Treating hay fever and seasonal allergies with natural remedies

Summer is coming, and Glengarriff is about to burst into a glorious riot of colourful flowers. Great news for most of us, as we welcome the lengthening of the days, unfortunately for others this means the start of the dreaded hay fever season. Hayfever is not something I have suffered from, which is lucky, as apparently one of the worst offenders for producing pollen is the Oak Tree and we have a lot of beautiful oaks growing around us in Glengarriff. However, I know how miserable it is to have a cold and I can only image hayfever to be much worse, in that it strikes when everyone else is feeling healthy and well, often prevents people from getting outdoors and enjoying the summer, and often persists for a lot longer than the average cold. 

Hay fever is caused by an allergic reaction to pollen causing the release of histamine, which causes inflammation around the nose and eyes. For some reason, rather than ignoring the pollen, your immune system thinks it’s being attacked and goes into overdrive.

The conventional medical approach to hay fever generally involves suppressing the immune response, using antihistamines which block the release of histamine, which is responsible for swelling and congestion; steroid-based nasal sprays; and decongestants such as ephedrine. These medications can give some immediate relief, but can also have undesirable side effects, and often stop working after a short period of time. 

If you are interested in a long term improvement rather than short term symptom relief, it’s important to get to the bottom of why this is happening in the first place. To help you to know where to start, I have put together a list of strategies our customers have found effective.

Dietary changes can often help, and we often find that individuals with hay fever also suffer from food sensitivities, which are exacerbating their symptoms. It is thought that the reactions to food ‘sensitise’ the tissues in the eye and/or nose, making it more likely that pollen will trigger an allergic reaction there.

Any food may give a problem, but many people find that dairy products are the main culprits. You could try eliminating milk, cheese, ice cream and yoghurt (butter is usually a well-tolerated food) from your diet for a month to see what happens. Our experience is that this often helps reduce hay fever symptoms. If you are looking for an alternative milk for your coffee or tea a good one is the Barista Oat milk from Oatly – it makes a wonderful flat white! You will need to make sure, however, that you are getting enough calcium; lots of leafy green veg will help with this, as well as eating whole grains rather than white (in terms of flour, pasta, rice and so on). 

It’s also helpful to reflect on the connection between our gut and our immune system. As well as cutting out foods that may be leaking from your gut and triggering your allergies, you might want to consider boosting your internal microbiome by taking a course of Prebiotics. Prebiotics are to your intestinal flora what a natural fertiliser is to your garden – it improves the environment and creates the conditions necessary for your friendly bacteria to thrive. 

My favourite prebiotic is a mushroom based one, called Bio-Intestin, which is a superb daily food supplement in capsules with active compounds from Shiitake, Lion’s mane, Oyster and King trumpet mushroom powder. This is an effective but food based supplement and, as such, can be taken alongside many medications (call in and we can check for you to be sure). 

Using a Neti Pot every day (morning and evening) can hugely reduce the impact of pollen on your immune system, simply by clearing it out before it gets a chance to cause irritation. To use a Neti Pot, you make a mild saline solution with sea salt and water (if you have sensitive nasal passages you might want to first try the pre prepared mix that contains a buffering agent to make the experience more pleasant, you can always look up a recipe for making it at home if it works) and then you pour or squirt it through the nose to wash away pollen and other irritants and clear your nose to make sure it works effectively. We have several different types of Neti Pots in Organico, including one designed for kids.

Allergic reactions can also be a result of a weakened immune system due to stress, so one approach is to stabilise the immune system to reduce or prevent the development of unnecessary antibodies. Taking a course of Reishi Mushrooms can be a great way of helping your immune system to adapt to the changing stresses that the summer presents. Reishi has many studies behind it showing it to be an excellent adaptogen, and in Traditional Chinese Medicine it is often used to treat hay fever and seasonal allergies. We stock organic Reishi by the company Hifas da Terra: in Powder form for use in smoothies, as a capsule and as a strong extract, so you can choose which type is most suitable for the severity of your situation. There’s also a liquid form, which is formulated for children. 

Another supplement to try if you are expecting your hay fever symptoms to kick in soon is Liposomal Vitamin C. Vitamin C has natural antihistamine activity in the body and there is some evidence that it can help control hay fever symptoms. Liposomal Vitamin C is new Vitamin C, which is in a liquid form – the brand we stock is Altrient C – which apparently has a much higher bioavailability so is absorbed much more effectively than ascorbic acid, or conventional vitamin C. 

There are more natural options out there, but there are no silver bullets when it comes to finding a natural solution – you are going to have to work at it and tailor a solution to your body and your immune system. If you need more help, call in to Organico or your local Healthfood shop for advice and support, or visit a Naturopath or a Medical Herbalist. Best of luck and enjoy the summer!

Organico Shop Cafe and Bakery is open Monday to Saturday from 9am – 6.15pm. Please call us on 027 51391 or visit us online at for more information (or to buy online – we have an extensive online shop and free shipping over €30, if you can’t find what you need in your local healthfood shop). None of this information is intended to replace medical advice, so if you are on medication or are concerned at all about your health please consult a medical practitioner before taking any foods in medicinal quantities.

Hannah Dare

Hannah Dare co-runs Organico, the café, bakery and health shop in Bantry, West Cork.

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