When the runny nose, itchy eyes, and sore throat of hay fever season strike, the first urge is to run out and buy a drugstore antihistamine. Sure, it relieves the discomfort instantly, but it also dries you out and can make you drowsy. This year, with a little planning, you can give the heave–ho to hay fever symptoms naturally and skip the unpleasant side effects. Most alternative practitioners agree that reducing stress and avoiding sugar, fatty foods, and mucus–producing dairy foods can help alleviate allergy symptoms. We talked to practitioners of three alternative modalities and came up with other specific healing techniques.
Ayurveda allergy relief
According to Ayurveda, the holistic healing system of India, you're more susceptible to allergens when your dosha, or constitution, is out of balance. An Ayurvedic practitioner uses a variety of therapies specific to your dosha type–kapha (water and earth), pitta (fire and water), or vata (space and air)–that may include dietary changes, herbs, and yoga to bring your system into balance. To find an Ayurvedic expert near you, go to ayurveda–nama.org, the website for the National Ayurvedic Medical Association. (If you don't find a listing for a practitioner in your area, call an Ayurvedic school listed on the site and ask for a referral.) You can also try the following home remedies.
Neti pot for nasal cleansing
"All doshas can use a neti pot–a small, spouted teapot that you use to pour warm saline water into the nasal passages and rinse them clear of pollen," says Mas Vidal, an Ayurvedic practitioner in Los Angeles and the director of Dancing Shiva, an Ayurvedic healing center (see danc ingshiva.com). To use the pot, tilt your head forward over a sink, slowly pour the saline water into one nostril, and let it flow out the other nostril. After cleansing, dab sesame oil or an oilblend called nasya inside the nostrils to soothe tissues and provide a barrier against airborne allergens.
Look for a neti pot (sold at most health food stores); Super Nasya Oil or Banyan Botanicals Nasya Oil.
Daily dose Use both once or twice a day, especially during allergy season.
Websites chopra.com for Super Nasya Oil and neti pot; bayanbotanicals .com for nasya oil; himalayaninstitute .org for general info on Ayurveda.
Teas for better digestion
"The right tea can help with digestion, which means you absorb more nutrients and strengthen your system so you can fight pollen better," says Vidal. Brew a digestionenhancing tea from fresh ginger root: Peel and thinly slice a two–inch piece of ginger and add to four cups of boiling water. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer 15 to 25 minutes. Strain the tea and sweeten lightly with one teaspoon of honey. Peppermint or licorice tea reduces heat in the body, settling pitta dosha, the fiery energy that can exacerbate allergies.
Look for bulk tea ingredients or packaged teas by Organic India, Yogi tea, or other makers of organic teas.
Daily dose Two to four cups per day during allergy season
Trikatu to eliminate toxins
The Ayurvedic formula trikatu, made from ginger, black pepper, and pippali (another type of pepper), is a digestive aid that also eliminates toxins and dries up excess mucus.
Look for Banyan Botanicals Trikatu.
Daily dose Most Ayurveda practitioners suggest taking trikatu in powder form. Mix with warm water, following label directions.
Chinese herbs to soothe
In combination with acupuncture, "herbs accentuate treatment and help relieve symptoms," says Rice. She uses Cang Er Zi San, an herb found in several TCM formulas– including the commonly prescribed Pe Min Kan Wan–to eliminate congestion. Pe Min Kan Wan is sold at Chinese health stores and through online sources.
Look for Pe Min Kan Wan capsules by Plum Flower, says Rice, who adds that you should first seek treatment from a practitioner.
Dosage Follow label directions.