While ephedra is an especially effective and fast working herb, it has its drawbacks. Like some of the over-the-counter drugs that contain ephedrine, ephedra offers symptomatic relief only. It's not a long term answer to hay fever or asthma. Ephedra loses its effectiveness after extended use, and may even weaken the adrenal glands. If you plan to take ephedra, look for a product that includes adrenal supporting herbs and nutrients like licorice, ginseng, magnesium and vitamin C.
Some people are better off avoiding ephedra. The ephedrine in this plant can cause insomnia, anxiety, and an increased heart rate and blood pressure in sensitive individuals. If you already have high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid disease, coronary thrombosis or difficulty urinating due to an enlarged prostate, don't take ephedra. Anyone on antidepressant or antihypertensive medication should also avoid this herb. If you're pregnant, don't take this (or any other herb) without professional guidance.
The elder, a small tree that reaches a maximum height of 30 feet, has been popular since ancient Egypt. The Sambucus nigra fruit makes sumptuous jams and pies. Elton John sang about elderberry wine. The juice is used for dyeing cloth or coloring lips and cheeks. The pretty white flowers are attractive when planted as hedgerows. Some like to soak these tiny, flat topped blossoms in lemon juice overnight for a cool, summer drink.
Those who look to the elder for health reasons consider it to be a medicine chest unto itself as each part of this plant has a different application. For airborne allergies, elder offers a variety of helpful actions. Elder leaves are expectorants, allowing congested lungs to expel excess mucus. Both the flowers and berries ease the congestion and inflammation seen in hay fever and sinusitis. Children who suffer from deafness due to blocked eustachian tubes respond well to this remedy.
Golden rod, with its expectorant and anti-inflammatory abilities, complements elder when taken for hay fever and other respiratory allergies.
The yellow flecks and purple stripes of the Euphrasia offincinalis flower resemble a bloodshot eye. And fittingly, Euphrasia, or eyebright, is most noted for aiding eye conditions. First introduced during the Middle Ages, this small annual plant decorated with white flowers relieves hay fever and other respiratory ailments.
Although eyebright prefers a meadow over a backyard garden, it's well worth hunting down for its anti-catarrhal effects. The pale, boggy mucous membranes that result from airborne allergies respond well to eyebright. As might be expected, allergic conjunctivitis, the red, scratchy tearing eyes of allergies, feel much better when treated to an eyebright compress.
Eyebright combines well with golden seal or elder. When eyes are affected, mix eyebright with ephedra.
Hay Fever Doesn't Respond to Herbs Alone
Botanicals are wonderful medicines for airborne allergies. But for the most part they don't take care of the underlying problem. The simplest way to treat allergies is by removing the allergen or substance that's causing you misery. Where airborne allergies are concerned, sometimes this can be done, sometimes it can't. If you're allergic to cats or dogs, it's easy enough to avoid those animals. However, if you have hay fever, the problem is harder to solve.