Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Allergies Blog Part 1: Spring Fever & Intro to Allergies

  The idea behind spring fever historically, comes from a physical ailment, to what we now describe as mentally going a ‘up the wall’, from so much snow, cold, and just wanting some nice warm spring weather. Historically, this was a saying for what used to physically happen to people after eating lots of preserved, heavily salted meats, among other goods, for the winter. After being dormant for so long on this diet, a person’s blood was thought to be thick due to the high intake of meat, and lack of fresh greens.  Thus when someone ate their first spring greens, they came down with ‘spring fever’, a feverish state of shock, due to their body and liver not being able to process the food.

Burdock Leaves
            So now that you understand what spring fever is, lets go over some excellent cleansing herbs to help your body cope with this type of diet change. Though being from and still living in Minnesota, I most definitely eat differently in the winter. Some of the most excellent ‘spring-fever’ herbs, tend to cleanse the blood, liver, gallbladder, and kidneys. A few of my favorites, include: Sassafras, Dandelion, Stinging Nettle, Burdock, and Red Clover. Starting with Sassafras, Sassafras albidum, coming from the Laurel family, was found to be a historically useful, and commonly used spring-fever herbs. When European colonists found themselves in short supply of food, and medicine when they arrived to North America, they realized that “any berry, leaf or root could either save or kill them” (Stewart, 192). Sassafras was one of these plants, being a highly aromatic tree native to the East Coast. Its leaves and root bark noted in 1773 were medicinally utilized, in the colonies: “to promote perspiration, to attenuate thick and viscous humors, to remove obstructions, to cure the gout and the palsy.” (Stewart, 192).  Sassafras used to also be very prevelant in the Appalachian area, though I did not find this when I interned with United Plant Savers at ‘Goldenseal Sanctuary, in Rutland, Ohio, in the Southeast Appalachians. My group found some in the wild, and we were inadvertently lucky to come upon a HUGE uprooted sassafras tree, and collected root bark to make tea out of. Though, Sassafras’ root and root bark, traditionally was used to make and flavor Root Beer; best harvested in the fall when the plant’s energy is in the ground. Sassafras has three different-shaped leaves…mitten, closed hand, and pinkie-and-thumb out (rocker leaf). The leaves are mucilaginous (quenches thirst), bark looks like small hooves and are orange and green in color. The leaves are demulcent, so it’s good for someone whose mouth is dry from talking. Take this plant internally to cool blood, and externally is a warming herb—ironic.  English colonies in Virginia exported about 40 tons a year to England, which than replaced black tea for a while. Known to be a blood thinner, and good for the kidneys and heart, Sassafras is also a heroic herb like Bloodroot and Goldenseal. Sassafras leaves are the key ingredient in gumbo, and was so highly regarded as a plant by pioneers that they made bible boxes, baby cribs and chicken coops out of them. To make tea out of the root bark, take a few wide strips of it dried, and add it to 4 cups, and after the water is boiling throw the root bark pieces in the water, simmer for 5-8 minutes and enjoy! Sassafras is a very good herb to add to bad tasting tinctures, as 7Song my herbal acquaintance from my Ohio internship, states that it’s best in 95% alcohol, in a 1:2 ratio (herb to menstrum). 7Song also states that, “some things are medicine just for smelling good!”
Stinging Nettle Urtica diocia 
Findhorn, Scotland
