The 10 Best Herbs for Allergies

Seasonal allergies are a common occurrence in today’s world. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation, around 50 million people in the United States suffer from allergies each year, or …

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Written by: Daniel Powers, MSc
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Seasonal allergies are a common occurrence in today’s world.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation, around 50 million people in the United States suffer from allergies each year, or around 15% of the population.

This article looks at the scientific research behind the best herbs for allergies.

Herbs beneficial for allergies

What Is Allergic Rhinitis?

Allergic rhinitis is a diagnosis where your nose gets irritated by something you’re allergic to, such as pollen, which causes sneezing and other symptoms.

Allergic rhinitis is also known as seasonal allergies, pollinosis, and hay fever.

Allergy symptoms typically include sneezing, runny or blocked nose, itchy skin, watering eyes, wheezing, chest tightness, and coughing.

Allergies can be triggered by a variety of airborne allergens, including:

  • pollen
  • animal dander
  • dust mites
  • mold

Typical Treatments For Allergies:

Standard treatment for allergies includes avoiding allergens or taking medicine (typically an antihistamine).

When it comes to avoiding allergens, below are some helpful tips:

  • Stay indoors on dry, windy days. The best time to go outside is after a good rain, which helps clear pollen from the air.
  • Avoid lawn mowing, weed pulling, and other gardening chores that stir up allergens.
  • Remove clothes you’ve worn outside and shower to rinse pollen from your skin and hair.
  • Don’t hang laundry outside — pollen can stick to sheets and towels.

As far as standard medical treatment for allergies, the list of standard over-the-counter allergy medicines includes:

  • Allegra (fexofenadine)
  • Benadryl (diphenhydramine)
  • Claritin (loratadine)
  • Xyzal (levocetirizine)
  • Zyrtec (cetirizine)

Antihistamines work by blocking the effects of a substance called histamine in your body. Histamine is typically released when your body detects something that it identifies as harmful, such as an allergen like pollen.

Histamine causes blood vessels to expand and the skin to swell, which helps protect the body. However, this leads to a host of symptoms that we associate with allergens (sneezing, itching, etc…)

It should be noted that antihistamines have been tied to a number of side effects, including:

  • hypertension
  • cardiovascular disease
  • urinary retention
  • drowsiness
  • dry mouth and eyes
  • blurred or double vision

Finding a natural antihistamine can help to provide the benefits of antihistamines without the potential side effects.

Below is a list of the best antihistamine herbs for allergies.

Best Herbs for Allergies

Herbal remedies can provide an alternative way to treat allergic rhinitis. If used sensibly, these natural medicines can not only reduce allergy symptoms but prevent them altogether.

They can also strengthen the body’s tissues and organs, thus improving your overall health. Below is a roundup of the best herbs for allergies and various respiratory issues.

1. Stinging Nettle

Research shows that stinging nettle may have the ability to reduce symptoms caused by seasonal allergies and hay fever. In fact, it’s one of the best herbs for respiratory health due to its anti-allergic effects.

In vitro studies show that stinging nettle has the ability to stabilize mast cells. It’s thought that this stabilization effect blocks histamine receptors and stops immune cells from releasing inflammatory molecules that trigger allergic reaction symptoms.

A clinical trial with 98 participants showed that stinging nettle was rated as being more effective than placebo in treating allergic rhinitis symptoms.

Another human clinical trial showed that stinging nettle root helped to reduce nasal smear eosinophil count (a key marker used in diagnosing allergic rhinitis). While both the placebo group and the stinging nettle group experienced a decrease in total allergy symptoms, the findings were labeled as inconclusive.

The researchers noted that their research limitations for this study underscore the need for larger, longer-term studies on nettle for the treatment of allergic rhinitis.

It should also be noted that the study utilized an extract made from stinging nettle root. Typically the leaf is the part utilized for stabilizing the body’s immune response.

SUMMARY:

Stinging nettle leaf appears to be a promising natural remedy for seasonal allergies. However, long-term human clinical trials are needed to ensure the efficacy of nettles for allergies.

2. Plant-Based Flavonoids

Citrus flavonoids are a well-known natural remedy for seasonal allergies.

Common citrus flavonoids include:

  • Quercetin
  • Rutin
  • and Hesperidin Methyl Chalcone

Research on citrus bioflavonoids, particularly quercetin, has shown them to exert a natural antihistamine effect on the body. Additionally, they can have anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory effects that can decrease the symptoms of seasonal allergies.

Quercetin is a naturally occurring polyphenol flavonoid, found in some fruits and vegetables, including onions, capers, apples, berries, tea, tomatoes, and grapes. A recently published research review on quercetin found that it can regulate Th1/Th2 stability, and decrease the antigen-specific IgE antibody released by B cells. This helps to temper the body’s immune response to allergens, which reduces allergy symptoms.

