Category Archives: Herbalism

Herbs for Your Allergies

The long anticipated spring is on its way and many of us are eager to get outside and admire budding trees and blooming flowers. If you are one of the 20% of Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies, however, you may feel apprehensive to venture outside for fear of the inevitable itching, sneezing, and runny nose [3]. Most sufferers receive marginal relief from pharmaceutical drugs but also may experience unwanted side effects [1]. Thankfully, some natural remedies are proven to be as effective for relieving allergy symptoms without the prevailing side effects [1, 2, 4, 5].

Currently, the most common treatment for seasonal allergies is antihistamines [6]. A wide range of other anti-inflammatory drugs such as corticosteroids, decongestants, and nasal mast cell stabilizers are also available and are used alone or in combination [3]. However, despite such advances in modern drug therapy, only 26% of allergy sufferers are satisfied with the results. User dissatisfaction may be because each drug targets a specific symptom or set of symptoms, resulting in only partial relief. Additionally, side effects ranging from impaired driving to cardiac arrhythmias are often considered an unsatisfactory trade-off [1].

Allergy symptoms are more than just uncomfortable, they can be quite debilitating. Affected individuals have impaired verbal learning, decision-making speed, psychomotor skills, concentration, and sleep resulting in increased work and school absences and decreased productivity. The growing prevalence of allergies is also a huge detriment to the health care system [1].

Fortunately, there are medically proven natural remedies for seasonal allergy relief without the side effects of pharmaceutical drugs. In fact, allergies have become one of the leading conditions for which patients seek alternative medicine [1].

The leaves of stinging nettle, or Urtica dioica, contain histamine, which is the primary anti-inflammatory marker for seasonal allergies. In fact, the herb acts similarly to antihistamine drugs but without the side effects [5]. Cultures around the world have used nettle for centuries to treat nasal and respiratory problems such as coughs, runny nose, chest congestion, asthma, and whooping cough. Taking 300-600 mg of freeze-dried nettle in capsule form daily is the recommended dosage; however, the effect only lasts a few hours. If symptoms persist, it can be taken twice daily [7]. Nettle also grows wild in much of the United States. It makes a wonderfully mild tea. Sautéed green, it can be added to nearly any dish. Please handle with care as the stinging hairs are quite painful until deactivated by a flash sauté. In rare cases, allergic reactions may occur [7].

Raw honey containing the pollen that is triggering an immune response has also been proven effective at treating seasonal allergies. In fact, one study found that the honey containing pollen was more effective than conventional medications at relieving patients of their symptoms [4]. So go ahead and add a spoonful of honey to your regimen; it certainly couldn’t hurt! Just be sure not to give it to infants under 12 months of age [7].

Butterbur, or Petasites hybridus, has been extensively studied and also proven effective at treating allergy symptoms. One study found butterbur as effective as the drug cetirizine, the active ingredient in Zyrtec, but without the drowsiness reported in patients taking cetirizine [2]. However, I consider butterbur a less favorable option since finding it in the wild is much rarer in comparison to its counterpart, stinging nettle, and its long-term effects are unknown. If you choose butterbur as your natural allergy remedy, do not use for longer than twelve weeks as you may develop side effects similar to many modern drug therapies. Short-term use of 32 milligrams taken four times per day has been proven very safe and effective. To ensure safety and efficacy, make sure the product is labeled hepatotoxic PA-free [7].

So please, breathe easy knowing there are remedies for your seasonal ailments that will enable you to venture outside without the added side effects. If you are a regular allergy sufferer, the greatest success is achieved by addressing your symptoms with a trained herbalist before the peak of allergy season.

Kristen McPhee, MS is a nutritionist and clinical herbalist practitioner in Marquette specializing in women’s health and Lyme disease. She graduated from Maryland University of Integrative Health, where she completed over 1,000 supervised clinical hours. For more information and to schedule a consultation, visit http://www.kristenmcphee.com.

Guo, R. & Pittler, M. (2007). Petasites hybridus (Butterbur) for Treating Allergic Rhinitis. Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies. 12(2): 81-84. doi: 10.1211/fact.12.2.0003.

Guo, R., Pittler, M., & Ernst, E. (2007). Herbal Medicines for the Treatment of Allergic Rhinitis: A Systematic Review. Annals of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, 99(6). doi: 10.1016/S1081-1206(10)60375-4.

Putnam, G., Godfrey, S., et al. Executive Summary – Treatments of Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis. Agency of Healthcare Research and Quality. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK153706/

Saarinen, K., Jantunen, J., Haahtela, T. (2011). Birch Pollen Honey for Birch Pollen Allergy – A Randomized Controlled Pilot Study. Int Arch Allergy Immunol. 155(2): 160-6. doi: 10.1159/000319821.

Sayin, I., Cingi, C., Oghan, F., Baykal, B., Ulusoy, S. (2013). Complementary Therapies in Allergic Rhinitis. ISRN Allergy. doi: 10.1155/2013/938751.

Thornhill, S. & Kelly, A. (2000). Natural Treatment for Perennial Allergic Rhinitis. 5(5). Retrieved from http://www.biomedsearch.com/article/Natural-Treatment-Perennial-Allergic-Rhinitis/

University of Maryland Medical System. (2015). Allergic Rhinitis. Retrieved April 8, 2015 from http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/allergic-rhinitis

*Article reprinted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Spring 2017 Issue, copyright 2017.

