The sudden appearance of sunshine is a welcome reprieve from winter’s omnipresent grey skies. Along with longer days and warmer nights, the spring and summer months give way to a bounty of premium produce—good timing, considering that it coincides with the arrival of perfect picnic weather. But as many know all too well, April showers bring May flowers, and May flowers bring antagonizing allergies. Before you reach for that bottle of antihistamine, try these dependable (and delicious!) plant-based solutions to your seasonal sniffles.
Butterbur, also known as blatterdock, bog rhubarb, and exwort, may sound like something out of a JK Rowling book, but this herbal member of the daisy family has been used since the Middle Ages as a treatment for ailments ranging from migraine headaches to the plague. One of its most well-known uses is as a cure for symptoms of hay fever, especially stuffy and irritated noses. In 2002, a double-blind study published in the British Medical Journal confirmed that, when taken four times daily, butterbur was as effective in relieving allergy symptoms as the popular over-the-counter antihistamine Zyrtec.
Though research on the subject has yet to be conclusive, many people swear by stinging nettle for allergy relief. Scientists believe the common weed may help alleviate sneezing and itchiness due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Interestingly, stinging nettle contains histamine, the compound produced during an allergic reaction, so it may soothe allergy woes by helping the body build up tolerance to the naturally occurring chemical. Try this herb in freeze-dried capsule form, or sip from a steaming mug of stinging-nettle tea.
This pungent plant, a longtime staple of Eastern European cuisine, is more than just a condiment-booster. Its fiery properties flush out allergens from the sinuses and liberate even the stuffiest nose, due to the presence of a compound called allyl isothiocyanate, which promotes mucus drainage. Sushi lovers take note: wasabi, horseradish’s pale-green cousin, is equally effective in assuaging irritation, so head to your favorite Japanese eatery as soon as you feel the tell-tale tingle of nasal allergies.
Hailed for its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties (not to mention its robust flavor), garlic’s medicinal uses have been widely documented. While research suggests it provides relief for conditions such as high blood pressure, arthritis, and even the common cold, this cure-all bulb is also a known allergy-fighter, harnessing the power of quercetin, an antioxidant-rich flavonoid that stabilizes the body’s histamine-producing cells. If the thought of chomping on raw cloves of garlic makes you cringe, fear not—apples, berries, and capers are good sources of quercetin as well.
Nutritious watercress has been used as a folk remedy for nasal and bronchial afflictions for centuries, and it turns out early healers may have been onto something. These peppery, palatable leaves are packed with powerful antioxidants, including beta carotene, an immunity-boosting compound that converts to vitamin A in the body. Watercress also contains vitamin C, which has been shown to lower histamine levels and minimize symptoms. Use watercress to spice up salads, stir-fries, and soups, or take a cue from the British and whip up a tea party-worthy egg and cress sandwich, using your favorite tofu-salad recipe.
Hay fever, rhinitis, or seasonal allergies—by any name, this affliction is anything but pleasant. But with these tried-and-true remedies in your arsenal, your days of enduring drowsiness and other unfortunate side effects of over-the-counter medication are numbered, so step outside and breathe a deep sigh of relief!
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