It’s a spring full of flowers and a higher pollen count than we’ve seen in over a decade – so if you are suffering from seasonal allergies, you are not alone. In fact, many people are experiencing the sneezing, runny nose, itchy red eyes and heavy-headedness of pollen-related allergies this year for the first time. Allergies are the body’s hyper-defense response to repeated exposure of an irritant. Often an allergic response is a sign of over-burdened adrenal glands and liver that can’t cope. The natural treatment of allergies involves three parts: modulating the immune system, strengthening the adrenal glands and the treatment of specific symptoms.

You can assist the immune system by reducing the burden of our livers and your lymph glands, which have to deal with sorting out toxins and managing excess mucus. Reduce overall congestion by making sure all your channels of elimination, especially the skin and bowels, are working efficiently.

Spring is a great time to do a little bowel and liver cleansing, and you can assist the skin in eliminating toxins via aerobic exercise, saunas and skin-brushing. Feed your immune system daily by consuming live acidophilus cultures and fermented foods (over half of your immune cells live in your intestines!). Herbs that help modulate or balance the energy of the immune system usually help the body to adapt to change. All the medicinal mushrooms such as reishi, cordyceps, maitake, shiitaki, and turkey tails do this, as well as schizandra berry, eleuthro (siberean ginseng), pau d’arco and astragulus.

There are many wonderful herbs that strengthen the adrenal glands, which help the body deal with stress, since essentially, an allergic reaction is a stress response. One of the best herbs for allergic reactions to pollen is nettle leaf, taken in a strong tea (a quart a day) or in freeze-dried capsules (6 per day). Nettle is highly nutritious and quiets the histamine response. Homeopathic histamine can be taken in a similar way.

Quercetin is an anti-oxidant sold in capsules that also helps modulate the histamine response. It is found naturally in the peels of most fruits and vegetables, especially red onion and garlic, grapefruit, cranberry and apples. Consuming local bee pollen and raw honey will also help the body adapt to local pollen loads.

The sinus cavities deal with the brunt of pollen exposure and can be washed out using a netti pot, in which you gently pour warm salt water in one nostril, and allow it to move through the sinuses, rinsing away irritants and excess mucus before exiting out the other. Foods that help clear the sinuses are (you guessed it!) horseradish, cayenne pepper and ginger – eating them of course! Oregon grape root, goldenseal, golden thread or coptis root and barberry bark are all excellent herbs for calming and disinfecting over-stimulated mucus membranes.

Clearing your ears can also release stuffed-up sinuses. If your ears need decompressing, ear-candling is one of the most effective (and most relaxing) ways to relieve them. Red, itchy eyes can be treated with homeopathic eye drops and a compress of cucumber or eyebright – you can drink the tea and place a wet, cooled tea bag on each eyelid. As your eyes and sinuses clear – may you truly enjoy the blooms of this year!

Karin C. Uphoff is a practicing herbalist and nutritional consultant at Corners of the Mouth. She is the author of Botanical Body Care; Herbs and Natural Healing for Your Whole Body.