by Susan E. Stanton, BFC Wellness Deptartment
March has just stormed in, the first pussy willow has caught my eye, and I now permit myself to wonder aloud, “How soon will the bees be able to get some pollen?” By the time you read this that may have already begun. The first arrival of pollen (from willow, birch, crocus, etc.) in the hive tells the bees they can start to raise young to rebuild the strength of the colony after the depleting winter. When a beekeeper sees this, she or he can take a deep breath knowing that the bees have survived winter.
Just as I feel that relief, I start to see a related plethora of products like BFC’s Aller-calm and Herb Pharm’s Pollen Defense (aka eyebright/nettle) flying off the Co-op’s shelves. To those who experience intense sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose, sinusitis, etc., from seasonal allergies these formulas can bring rapid relief.
We’re lucky to have many effective, natural options for relieving allergy symptoms, but maybe the symptoms are trying to give us information about what our bodies are needing. Shall we take a broader look at the allergy phenomena?
Although heredity can play a role in one’s tendency toward hay fever, the manifestation of allergies can be a sign that the body’s detoxification systems are overwhelmed. To lessen the toxic load on the body, a primarily plant-based diet (not too much meat, dairy, sugar, alcohol, drugs, and processed foods) is a great starting point. Drinking several glasses of water every day is equally important.
Since water, food, and air quality can be less than ideal, detoxifying the body with the aid of herbs makes sense. Include cleansing herbs like dandelion, burdock, or nettles in your diet or health routine. These and others like red clover and yellow dock probably grow near your home. Go on an herb walk with a local herbalist this spring so you can learn to identify and use these helpful herbs. These and many other useful cleansing herbs including milk thistle and turmeric are available at the Co-op in bulk, capsule, or tincture. We also have several herbal formulas to assist with ongoing detoxification. Ask the Wellness staff to help you find them. For more intensive cleansing, Renew Life makes one-week, two-week, or four-week cleansing kits like Organic Total Body Cleanse. Whether you are doing a formal cleansing program, or just trying to eat better and drink more water, supporting the body’s elimination of waste can leave you feeling renewed and potentially less prone to allergies.
Of all the cleansing herbs mentioned above, stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is probably the one most often associated with allergy relief. Life-affirming nettle leaves offer a natural antihistamine and anti-inflammatory, a mineral-rich tonic for bones and connective tissues, a cleansing diuretic, etc. Take full advantage of nettle leaves’ many healing properties by drinking three cups of tea made from its leaves every day for six-eight weeks prior to allergy season. Allergies already taking hold? Time to reach for freeze-dried stinging nettle capsules, which can alleviate allergy symptoms that are happening right now. When the right side of my face suddenly swelled up due to an unknown allergy last year I dissolved one of New Chapter’s Histamine Take Care lozenges (made from nettles) in my mouth and the itching, redness, and swelling was better in about ten minutes.
Many nutrients are important in helping the immune system deal with airborne pollens, molds, and other possible allergens. For people with allergies, vitamin C combined with bioflavonoids is as important now as it is during flu season. You can get bioflavonoids from eating citrus, rose hips, and peppers. Try BFC’s Bio C Caps or In Joy Organics’ Chai C, a rich source of herb-based bioflavonoids. Quercetin, a specific flavonoid, is also a good antihistamine and is often found in combination with vitamin C and bromelain.
B Vitamins, particularly vitamin B5 or pantothenic acid, is also important to those who suffer from allergies. Interestingly, a great natural source of vitamin B5 is bee pollen. This may be one reason bee pollen has historically been used to treat allergies. Another theory is that when we ingest a small amount of pollen on a regular basis our bodies eventually become desensitized, no longer reacting to airborne pollen as an allergen. Based on this idea of desensitization, it’s best to eat bee pollen from honey bees that forage on local flowers. Start with one nugget of pollen and gradually build up to as much as a tablespoon per day.
As you can imagine, exploring the inside of a beehive (or a stinging nettles patch) can be a stressful, uncomfortable experience. I find, however, that if I approach the bees (or nettles) with a calm awareness it becomes a joy-filled meditation. How might our experience of “allergy season” be different if we approach the pollen, the air, or the body from the same perspective of reverence and wonder this spring?