seasonal allergies

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At the farmer’s market this weekend I came across this year’s first batch of Stinging Nettles, or Urtica dioica. Nettles are one of those plants that remind me how miraculous the planet is. Just when everyone is suffering from allergic rhinitis (stuffy nose) the plant that treats that symptom is ready for harvest. Nettles have many uses, but allergic rhinitis is what they are famous for. In Chinese Medicine we say that Nettles clear heat and leach dampness, making them suitable for treating phlegm-damp obstructing the nasal passages. Dry them and add them to your Chrysanthemum infusion for a great allergy treatment. They should be used with caution, however, in those with a yin deficient presentation, as they are diuretic (make you pee) and can be quite drying. Another use of the herb is Wind-Damp Impediment, such as arthritis, and historically they were applied topically as a counter-irritant for this purpose. Taken internally, they also treat arthritic conditions or painful, stiff joints.

The whole arial parts can also be cooked as a delicious spring vegetable. They have a very high mineral content making them an ideal food for those with anemia or for those concerned about developing osteoporosis. Here is a recipe for sauteed stinging nettles that I found on

  • 1 pound stinging nettles
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, sliced lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Zest of 1 medium lemon
  • Juice of 1/2 medium lemon
  • Wearing thick rubber gloves, clean the nettles by soaking them several times under cold running water, then drain. (Do not touch raw nettles with your bare hands. If you do not have rubber gloves, use tongs to handle the nettles.) Separate the tender leaves from the tough stems, discarding the stems. (Use scissors for this process if you don’t have protective rubber gloves.)
  • Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the shallots and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until the shallots have softened, about 2 minutes more.
  • Using tongs, add half of the nettles and the water to the pan. Cook, stirring often, until the nettles have begun to wilt, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining nettles and cook, stirring often, until wilted, about 3 minutes more. (Add more water a tablespoon at a time if the pan becomes too dry.)
  • Remove the pan from heat. Stir in the lemon zest and juice. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and serve.

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People who suffer from allergies know that hayfever season has arrived. If your nose has gotten stuffy or runny, and your eyes are feeling itchy and watery, you are likely having an over-reaction to the pollen that is in the air. Allergies are a response by the body’s immune system to antigens found in the environment. The body responds too well, causing all that congestion and itching. There are two main types of allergies, Seasonal and Perennial. Seasonal allergies, also called hayfever, tend to occur in Spring and early Summer, and are a reaction mainly to pollen and grasses. Perennial allergies occur all year and are typically a reaction to animal dander, house dust or dust mites, fungus, smoke or perfume. Both cause much suffering.

The Cause of Allergies

In Chinese Medicine, the reason for both types of allergies is a deficiency of the body’s Wei Qi, also called Defensive Qi. This Qi is like a protective layer at the surface of the body that prevents things from getting into the body, whether it be bacteria, viruses, or allergens. In order to treat allergies with Chinese Medicine we must build up the body’s own protective Qi as well as treat the symptoms that allergy sufferers know so well.

When to Treat Allergies

For Seasonal allergies, the best time to treat the underlying deficiency is at the end of the season of suffering, typically August, September and October. If you are suffering from a stuffy nose and watery eyes right now, see your acupuncturist to get temporary relief of those symptoms, and then even though you may be feeling free of symptoms, continue with treatment in the fall in order to prevent those allergies from returning next year. For Perennial allergies, treatment can take place at anytime.

Herbs to Treat Allergies

In addition to acupuncture, there are a number of Chinese Herbal formulas which allergy sufferers can rely on. Most likely, your practitioner will give you one formula for the symptoms you are experiencing now, and then change that formula to treat the root of the problem once those symptoms subside. If you have been experiencing allergies for many years, it can take more than one treatment season to be allergy free. Your practitioner may advise you to take that Wei Qi building formula for a few seasons in a row in order to be rid of allergies forever.

Sinus Rinsing for Relief from Nasal Congestion

Himalayan Institute Original Neti Pot, CeramicThe Neti Pot or a modern Sinus Rinse can also be helpful to clear nasal congestion. Used every day these tools open the nasal passages by clearing out bacteria and allergens, and calming inflamation of nasal tissues.  Using the Neti Pot takes practice but once mastered, allergy sufferers swear by it. It involves irrigating the nostrils with a salt water mixture using a small pot with a spout, not unlike a watering can. It has a long history of use in Asia, although modern plastic squirt bottles may be easier to use and can be bought for pennies at drug stores.

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