The prospect of balmy days and the countryside filling with flowers sounds simply idyllic, but to a hay fever sufferer it screams excess amounts of air-bound pollen destined to cause them havoc for weeks to come.
Hay fever is a seasonal allergy, which is caused by pollen from grass, flowers, trees, weeds and plants. First-time sufferers can often mistake hay fever for a summer cold, but for long-term sufferers once their sneezing begins they know the hay fever season is in full swing.
Hay fever develops when the immune system interprets pollen as a dangerous invader, so it produces histamine. In most cases, histamine helps the body to fight off harmful infections, but in the case of an allergic reaction it provokes the rather uncomfortable symptoms we recognise as hay fever. The first port of call for most sufferers is an over-the-counter anti-histamine, which will help to block the histamine and gives some relief to the symptoms.
However, the routine of daily life must continue, so even though avoiding the outdoors on a sunny day could reduce the severity of an outbreak, it’s not a realistic solution. Some small steps can help to reduce the impact of pollen, such as rubbing a layer of Vaseline to the nostril and under the eyelids before heading outside. This can help to catch some of the airborne pollen before it can cause any harm. My football-playing 10-year-old son finds his wrap-around sunglasses also help to protect him from a pollen invasion. Watch the forecast to be aware of the approach of any high pollen days. If time allows, head to the beach. Clean air will come off the sea, especially if there is a light breeze, and swimming in salt water can help to improve the sinuses by washing out any pollens.
Hay fever sufferers can benefit greatly from consuming locally produced honey, which contains a certain amount of pollen from the flowers and greenery causing the allergy. The theory is that if a small amount of local honey is regularly consumed, it can help to desensitise a hay fever sufferer to pollen in the area. To help build up an immunity, it’s best to have a daily spoonful of local honey throughout the year. Many farmers’ markets will have local honey for sale, but keep an eye out on the roadside as some beekeepers sell from their homes. Local honey may not work for everyone, but it’s certainly worth a try, unless a health professional has advised against it, eg if diabetes is an issue.
A healthy diet which includes foods that are natural anti-histamines and have anti-inflammatory properties, such as raw non-citrus fruits and vegetables, salmon, walnuts and garlic, will also help the body to deal with hay fever attacks. It’s also important to drink plenty of water during the hay fever season as this will help to decrease all that excess mucous.
Nessa Robins grew up on a farm in Moate, Co Westmeath, where she lives with her husband, Diarmuid, and four children. Her first cookbook, Apron Strings: Recipes From A Family Kitchen is published by New Island, RRP €22.99. Visit http://nessasfami lykitchen.blogspot.ie
As well as being rich in many minerals, nettles happen to be a natural anti-histamine. When harvesting your nettle leaves, make sure to pick organic ones that are far away from anywhere that has been sprayed with weed-killer or pesticides. The younger the leaves, the sweeter the taste, so pick small leaves from the top of the nettle plant. If you would prefer not to brave the fresh variety, nettle teabags can be bought in most health food shops.
1 cup of fresh nettle leaves
3 cups of boiling water
Local honey, to serve
1 Armed with thick gloves and a kitchen scissors, clip the young leaves at the top of the nettle plant, making sure not to take any of the stem.
2 Wash the leaves under cold water to get rid of any dirt or dust. Add the leaves to a teapot or caffettiere with the boiling water and steep for 15 minutes. If not using a caffettiere, strain through a sieve, then add a teaspoon of honey to sweeten.
Chia crusted honey-roasted salmon
During the hay fever season, try to eat plenty of foods that are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 essential fats, such as oily fish, nuts and seeds. These contain important anti-inflammatory properties and may help to reduce the symptoms of hay fever. Chia seeds are especially high in omega-3. Since they are so versatile, there are many ways they can be added to the diet. For an instant nutritional boost, try them in smoothies, scatter them over your breakfast cereal or sprinkle them over cooked vegetables, meat or fish. The chia seeds are perfect for this recipe as they provide the salmon with a tasty, crispy coating.
3 tbsp of honey
1 tbsp of soy sauce
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 salmon fillets, approx. 150g each
500g of sweet potatoes
200g of carrots
1 tbsp of honey
1 tbsp of butter
1 tbsp of chia seeds, plus extra for serving
1 Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark six.
2 Mix together the honey, soy and garlic. Add to a freezer bag with the salmon fillets and leave to marinate in the fridge for about 15 minutes.
3 Roughly peel the sweet potatoes. Chop into even-sized chunks. Peel the carrots and chop into chunks, smaller than the sweet potato as they will take longer to cook. Steam for 15-20 minutes until soft.
4 Place the salmon fillets, skin-side down, into a medium-sized baking dish. Pour the remainder of the marinade over the fish and place in the oven for 20 minutes.
5 Once the sweet potatoes and carrots are cooked, transfer to a clean saucepan and mash together with the honey and butter.
6 Take the salmon from the oven and carefully sprinkle the chia seeds over the top of the fillets to form a crust.
7 Divide the mash between two plates and top with the cooked salmon. Sprinkle over a few chia seeds and serve with steamed peas.