Rutin is a flavonol abundantly found in plants, such as passion flower, buckwheat, tea, and apple. From a molecular standpoint, rutin is very similar to quercetin, with the main difference being that rutin contains a sugar molecule. Thus, it works in the body in a similar fashion. Research shows that rutin can help to reduce inflammation in the body.

Hesperidin methyl chalcone is a flavonoid found in citrus fruit that can help to reduce allergy symptoms. Research suggests that it has the ability to reduce the body’s inflammatory response.

SUMMARY:

Research suggests that plant flavonoids can help modulate the body’s inflammatory response. This can help reduce the severity of allergic symptoms. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.

3. Rosemary

Rosemary is another important herb for allergic rhinitis. This herb contains a polyphenol known as rosmarinic acid, which has been shown to help with allergies.

A recent research review found that rosmarinic acid can help to reduce inflammation and allergies.

A clinical trial looked at the impact of rosmarinic acid in individuals with allergies. The study participants were given either rosmarinic acid or a placebo. After 21 days, the rosmarinic acid group reported that they experienced fewer allergy symptoms. The researchers noted that this was thought to be due to a reduction in neutrophils and eosinophils.

A lab-based study found that rosmarinic acid helped to inhibit the allergic airway inflammation induced by house dust mites.

SUMMARY:

Research shows that rosemarinic acid in rosemary can help to reduce allergy symptoms.

4. N-acetylcysteine

N-acetylcysteine, also known as NAC, is an amino acid that helps to thin mucus and reduce congestion. This makes it one of the best natural remedies for allergies.

Allergies cause your sinuses to work extra hard to produce mucus to push out allergens. The excess mucus production can lead to thick, rubbery mucus that can collect toward the back of your throat and inside your nose.

The ability to secrete and clear excess mucus is a defense mechanism used by the respiratory system to protect itself from pathogens and particles present in inhaled air.

Research shows that NAC works to break up disulfide bonds in mucus proteins, which thins the mucus and helps to facilitate its clearance.

An animal study showed that NAC also has anti-inflammatory effects, which could explain a secondary benefit for individuals with allergic rhinitis.

SUMMARY:

Research indicates that NAC is effective in helping to thin mucus. This benefits individuals with allergies as it can help to remove mucus buildup.

5. Garlic

Garlic is one of the best herbs for seasonal allergies.

An animal study found that aged garlic extract helped to reduce histamine release. The researchers theorized that aged garlic extract can modify the function of mast cells, basophils, and activated T lymphocytes, all of which play a leading role in allergic cascade reactions.

A lab study discovered that garlic extract can help to reduce airway inflammation.  The researchers noted that garlic helped to reduce allergic airway inflammation levels, which included peribronchial lung eosinophils, IgG1 level in lavage and serum, mucous producing goblet cells grade, and peribronchial and perivascular inflammation. 

Another lab-based study found that garlic suppresses the body’s allergic response. The mechanism for its anti-allergic action is thought to involve suppressions of Syk, cPLA2, 5-LO, and COX-2. 

SUMMARY:

Animal studies, along with lab research, indicate that garlic may help to reduce inflammation in the respiratory tract, which can help to reduce allergy symptoms. Human clinical studies are needed to verify these initial findings.

6. Black Seed

Black seed, also known as black cumin, is a seed that comes from the Nigella sativa plant. It’s typically made into an oil, which can be consumed similar to a tincture.

Black seed is known to be a helpful herb for hay fever.

A clinical trial recently showed the benefits of black seed for allergic rhinitis. In the study, 68 individuals with allergic rhinitis used black seed oil nasal drops daily for 6 weeks. The study participants were divided into three groups, a moderate allergy group, a mild allergy group, and a severe allergy group.

After 6 weeks, 100% of the patients in the mild group became symptoms free; 68.7% of those in the moderate group became symptoms free and 25% were improved; while in the severe group 58.3% became symptoms free and 25% were improved. The researchers noted that the black seed oil treatment was well tolerated with minimal side effects.

Another human clinical trial involved looking at the impact of black seed oil in 152 individuals with allergic diseases (allergic rhinitis, bronchial asthma, atopic eczema). These individuals were given black seed capsules at a dose of 40-80 mg/kg/day. The patients’ IgE and eosinophil levels were measured before and after the trial and, additionally, their subjective feelings were also measured throughout the study. The score of subjective feeling decreased over the course of treatment. The researchers noted positive changes in IgE and eosinophil levels, which helped to reduce allergic symptoms.

SUMMARY:

Clinical research indicates that black seed oil benefits the respiratory system and helps to reduce hay fever symptoms.