            Next is Dandelion:  
“Golden lads and girls all must, as chimney sweepers, come to dust”
~William Shakespeare (1)
            Being one of the most loved and “esteemed plants of the herbalist” (2), especially by the famous Arabian herbalist Avincenna, and was referred to as “blessed medicine” (3), in the 18th Century in Europe. Though a native to Greece, the Dandelion has always been used medicinally, and as food, throughout the world, but more-so in Germany, China and England. Across the world, though, it’s loved by foragers and herbalists alike, such as Rosemary Gladstar who is, “convinced, [that dandelion] is one of the greatest herbs of all time. The entire plant is restorative and rejuvenating”(4). Besides it’s popular reputation by historical, and current-day herbalists alike, there is no other herb in the United States that is so, “well known, so easily recognized, so much hated, so systematically singled out for extermination—and so little understood—as the dandelion”. Despite most people in the U.S. seeing the Dandelion as only a weed, it is, “ironically just those long, tenacious roots which contain the major portion of its wealth in natural minerals and alkaloids!”(5) so before you spray your lawn, think twice about exterminating this restorative herb.  (http://www.motherearthliving.com/in-the-garden/dandelion-uses-loathed-weed-cure-all-of-lawn.aspx#axzz2Wa6ei588)
            Stinging Nettle: There are many types of herbs, from relaxing and stimulating, to nerve soothing and pain relieving. There are also nutritive or nutrient dense herbs, of which Stinging Nettle is. Botanically known as Urtica dioica (Brown, 133), of the Urticaceae family (Bremness, 224), whose name comes from the latin urere, which literally translated means “to burn” (Jones, 237). This burning, or ‘stinging’ sensation, is said to be from the leave’s, “acrid fluid (formic acid) which burns the human skin, causing small blisters” (Baircali Levy, 110). A nitrogen and moist-soil loving perennial, it has seen some interesting folk beliefs. In Austria when burned, it was believed to keep you safe from being struck by lightning; in France, carried with Yarrow, believed to “quell a person’s fear” (Jones, 244). (Rest of Blog here: http://www.motherearthliving.com/natural-health/stinging-nettle-plant-underappreciated-green-of-the-wild.aspx#axzz2Wa6ei588) Burdock: Is a superb puriefier of blood (Seymour, 10), treats all blood-disorders, especially the chronic ones: gout, rheumatism, arthritis and sciatica (Levy, 25). Raspberry Leaf: Rubus idaeus (European), Rubus strigosus (North American), Roseaceae family. Overall was utilized by Gypsies for helping with pregnancy and childbirth. Also, is a general tonic, nervine, and used treat lack of energy, anemia and paleness, which could be due to lack of fresh greens (Levy, 130-131);  high in vitamins A, B, C and E, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous (Brown, 137).
Red Clover
Brookville, PA
            Red Clover: Trifoium pretense, Leguminosae family. Considered by herbalists, as being a God-given remedy, and thus appropriately called the “prize herb” for its alkaline property. Especially excellent for: cleansing the blood, soothing the nerves, promoting sleep and restoring fertility (Levy, 43). The Algonquin, used for whooping cough; Cherokee-fevers and ‘bright’s disease’-kidney ailment. Iroquouis took as a blood medicine, decoction of flowers (Moerman, 488). Being nutrient rich, and containing calcium and protein, it is very excellent and nourishing and purifying the blood, thus helping clear the skin and treat other blood-ailments. Nourishes, tones, and cleanse over time, often improving various metabolic functions: healing bones, nerve and muscles (Brown, 136).