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Beginning Your Own Herb Garden

by Victoria Jungwirth

I gave a presentation recently to a class of students at NMU and was asked what herbs I would grow if I was just starting up an herb garden. I had to think for a moment because I don’t grow many herbs, using mostly wild-crafted plants, or herbs I buy because they don’t grow well in our climate. But I do have some things in my garden that I can’t imagine life without, all easy to grow for beginners, good basics for medicinal use, and available from most seed catalogs.

Nettles

(Urtica Dioica):  I have cultivated a good patch of nettles in my garden.  They arrived by accident in compost imported from the city, and I was very happy to see them. A perennial, they are one of the first greens to appear in spring, well before anything I might care to sow, and I pick the young leaves for steaming and eating. (I am very careful when picking and don’t mind a few stings, but if you do, wear gloves for this!) As the season progresses, I pick and dry bunches for tea in the winter and make a batch of tincture. Nettles are high in vitamins and minerals, especially iron, so they make a useful addition to winter teas and stews, and are a great tonic, especially for treating persistent skin problems. They are easily cultivated from a root cutting or from seed, and grow well in most garden situations.

Comfrey

(Symphytum Officinale): Another perennial that grows vigorously, the pretty blue flowers attract bees to the garden, which is an added bonus. Comfrey appears early too and I add small leaves to salads, but they quickly become too furry to be palatable. Comfrey is the consummate healing herb for open wounds, speeding the healing process and reducing scarring. It can be infused in oil, or the leaves can be used fresh as a poultice. Excess leaves can be used to make manure tea for the garden by rotting them down in a bucket of water. The smell will quickly remind you why this is called “manure” tea! Again, a root cutting is the easiest way to propagate, but it can be grown from seed as well and grows anywhere!

Calendula

(Calendula Officinalis): This is an annual, so it needs to be sown each year, but the seeds are easy to save, and it often reseeds itself! The flowers are a beautiful addition to any garden and continue flowering late into fall, tolerating the first few frosts. Sometimes it’s hard to bring myself to harvest the flowers, but the more you pick, the more flowers will come. Calendula is mildly antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, so it is useful for skin rashes or abrasions, especially if infection is suspected or there is swelling. It makes a great massage or baby oil, so consider putting some up for gifts. Pick the flowers on a dry, sunny day and cover them with good quality oil for four to six weeks. It’s as easy as that!

This year I grew feverfew and chamomile for the first time. The feverfew did well and I was able to make a batch of tincture with it, but the chamomile was not as productive. I’ve found some non-native plants do not produce such strong medicine, even if they appear to cultivate well. Echinacea is an example. I got some growing in my garden, but when I harvested the roots and made tincture, it was nowhere near as strong as the product I made with roots from the West Coast. I’m assuming that the shorter season and less sunshine contributed to this effect. So there is lots of room for experimentation.

Victoria Jungwirth is the owner of Wilderness Herbs and specializes in local medicinal plants. She lives in a remote corner of Marquette county where she and her husband build birch bark canoes. She is also a manager at the Marquette Food Co-op.

This article was reprinted with permission from the Spring 2013 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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Herbal First Aid, by V. Jungwirth

In this area, lots of us play hard all winter, but the arrival of warmer weather brings people out of the house, ready to hike, bike, swim and camp, with lots more opportunities for minor injuries, and with no snow to cushion falls. Some basic herbal first aid knowledge and a few supplies can save the day, especially if you seek remote areas in your recreational pursuits. But even in your backyard, the following information should be helpful.

Cuts and Abrasions: Comfrey is by far the best herb for treating wounds. It promotes rapid cell growth so it speeds up the healing process and helps reduce scarring. Find a salve you like that has comfrey as a main ingredient. Other herbs that are sometimes used with comfrey are yarrow, which is an astringent, plantain, to sooth itching or calendula to help prevent infection.

Sprains and Bruises: Arnica is a specific treatment for bruising, but it should not be used on broken skin. Arnica salve or oil should be applied to sprains or strained muscles. Wintergreen oil can also be used topically to relieve pain, and it’s a good idea to keep a pain relief tincture such as willow bark on hand.

Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, Swimmer’s Itch: As many of us know from itchy experience, any of these misfortunes can ruin a trip, while providing vivid memories for years to come. The best treatment is clay. We always carry a small amount of French green clay as it has many first aid applications and is light to carry. For itchy rashes, mix it with water and paint it on the affected area. It’s very similar to commercial kaolin products. Jewelweed is the herbal antidote to poison ivy, and often grows nearby. It’s a semi-succulent and the juice from the stems can be smeared straight onto a rash. The whole plant can also be mashed and used as a poultice, (chewing works well!) and salves and sprays are available. Plantain is also effective at relieving itching.

Insect Bites and Stings: It’s impossible to avoid insect bites in the U.P. and hard to find aggressive natural repellents. Essential oils diluted with olive oil can be helpful, or diluted with water and applied in a spray bottle. Citronella, eucalyptus, camphor and tea tree all have repellent qualities, and allow you to custom-mix a smell that appeals to you. Once bitten, the treatments for poison ivy can help or calendula can be applied if the bites have been scratched. Plantain is particularly good for treating bee stings.

Victoria Jungwirth is the owner of Wilderness Herbs and specializes in local medicinal plants. She lives in a remote corner of Marquette County where she and her husband build birch bark canoes. She is also a manager at the Marquette Food Co-op.

Reprinted from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Summer 2011 issue.

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