One is the “stinging” forest weed your mom warned you about, the other comes from something that stings. Stinging nettle and bee pollen have long been used in traditional health circles as treatment against the hay fever (allergic rhinitis) that becomes a battle for many people this time of year. With more and more encouraging research coming to light, their efficacy is being given serious attention in the medical field.
* Disclaimer: always consult your medical practitioner before taking anything to treat a medical condition.
This common weed, found worldwide in backyards and forests, is known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and, when properly ingested, is linked to relief from hay fever symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes. One recent study showed that co-administrated with other routine allergy treatments for allergic rhinitis, stinging nettle led to a significant decrease in symptoms. (1) The low-dose histamine contained in the nettle leaves serves to counteract the histamine produced in the body by environmental irritants. (2) Other benefits include that it is rich in vitamins A and C, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium, and can be used in the treatment of other inflammatory illnesses. (3)
There are many ways of taking stinging nettle: nettle tea, cooked or sautéed nettle, in capsule and tablet form, or applying it topically (extract, tincture, cream) are some options. Stinging nettle can easily be substituted for spinach in any meal, having a similar flavour and consistency. To remove the sting from the nettles, blanch them by boiling them in water with a little bit of salt for about 5 minutes. Wear gloves when harvesting and dropping them into the boiling water.
Bee pollen is not to be confused with the airborne pollen that makes springtime awful for allergy sufferers. It is a blend of flower pollen, nectar, enzymes, honey, wax, and bee secretions and regularly appears at the top of “superfood” lists. These golden granules are packed with over 250 biologically active anti-inflammatory compounds and include energy-rich protein, carbs, lipids, antioxidants, antibiotics, enzymes, all 22 essential amino acids, iron, trace minerals, and vitamins among other things. (4) (5)
When it comes to treating pollen-based allergies, taking bee pollen plays a similar role as an allergy shot by helping create an immunity and defence shield against offending pollens so the body reacts less when it’s around. However, it is important to eat bee pollen that contains compounds of your specific allergen source (consider getting an allergy test if you’re not sure what your allergy trigger is) and is therefore best purchased from health food stores, farmer’s markets, or reliable sources native to the region where you live (6)
How to get started? Consult your medical practitioner before starting with bee pollen. It is suggested that you start 2-3 months before allergy season with 1 granule under your tongue to monitor for any adverse reactions. Slowly increase by 1 granule daily up to 1-2 tablespoons per day as you desensitize to the allergy irritant and build up your immune system. Cut back to a lower dose if you experience any allergic symptoms (itchy throat, watery eyes, runny nose, headaches, etc.).
Use bee pollen in oatmeal, yogurt, cereal, soups, smoothies, and salads.
Note: bee pollen loses its nutritional value when heated and is best stored in your fridge or freezer to avoid spoilage.