“Yarrow is somewhat warm and dry and it has discreet and subtle powers for wounds.  If a person has been wounded by a blow, let the wound be washed with wine…. [and] gently tie warm yarrow… over the wound. It will draw out the infection …and the wound will heal”~ Hildegard of Bingen

            Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, has an interesting history behind the name. It is thought to originally from the Greek warrior Achilles using in during Homer’s Illiad.  Achilles taught his warrior’s the medicinal importance of this herb in healing wounds, though in several sources it was suggested that the Centuaur Chiron originally taught him what he know of this herb. The Nitinaht Native American tribe used yarrow as a “medicine for everything” (Moerman, 40). Medicinally, this bitter herb was: antiseptic, anti-catarrhal, excellent at treating respiratory ailments (hay fever, colds, flus), tuberculosis and pneumonia. As an aromatic and digestive bitter, yarrow helps the liver and gallbladder digest whatever you just ate, especially it if is very fatty! Helps kidney and liver problems, and treats sores, eczema, rashes, sunburn, burns (Moerman, 37-41) (Levy, 178-180) (Jones 2-11). (Rest of Blog here: http://thymesancientremedies.blogspot.com/2013/05/spring-herbs-foods-internship-excerpts.html).

Intro to Allergies: An allergen, if identified and removed, usually can help lessen a person’s reaction. Say it is a food allergy, than you can just eliminate it from your diet. Though, if it is an environmental allergen, say pollen, dust or smog, those are much harder to identify, and control, let alone eliminate. Usually with having allergies, comes congestion (the blockage of sinus cavities’ with catarrh (mucus)). This is quite easy to treat with herbs, but not always appropriate to ‘dry’ it up, since mucus overproduction usually is removing ‘waste’ from your body, so usually it is advise to support, not block or stop it (Hoffman, 58-59). When the ‘allergy-season’ hits, you may also hear the commonly used phrase ‘hay fever’. This is when a person is specifically allergic to pollen from hay or grass, along with dust, mold and animal dander. Hay fever, being one of the many physical symptoms of an ‘allergic reaction’, is due to your body mistaking an innocent substance, say pollen, as a threat and attacks it, thus causing substances, including histamines, to be released. This is where inflammation, such as sinuses running and teary eyes comes from. Lung congestion can be from asthma, which can also be triggered by allergens. Allergies when paired with asthma can include similar symptoms, as hay fever: watery and itchy eyes, runny/stuff nose, general lung and sinus congestion (Keville, 139).
            Expectorant herbs help to loosen this congestion and help clear your lungs, to breathe better. Most popular ones are: mullein, thyme, horehound and elecampane. In Europe physicians’ recommend these for treatment of bronchitis, and other lung conditions. In Germany for centuries, Mullein was officially regarded as an effective treatment for bronchial spasms, reducing swollen gland that may accompany bronchitis. 
             Hay fever, lung and sinus congestion can be improved by taking immune system stimulating/boosting, and anti-histamine herbs. Examples of the latter include: chamomile, peppermint, ginger, anise and fever few (Keville, 137). With having a lot of excess mucus (or catarrh), as one of many symptoms of allergies, anticatarrhal herbs, goldenseal, chamomile, goldenrod and boneset, ease the symptomatic discomfort that is often characterizing hay fever, expectorants for wheezing and pulmonary congestion, mullein; nettles help easy body’s underlying sensitivity to allergens, (Hoffman, 68-69).
Besides the above, elderflowers and yarrow are excellent at treating this congestion and sneezing; Echinacea and chamomile decrease congestion and slow allergic reactions; garlic, onion and hot peppers, due to their capsacin/spicy content, inhibits inflammation, thus desensitizing the respiratory system from irritants. In a 1990 study, tablets of freeze dried nettle successfully reduced hay fever symptoms (Keville, 138).    Part 2 of this blog will be posted within the next 5-7 days!

Works Cited:
*Note if something isn't in the works cited the information is in an online blog*

Hildegard. Hildegard's Healing Plants: [from Her Medieval Classic Physica]. Boston:
Beacon, 2001. 106-07. Print.
Bremness, Lesley. Herbs. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 2002. Print.
Brown, Kathleen, and Jeanine Pollak. Herbal Teas: 101 Nourishing Blends for Daily Health and Vitality. Pownal, VT: Storey, 1999. Print.
Hoffmann, David. Easy Breathing: Natural Treatments for Asthma, Colds, Flu, Coughs, Allergies, Sinusitis. Pownal, VT: Storey, 2000. 68-69. Print.
 Jones, Pamela. Just Weeds: History, Myths, and Uses. New York: Prentice Hall, 1991. Print.
Keville, Kathi, and Peter Korn. Herbs for Health and Healing. Emmaus, Penn.: Rodale, 1996. Print.
Levy, Juliette de Bairacli-Levy. Common Herbs for Natural Health. Ash Tree Publishing, Woostock, New York. 1997. Print.
Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Medicinal Plant: an Ethnobotanical Dictionary-the medicinal uses of more than 3000 plants by 218 Native American tribes. Timber Press Inc, Portland, Oregon & London. 2009. Print.
Seymour, Miranda. A Brief History of Thyme and Other Herbs. London: John Murray, 2002. Print.
Stewart, Amy. The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin of Chapel Hill, 2013. 129. Print.



  1. Nice posts on herbs/allergies. Very in depth and informative. I have been viewing allergies from a Chinese medicine perspective lately and seeing it as having run down the kidneys/water element. A lot of these herbs are wonderful for their ability to open the lungs. I also like to add herbs that strengthen and nourish the kidneys and adrenals such as licorice and nettle seed. Finally I notice a number of people with allergies burning up their "yin" with caffeine, sugar, staying up too late. Anyways, thanks for your efforts and energy. very nice blog indeed.

    1. Hello Kate! thanks so much, I am very glad you found my allergy blog in depth and informational, always love it when I have cool comments from readers! hm...I don't remember alot about TCM, I know more about Ayurvedic, it draws me alot more for some reason compared to Chinese medicine. I have heard as much though, related to weak kidneys and allergies, that and major 'fight or flight' responses (which I have) is also part of it...from my local herbal teacher. adrenals too, if those are burnt out...than you have a whole other mess of problems to say the least.

      I have heard nettle seed is great yeah, I love to pick fresh nettles, dry, tincture and I also boil them fresh, than blend them like you would basil for pesto...and add that to dishes... its pretty good.

      that makes sense, burning up yin due to caffeine, sugar...those aren't my problem...the staying up late yeah haaa. thanks so much! glad you thought the energy was put into it well :) if you like you can always subscribe to my posts, and or get email updates!

      thanks, Jennifer