluted water sources.

In summary:

  • Start treatment early by actively supporting your immune system
  • Avoid mucous forming foods, especially dairy
  • Drink anti-histamine herbal teas
  • Consult a herbalist who will be able to prescribe further actions to your daily regime to manage your seasonal sensitivities and de-sensitize the allergic response.

To make an appointment to address your hay fever and other allergies and intolerances, please click on the link:



The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods - Drs Michael Murray and Joseph Pizzorno with Lara Pizzorno, MA, LMT

The Complete Herbal Tutor – Anne McIntryre

Encylopedia of Herbal Medicine – Andrew Chevalier, FNIMH

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