7. Butterbur

Butterbur, known as Petasites hybridus, is a plant in the Asteraceae family of plants. It’s regarded as one of the best herbs for allergies.

A clinical trial compared the effectiveness of butterbur and cetirizine (i.e. Zyrtec®) for allergy treatment. In the study, 131 individuals were given either butterbur (one tablet, four times daily) or cetirizine (one tablet every night) over the course of two weeks. The researchers reported that the effects of butterbur are similar to those of cetirizine in patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis. However, the cetirizine antihistamine group reported increased levels of drowsiness. The study concluded that butterbur should be considered for treating seasonal allergic rhinitis when the sedative effects of antihistamines need to be avoided.

A double-blind, placebo-controlled study looked at the impact of butterbur in individuals with allergic rhinitis. The researchers discovered that butterbur is an effective treatment for intermittent allergic rhinitis symptoms and is well tolerated. 

Researchers believe that Petatewalide B, a compound found in butterbur, has anti-allergic activities. Specifically, the compound inhibits the activation of ß-hexosaminidase in RBL-2H3 mast cells. Petatewalide B also inhibits nitric oxide synthase, which decreases nitric oxide production in mouse peritoneal macrophages. The compound also decreases the concentration of eosinophils, macrophages, and lymphocytes in mouse bronchoalveolar lavage fluid.

SUMMARY:

Clinical research indicates that butterbur is an effective natural therapy for reducing allergies. Larger-scale human clinical trials are needed to verify clinical safety.

8. Turmeric

Turmeric, and its active ingredient curcumin, has proven to be one of the best herbs for allergic rhinitis and respiratory health.

A research review found that individuals who took turmeric experienced anti-allergic effects that inhibited the release of histamine from mast cells. Further animal research also demonstrated marked inhibition of the allergic response using turmeric. These findings suggest curcumin may have an antihistamine-like effect.

A clinical trial looked at the impact of turmeric in individuals with a chronic respiratory system inflammatory disease. The study contained a total of 77 patients with mild-to-moderate symptoms.

Each subject received a total of 1,000 mg of curcumin per day, split into two 500mg doses over the course of 1 month. The study’s results showed that the curcumin group saw significant improvements in reduced airway obstruction. The researchers noted that this is likely due to turmeric’s anti-inflammatory effect, which helped to increase overall lung function.

SUMMARY:

Research indicates that turmeric has anti-inflammatory effects that can help to support respiratory health.

9. Ginger

Ginger is an effective anti-inflammatory herb that may help to reduce allergic symptoms.

A human clinical trial showed that ginger reduced total serum IgE after 4 weeks of treatment. This helped to improve allergy symptoms in the study participants.

Another human clinical trial compared the effects of 500mg of ginger extract vs. loratadine (i.e. Claritin®), a popular antihistamine drug. The results showed that both the ginger extract and loratadine groups significantly decreased allergies, although there was no significant difference between the two groups. The researchers noted that ginger caused fewer side effects, especially drowsiness, fatigue, dizziness, and constipation.

An animal study found that ginger helped to reduce the severity of sneezing and nasal rubbing and suppressed infiltration of mast cells in nasal mucosa and secretion of OVA-specific IgE in serum. Additionally, 6-Gingerol, a phytochemical in ginger was shown to inhibit the expression of not only Th2 cytokines but also Th1 cytokines in OVA-sensitized spleen cells.

SUMMARY:

Research indicates that ginger extract can help to reduce symptoms of allergic rhinitis.

10. Shilajit

Shilajit is a resinous substance that develops over centuries from the slow decomposition of plants. It is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine.

Initial research suggests that shilajit may be a powerful natural remedy for hay fever.

Researchers believe that shilajit has anti-allergic properties. It is thought that it has the ability to stabilize mast cells.

Mast cells are cells found in your body that are responsible for allergic reactions. When mast cells come into contact with an allergen (such as pollen), they release histamine, cytokines, and a host of other inflammatory molecules. These molecules kickstart an inflammatory response in the body that cause common allergy symptoms.

When mast cells are stabilized, it prevents your body from starting this inflammatory cascade.

Summary:

Researchers note that shilajit may help with seasonal allergies. Clinical trials are needed to verify this claim.

Conclusion:

The effects of these herbs are well documented and they appear to be a safe alternative for those who suffer from allergies or hay fever.

Both clinical research and traditional usage indicate that these herbal alternatives may be a natural way to reduce allergies.

If you’ve been looking to add natural remedies into your diet that may help with reducing hay fever symptoms, consider trying these herbs!

As always, make sure to consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet or adding a new supplement.

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About Daniel Powers, MSc

Daniel has a master's degree in herbal science from the Maryland University of Integrative Health. He has a passion for herbal medicine and how it can be used to support everyday health & wellness.

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