By Adrienne Totino, Wellness With Adrienne 

Here in Pittsburgh, seasonal allergy season has officially begun. As pollen floats through the air, many people find themselves sneezing, sniffling, and scratching. Some are experiencing headache, facial pressure, and fatigue as well. These nagging symptoms can last throughout the spring and return again in the fall.

Herbs can help with allergy prevention, and offer relief for acute symptoms as well. While a custom blend of herbs for one’s individual needs works best, there are some single herb remedies and patent formulas that are helpful. The following are allergy herbs and formulas from both the western herbal tradition and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Let’s talk prevention first. Astragalus has been used in Chinese medicine for a long time, and is now gaining traction in the western world of herbalism. This herb is commonly used for the prevention of allergies (and also colds/flus). While it is smart to get astragalus into the system before allergy season, it’s not too late to try it.

Astragalus is known as an immunomodulator, balancing the body’s immune response. It is also considered an adaptogen, helping us adapt to various stressors, including environmental. Astragalus is not recommended for those with autoimmune disease.

This herb can be purchased dried and added to soups or teas. It can also be taken as a capsule or tincture (liquid, extracted by alcohol). Alternatively, astragalus is one of the main ingredients in a classical herbal formula called Jade Windscreen (imagine a screen filtering out any pollen that the wind blows in).

For acute symptoms of allergies, nettle is a favorite among herbalists. Because it is full of essential nutrients, many people eat the leaves in soup, stir-fry, or use it for pesto. For a medicinal effect, nettle is usually taken by tea, tincture, or even freeze-dried.

Nettle has anti-inflammatory properties, which makes it helpful for the facial pain and sinus pressure of allergies. It is also used for its astringent and expectorant qualities, to clear copious nasal discharge.

Because nettle is drying, I like to buffer it with a moistening herb. If you’re prone to dry skin or eyes, or even dryness in your nasal passages, take care with this herb or seek recommendations for herbs you might use alongside nettle.

Eyebright is another great herb for allergies. Hence the name, this herb has an affinity for the eyes. It can be used for itchy, watery, and red eyes. Eyebright is taken internally, usually in a tea or tincture. But it can also be used externally, as a compress for the eyes.

Like nettle, this herb is also anti-inflammatory. But eyebright is more known for its astringent properties, which helps to tighten and tone tissues. Astringents can lessen the profuse, watery mucus of seasonal allergies. Eyebright also contains caffeic acid, a chemical constituent found in various foods and plants. This constituent may combat the fatigue that is common with allergies.

Finally, a lesser-known allergy herb in the West is called xanthium (pronounced zan-thee-um). This herb works similarly to a decongestant. It opens the nasal passages, treating allergies with impacted mucus in the sinuses. It is also considered analgesic, and used for a splitting sinus headache with facial pain.

Xanthium is not usually taken on its own. It is used in Chinese herbal medicine in combination with other herbs that support seasonal allergies. One classical formula, called Bi Yan Pian, includes xanthium and is commonly recommended for seasonal allergies with an array of symptoms.

Keep in mind that while herbs are often safe and gentle, some do interfere with common pharmaceuticals and are contraindicated with certain diseases. Talking to a qualified herbalist is the best way to ensure that herbs will work well for you!


Adrienne offers wellness consultations to those looking for holistic ways to prevent and treat health issues. She is a clinical herbalist, certified by the East West School of Planetary Herbology and registered with the American Herbalists Guild. Adrienne has also taught yoga and meditation for 20+ years, certified by the Sivananda Vedanta Centre. 

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