Seasonal Allergies and Chinese Herbs

So many people suffer from seasonal allergies (“hay fever”) and allergies to common household irritants such as cat hair, dust and mold. This article is specifically about the type of allergic reaction that affects the nasal passages. I’ll refer to this as “allergic rhinitis.”

A funny thing happened a few years ago when I prescribed herbs for a patient suffering with a stuffed nose, runny nose and nasal congestion. She was really miserable. For some reason I don’t know, I had packed the herbs in a paper bag instead of plastic, and instructed the patient to decoct and then drink them. But when I saw her next, she told me she had just set the bag down by the side of her bed, and their aromatic pungency had penetrated through the paper and into the room, and into her nose, and she said her nasal stuffiness improved! She didn’t cook the herbs at all!  I started trying out this “atmospheric herbal treatment” on other patients, and nearly all of them said it was effective! They could breathe more easily, and the fragrant herbs opened their noses. One of them was a potter, and she created some lidded ceramic pots perforated with holes, to put the herbs in and let them breathe.

The formula I give for allergic rhinitis is based on Cang Er Zi San (Xanthium Powder), but with more aromatic herbs added. My aim is to add the most pungent ingredients I have since the patient won’t be consuming it, but just inhaling it.  I use:

  • Cang Er Zi (Xanthii Fructus)
  • Bai Zhi (Angelicae Dahuricae Radix)
  • Xin Yi Hua (Magnoliae Flos)
  • Qiang Huo (Notopterygii Radix)
  • Bo He (Menthae Herba)
  • Chai Hu (Bupleuri Radix)
  • Huang Qin (Scutellariae Radix)
  • Sha Ren (Amomi Fructus)
  • Huo Xiang (Agastaches Herba)
  • If the patient is to use it only for atmospheric  inhalation, I use large doses of all herbs, about 15 grams each.

    Of course, this formula would also work as a decoction to take internally, in which case I would reduce the dosages to about 10 grams each. I would differentiate the syndrome in accordance with usual internal medicine principles, and adjust the formula accordingly. Allergic rhinitis can be classified as an invasion of wind cold or wind heat, or an invasion of wind cold with dampness (the most common presentation). It could also be related to deficiencies of spleen, lung or kidney.

    The formula could also be used as a steam inhalation treatment. The patient would place the herbs in a large bowl, pour boiling water over them, and then lean over the bowl and inhale the steam, while covering her head with a towel.

    For acupuncture treatment, I find that face and scalp points such as Du 24, GB 15, LI 20 and Yin Tang are the most effective, and I always add St 36 and/or 40 to strengthen the Qi and dispel phlegm.

    Summer Drinks

    Mint leaves

    Mint leaves

    My favorite herbal drinks in the summer always involve Bo He (Menthae Herba, mint leaves), and to your question about BBQ, I would combine Bo He with Shan Zha (Crataegi Fructus, hawthorn fruits). Not only is the combination a good balance between the cool Bo He and the warm Shan Zha, but it is a blending of pungent and fresh minty flavor with the sweet and sour taste of Shan Zha. Furthermore, Shan Zha, which is a digestive herb with powerful actions to break down fat and protein, helps to counter the rich and heavy foods that might be in your BBQ. Bo He, which is a cooling diaphoretic, also cools and soothes the liver, and is therefore a good herb in warm weather to prevent the liver from overheating.

    Cook the Shan Zha first for 30 minutes and then add the Bo He to steep. Proportions are completely up to your taste; I would try three parts Shan Zha to one part Bo He. Serve chilled but not ice cold.
    If your BBQ includes beer and wine, another great herb is Ge Hua (Puerariae Flos, kudzu flower), which has been shown to speed the metabolism of alcohol in the body and reduce the symptoms of a hangover. I can’t vouch for the flavor of this one, though!