Each year, as the season turns to warmer weather, over 35 million Americans fall prey to one of the most relentless allergies, hay fever. Prescription for Herbal Healing, 2nd Edition provides herbal remedies for battling hay fever, as well other common spring allergies. Some beneficial herbs include:
Latin names: Scutellaria baicalensis, Scutellaria lateriflora, Scutellaria barata, and more than 350 other species
(Lamiaceae [mint] family)
Other common names: baikal skullcap, ban zhi lian, barbat skullcap, blue pimpernel, Chinese scullcap, hoodwort, helmet flower, mad-dog, scute, skullcap, Virginian skullcap
Scutellaria is a perennial herb native both to the region of Lake Baikal in eastern Siberia and to northern China. It also is indigenous to North America and is cultivated in Europe. It thrives on open grasslands at elevations below 2,000 feet (650 meters) in the wild, and is cultivated both as a medicinal herb and as an ornamental plant. Scutellaria grows to a height of between one and four feet (30 to 120 centimeters), and bears lance-shaped leaves and purple flowers. The root is used medicinally.
Scutellaria has held a central place in Asian medicine for at least 2,000 years. When a tomb built in northwestern China in the second century was excavated, workers found ninety-two wooden tablets containing herbal formulas, many of which listed scutellaria.
Evidence of Benefit
Scutellaria kills bacteria and viruses, and also relieves allergies, asthma, anxiety, and atherosclerosis, and is used as a diuretic. It is used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) formulas for the treatment of HIV/AIDS. TCM practitioners also use it for fevers, colds, diphtheria, hepatitis, high blood pressure, and shingles. It is also used in cancer treatments.
Allergies, hay fever, and other respiratory ailments. Scutellaria contains chemicals that may prevent histamine from provoking hay fever attacks, in a manner similar to that of the prescription drug cromolyn sodium (Intal, Nasalcrom). One of the compounds most prominent in scutellaria, baicalin, interferes with a complex set of hormonal reactions that constrict the bronchial tubes to cause asthma attacks. Equally important, laboratory studies show that scutellaria prevents DNA damage from dexamethasone (Decadron, Intensol), a prescription drug widely used to treat asthma.
Experimental data from China show that scutellaria root inhibits several pneumonia-causing fungi. Chinese physicians sometimes inject a mixture of scutellaria, goldthread, and amur cork tree extracts to treat pneumonia and other respiratory infections.
Latin names: Urtica dioica (Urticaceae [stinging nettle] family)
Other common names: common nettle, greater nettle, nettle
Stinging nettle is found in temperate climates around the world. A perennial plant growing to a height of 5 feet (1.5 meters), it bears lance-shaped leaves and green flowers with yellow stamens. If you come into contact with fine hairs on the leaves and stem, you may develop a burning pain that lasts for hours. Both the fresh and dried leaves and the roots are used in herbal medicine, but they have very different uses.
Evidence of Benefit
From ancient Greece to the present, nettle has been used for treating coughs, tuberculosis, and arthritis, and as a hair tonic. Stinging nettle leaf is an anti-inflammatory, especially for allergic reactions of the skin, as well as a diuretic. It has been used to relieve symptoms of hay fever and allergies such as runny nose and congestion. It is used to treat urinary tract infections (UTIs), and European folk medicine uses it to treat seborrhea of the scalp and overly greasy hair. The root was also specifi cally used in folk medicine for edema, rheumatism, gout, and prostatitis.
Taken as a health treatment, stinging nettle root takes the “sting,” or inflammation, out of allergic reactions, arthritis, and be nign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH). In a study on lupus using mice, stinging nettle seemed to protect the animals from symptoms such as kidney ailments. It also prevents conversion of androgens to estrogens, which may be of benefi t to patients with BPH. The German Commission E has approved the use of stinging nettle flowering plant for rheumatism, kidney stones, and infections of the urinary tract. The stinging nettle root has been approved for diffi culties in urination related to BPH.
Allergies (hay fever). In low doses, stinging nettle root extracts increase the production of T cells, immune cells that act as a controlling mechanism on other immune cells that cause allergic reactions. Stinging nettle root extracts in crease the production of interleukin-2 (IL-2), which increases the production of new T cells and sensitizes existing T cells to respond to IL-2. A clinical study with sixty-nine participants at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, found that stinging nettle was more effective than placebo in treating allergic rhinitis. Nettle leaf has become a popular treatment for allergies. This is probably due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Taken before a meal, nettle leaf has been used for people with certain food sensitivities, but check with your doctor first if you have known food allergies.
Pollen consists of the dustlike, air- or insect-borne male reproductive cells of flowering plants. Pollen is collected by, rather than made by, bees. The pollen used in herbal medicine is collected from various species by hand (without the help of bees). Pollen may be used raw or micronized into separate grains.
While pollen is a plant product, it is not technically an herb, but it has been called the miracle food. It contains vitamins (including the B vitamins and vitamins A, C, E, and K), minerals (including calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, silicon, zinc, and other trace elements), carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and fatty acids. However, their contribution to the overall nutrient needs of the human body is small.
Evidence of Benefit
Pollen both protects the prostate gland and has some beneficial effects in radiation therapy. It has been suggested that pollen has positive effects in treating disorders of the liver, gallbladder, stomach, and intestines. It may also be benefi cial for people with hay fever. The German Commission E has only approved its use, however, for restoring feebleness and loss of appetite.
Many studies in cell lines have shown that pollen contains antibiotic substances that act against bacteria.
Allergies and hay fever. Pollen extracts, taken orally, have been used to desensitize people to plants to which they are allergic. In one double-blind study, people with allergies to grass pollen were asked to place drops of liquid grass pollen extract under their tongues daily for three weeks, using a gradually increasing concentration. After three weeks, they took pollen twice a week at a maintenance level. During the next allergy season, they had significantly fewer severe hay fever symptoms than those experienced by a group given placebo drops.