Treating a Common Allergy Symptom Pattern

A Simple Bitters Blend


Hay Fever and seasonal allergies can be frustrating to treat for even an experienced practitioner, and certainly a great discomfort to those suffering from rhinitis and the sometimes accompanying secondary infections. While I see many people still trying to use herbs in a “this herb for that disease diagnosis”, allergies are a great illustration of just how poorly this paradigm can work in clinical practice. Instead of simply saying “nettles are good for allergies”, I find it much more effective to look at the underlying constitution and overall pattern of symptoms that are presenting. This article will address one such pattern, and one that tends to be very common. I have used a similar regimen for this general pattern dozens of times with good to great results. 

I originally learned this pattern from the great Michael Moore, and as for so many things from Michael, I will be eternally grateful for its practicality and overall usefulness in my practice. 

Keep in mind that you’re not just looking for a single symptom in this case, but for several symptoms that show a correlation to the liver deficiency pattern, and often to an underlying constitutional issue. However, this pattern can be acquired by hepatitis, insulin resistance, and some other chronic health issues.

Symptoms of Liver Deficiency Pattern:

  • Gum disease

  • Bad breath unrelated to recent food intake

  • Frequent constipation and/or digestive stagnation, especially if aggravated by stress or tension.

  • Trouble digesting fats and proteins

  • Hay fever/chronic allergies

  • Chronic “bad skin” and/or a dull yellow cast to the skin

  • Low blood pressure

  • A dark pink to red tongue, often with at least a pale yellow coating

  • Chronic belching or flatulence

  • Dry skin and mucosa

  • Labile blood sugar

The primary herb that I’ll be discussing here is Oregon Grape Root, formerly Mahonia spp., and now placed in the Berberis genus. Oregon Grape Root is an alkaloidal bitter, and cooling, drying, and stimulating in nature, which means that its cold nature can potentially be problematic to the digestive system over a period of time, so I prefer to always formulate it with neutral to warming aromatic herbs to buffer and balance it. 

As a note, Oregon Grape Root stimulates liver function through mild irritation, and for this reason, it should be used with caution in folks with significant liver tension in chronic or acute liver disease. Should ingestion of Oregon Grape Root trigger hepatic pain, hives, or other negative reactions, then it’s time to reassess and consider whether liver relaxants might be more appropriate. In general, it’s a very safe herb, but as a clinician, I find it very useful to know where a plant is less indicated or sometimes even overtly contra-indicated. 

I have discussed the physiology of Oregon Grape Root’s effect on the liver, and liver function’s effect on allergies with dozens of herbalists and several MDs at this point, and it’s still somewhat unclear as to exactly why this pattern occurs and why stimulating liver metabolism seems to help, but as with so many herbal therapeutics I do see that it helps even if I don’t always understand why.

A Sample Tincture Formula 

  • 2 parts Oregon Grape Root (former Mahonia spp.) root/stem 

  • 1 part Artemisia leaves or flowering tops (I prefer A. ludoviciana, but Artemisia vulgaris and similar species could also work.) aerial parts.

  • 1 part Lovage root

  • 1/2 part Rosemary aerial parts.

Dosage: 1/2 - 2 ml, 3-4 times daily, preferably about half an hour before meals.

Most of the elements in this formula can be easily switched out for whatever herbs are available, the most important ingredients are the Oregon Grape Root, and at least one warming aromatic herbs. I also very much prefer to include an Artemisia in the formula because of how effectively it tends to remedy liver stagnation, which is frequently a significant part of this pattern.  
Some people find Oregon Grape Root to be overly stimulating to the Upper G.I., in which case the dosage can be dropped as necessary. What is most necessary here is consistency on a daily basis to assess how well the formula is going to work. It’s important to realize that this sort of treatment takes time to have an effect, and should, ideally, be started several months before hay fever season for best results. Effects on digestion should be perceivable within a week (usually less), but effects on chronic allergies can take several months to be truly noticeable. In individuals where this basic formula has a significant impact, it can continue to reduce the severity of chronic allergies over a period of several years. I suggest accompanying this basic regimen with treatments that will quickly reduce or remove the symptoms, while working on the underlying pattern with this formula and other constitutional adjustments.

If you purchase your Oregon Grape Root from a commercial source, look for moderate to bright yellow inner bark... the less color present, the less well it will work. 

Cautions & Contraindications: Some types of hepatitis in some people (look for signs of liver tension for a warning marker), people with a red face and high blood pressure who don’t pee enough. These are dandelion (or burdock maybe) people and they don’t need Oregon Grape Root, it’ll just piss their livers off.

Oregon Grape Root effects liver metabolism of many pharmaceuticals, and in most cases should be avoided while on meds to avoid possibly dangerous interactions.

Also, exercise caution using this herb for long periods of time in people who are cold and weak. Remember, this is an herb for ~heat~. This also applies to people experiencing heat from deficiency, be gentle and vigilant and it’s usually best to use a balancing formula in these cases.