Blooming daffodils, vibrant grass, and picture-perfect cherry blossom trees are all lovely signs that spring has sprung. For those of us who suffer the annual affliction of allergy season, though, even the prettiest of flowers can be harbingers of dreaded sneezing, a dripping nose, and watery eyes. Sadly, intense seasonal allergies can even turn some of us into hermits during the most beautiful season of the year.
If allergies are a regular problem for you, you may be used to turning to a pill to relieve symptoms—but many allergy medications can leave you loopy and tired. According to the Mayo Clinic, some can even cause headaches, oral yeast infections, and nosebleeds.
Looking for a gentler, side-effect-free regimen to support you through this time of year? These natural must-haves can help keep you from reaching for tissues every 10 seconds—and get you back out into the beauty of spring.
1. Local Honey
“Local honey won’t cure your seasonal runny nose and dry itchy throat, but it may help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with allergic rhinitis or ‘hay fever,’” says Arielle “Dani” Lebovitz, M.S., R.D.N., founder of Kid Food Explorers. The idea here is that honey produced where you live introduces small amounts of local pollen allergens into your system, allowing you to develop a tolerance to them.
While Lebovitz notes that local honey may not contain a therapeutic quantity of the specific pollen you’re allergic to, she still recommends it. That’s because research indicates honey may be effective for those experiencing respiratory issues and a whole lot of mucus, thanks to its antioxidant and inflammation-regulating properties.
Her tip for purchasing local gold: the darker, the better. A dark color indicates higher antioxidant activity.
2. A Neti Pot
People have been using neti pots to relieve seasonal allergy symptoms for centuries—and the little pot, shaped like a crookneck squash, really does have benefits! According to the FDA, rinsing your sinuses with a neti pot can effectively relieve nasal symptoms associated with allergies. Just be sure to only use distilled water as you rinse, and follow all other safety instructions that come with your pot. (Check out this full rundown on all things neti pot to get started.)
3. Brewer’s Yeast
You may know brewer’s yeast best for blood sugar and breastfeeding, but it may have a place in your seasonal sniffle toolkit, too. It can promote the body’s healthy immune response—even when it comes to harmless things in your environment, such as pollen, according to Dr. Crystal Gossard, D.C.N., C.N.S., L.D.N., education specialist at Life Extension.
Specifically, a patented form of brewer’s yeast called EpiCor, which is made via a proprietary drying and fermentation process, may be a game-changer for seasonal sufferers. In one 2008 study, people with an immune response to environmental changes took either EpiCor or a placebo for five weeks. After this time, those who took EpiCor had reduced symptoms, while those in the placebo group experienced more of them.
While you’re snagging supplements, consider quercetin, too. “Quercetin, one of the most common flavonoids found in a variety of foods such as red wine, green tea, and apples, has been studied for its ability to support those who experience an immune response this time of year,” says Gossard. “It has been shown to inhibit leukotrienes, mast cells, and the release of histamine,” she explains, all of which are involved in the body responses that lead to runny and stuffy noses, itchy eyes, and the like. A standard dose of quercetin is typically 500 milligrams per day.
5. Essential Oils
Could these heavenly-scented oils help you stop and smell the flowers (without sneezing)? It’s possible! “There are many essential oils that may support people this time of year,” says Lebovitz. A few of the most noteworthy include:
You can utilize these essential oils via aromatherapy or topically (Lebovitz recommends using a DIY roller across the soles of your feet since they have some of the largest pores in the body, which means maximum absorption). If you’re new to essential oils, try starting with one or two drops in a diffuser or making a roller blend by mixing three drops of oil into a 10-milliliter bottle of fractionated coconut oil, suggests Lebovitz.
6. Stinging Nettle
It doesn’t sound like something that would relieve seasonal woes—but stinging nettle has long been a go-to for this very purpose. (Don’t worry, there’s no actual stinging involved.) Studies have shown that the extract of this green plant has potent benefits. “Experimental research suggests that bioactive constituents in nettle extract inhibit histamine receptors, inhibit enzymes involved in releasing cytokines and chemokines that cause allergy symptoms, and reduce the production of allergy-specific prostaglandins,” explains Gossard. Translation: It helps to minimize a number of body processes that ultimately lead to you sniffling and sneezing. You can try stinging nettle encapsulated in supplements or in teas.
Keeping your sinuses happy and healthy might start in your gut. “Probiotics, specifically Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria, may help seasonal sufferers by stimulating the body’s natural immune system in the gut,” Lebovitz says. If you’re experiencing lots of congestion, a runny nose, sneezing, and itchy, watery eyes, showing your gut some love could bring relief.
Make sure any probiotic supplement you grab contains the two strains listed above—and check out this ultimate guide to probiotics if you’re feeling lost amongst the good gut bugs. Plus, don’t forget that you can always get more of those healthy bacteria in by noshing on fermented foods like kefir, kimchi, miso, tempeh, sauerkraut, and pickles.
Want to help probiotics do their job? Give them the right food in the form of prebiotics. “Because probiotics are living things, they need nutrients. This is where prebiotics come in,” says Gossard. “Prebiotics provide the food sources your beneficial gut bacteria need to thrive.” Foods like raw garlic, raw onion, whole-wheat flour, and dandelion greens are solid food sources of prebiotics (which are really just fiber that our body can’t break down).
You can also try supplementation when your gut needs the extra TLC. Try tasty chewables like these peach-flavored OLLY gummies, or Ora’s Lavender Lemonade Trust Your Gut powder, which contain both prebiotics and probiotics.
9. Green Tea
A soothing cup of any hot beverage might be enough to provide relief from allergy symptoms like runny nose, cough, and sneezing, according to research published in Rhinology. But make it green tea and you could reap extra benefits. “Green tea is full of antioxidants. Along with quercetin, it is abundant in EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate),” says Gossard. “Both of these antioxidant nutrients help inhibit inflammatory factors like cytokines to support whole-body health.” Brew up a pot (sweetened with local honey, perhaps?) to sip symptoms away and get back to smelling the flowers.