Herbal Remedies for Respiratory Allergies: What the Science Says

natural remedies respiratory allergies

Most natural allergy remedy advice is along the lines of “avoid the allergen.”  That’s fine if you want to stay trapped in your home with the windows closed through pollen season.  Or, to stay outside as much as possible to avoid the dust mites in your home which are unavoidable despite constant laundry washing.

Allergy doctors often fail to mention that there are numerous medicinal plants for treating allergies – some of which have been highly studied and proven effective.

True, most of these anti-allergy plants don’t work as effectively or quickly as conventional meds like antihistamines.  However, they don’t have the same negative side effects associated with traditional allergy medicines. Mental impairment, depression, stomach ulcers and osteoporosis, anyone? (1, 2) Many herbal allergy remedies also have other health benefits too, so it’s a win-win.

Quick Recommendation: Butterbur Root Extract – Not only is there a lot of research supporting butterbur as  natural allergy remedy, it’s also easy to harvest and thus one of the more affordable options.


How Herbal Remedies for Allergies Work

Allergic rhinitis is an incredibly complex.  It is best described as a cascade of reactions that occur in the body and result in an allergic response. Herbal remedies for allergies can help by interfering with these reactions.

Herbal allergy remedies typically work by suppressing one or more of the following: 

  • Immunoglobulin E (IgE): These are antibodies which bind to mast cells and trigger allergy symptoms
  • Cytokines: Proteins involved in the body’s inflammation response
  • Histamine: Released from mast cells and triggers inflammation, runny nose and other allergy symptoms
  • Eosinophil: A type of white blood cell which cause inflammation, especially in the nasal passage. They also trigger the release of cytokines, causing allergy symptoms to get even worse.

Note that not all herbal allergy remedies target all of these pathways, and some are more effective than others. That’s why herbal remedies are often taken as concoctions of multiple herbs, or used as complementary therapy to pharmaceutical meds. (3, 4, 5)


Herbal Remedies for Allergies

Below are the most promising medicinal remedies for allergies.  All of the plants have actually been studied and showed positive results for reducing allergic rhinitis such as hay fever and dust mite allergy.  A lot of popular allergy remedies (such as stinging nettles) didn’t make the list because they simply don’t have enough evidence backpacking them up.


1. Shirazi Thyme (Zataria multiflora Boiss)

Shirazi thyme, is a Thyme-like plant which grows wild only in Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.  It is commonly used in Iran, hence the name.

Shirazi thyme contains carvacrol, a compound which reduces asthma cytokines and inflammation.  It also helps relax smooth muscles in the trachea, which can help with coughing.  Human and animal studies show it is an effective natural remedy for allergic  rhinitis. (67)


2. Butterbur (Petasites hybrius)

butterbur for allergies

Butterbur is best known for treating migraines but is also a common natural treatments for allergies. Leaf extracts of butterbur inhibit leukotrienes and prevents AMP from triggering histamine release in the nose.  It seems to be particularly effective against grass pollen allergies.  However, it is also commonly used for other respiratory allergies. Its anti-inflammatory properties reduce asthma symptoms. (89, 10, 11)

Recommended: NusaPure Butterbur Root Extract

Also see these best butterbur supplements.

3. Gul Zofa (Nepeta bracteata)

Nepeta bracteata, which is related to catnip, is used to treat many respiratory conditions including chronic cough, excessive buildup of mucus and asthma.  It also helps treat allergies naturally by inhibiting IgE, thus preventing the expression of allergy receptors and blocking histamine. (13)  For cough, mullein is also a good natural remedy.


4. Nigella Sativa Oil

Nigella sativa goes by many names, including black seed, black caraway, black cumin and kalonji. It’s widely known for treating allergies naturally. Multiple studies found that a nigella sativa oil nasal spray reduced mucus, runny nose and other nasal symptoms. One study even found that nearly 70% of people with moderate allergies became symptom-free after 6 weeks of using nigella sativa nose drops.

While there isn’t as much research, it seems that taking nigella sativa oil orally also has benefits. The dosage in one study was 0.5ml daily. (14, 15, 16, 17, 18)

Recommended: Prime Natural Organic Black Seed Oil Extract


5. Black Pepper (Piper nigrum)

Black pepper is very good at decreasing levels of certain cytokines in the body.  Even a lose dose of 50mg/kg/day caused a significant decrease in these cytokines.  At doses of 100 and 200mg/kg/day, black pepper also suppressed eosinophil.

As an added bonus, black pepper is very affordable compared to some other medicinal allergy plants. It’s also readily available. (19)

This is what black pepper looks like before it is picked and dried


6. Beefsteak Plant (Perilla frutescens)

Perilla is a leafy plant in the mint family.  The leaves and seeds are eaten as food in a lot of East Asian countries, especially Korea.  Perilla leaves are also famous for their medicinal benefits including antioxidants, reducing obesity, and reducing inflammation.

Recent research shows that perilla also has a natural anti-allergy benefit by reducing airway inflammation, suppressing the Th2 response and inhibiting histamine release. The main compound is rosarinic acid.  Perilla also contains other anti-allergy compounds, like luteolin.   You can take perilla as a pill, powder, extract or tea. (20, 21, 22, 23, 24)

Perilla growing in South Korea

Recommended: Hawaii Pharm Perilla Extract

7. Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

Turmeric contains curcumin, a bioactive substance known for dozens of proven health benefits, especially in regards to reducing inflammation.

Research shows that curcumin has many immunomodulatory benefits, such as regulating cytokines and inhibiting cytokines, which relieve respiratory allergy symptoms.  (25, 26, 27, 28)

Turmeric is better absorbed if taken with black pepper.  Since black pepper also has anti-allergy benefits, the combination is especially effective.

Image credits:
Black pepper (Piper nigrum)” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by joncox84
Santpoort: butterbur lowscape” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by doc(q)man
Petasites hybridus – Common butterbur” (CC BY 2.0) by Joost J. Bakker IJmuiden

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