If hay fever is the worst chronic affliction from which I ever suffer, I will consider myself blessed. But hay fever it is an inconvenience from which I will likely suffer for the rest of my life. From mid-August until the first frost of the fall, clogged sinuses, jolting sneezes, a dampened sense of smell, and a dependency upon decongestant medication become a daily reality. In my twenty-seven years, I have ingested thousands of anti-histamine and decongestant pills, endured scratch testing followed by years of allergy shots (I stopped them when I was twelve), and have in more recent years fallen victim to “sneeze attacks”: several days of the year on which my sneezing is so violent and constant that I wake up with sore neck and facial muscles the following morning. The first three to four consecutive sneezes are pretty funny. But the following seven are tough to manage. Especiallyin public. As climate change looms upon all of humanity, it is not necessarily the floods, droughts, intense heats, and more frequent lethal storms that scare me most (although the absolutely do scare me). Rather I a most afraid that a warmer, moister climate will usher a new paradise for ragweed, my number one nemesis.
I have come to grips with the fact that I will mostly like be tied to allergy medication for the rest of my life. I tried Allegra (made me drowsy), Claritin (didn’t really work), and have felt satisfied with Zyrtec for the last six years or so. I’m also thankful that I can now access this medication over-the-counter, but even so, it’s an expense I’d rather live without it. Earlier this summer, my complaints were overheard by my friend Liat. Liat—one of the most independent, resourceful, and endearing friends I’ve made in several years—has an insatiable appetite for understanding, eating and using wild plants. While I don’t remember her exact response to my wails of allergy woe, I recall that it was something akin to, “What are you allergic to? Ragweed? Well duh. You need to make a ragweed tincture.”
I had heard of tinctures from multiple ecovillage friends. I knew that individuals made tinctures to ease nerves, help induce sleep, sooth poison ivy, or even enhance mood. The possibilities, I imagine, are limitless, but I was never aware that allergies were an ailment that a tincture could remedy. In my case, the tincture will serve as a sort of immunization to ragweed allergens. Liat suggested, firstly, that I collect ragweed leaves (of which there is no shortage at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage), dry them, and drink Ragweed tea. This, of course, is not a tincture, but was a useful introduction of ragweed into my system before ragweed flowers and causes me real problems.
At the same time, I collected several dozen ragweed leaves, chopped them up into fine tiny pieces, stuffed-stuffed-STUFFED them into a pint jar, and then filled the interstices with vodka. Vodka is apparently very effective at absorbing the properties of whatever is immersed inside it. “Let it sit for at least a month. But ideally for six weeks,” Liat advised, “And then take two drops under your tongue every day.”
Well, a month has nearly passed and, indeed, the bright green leaves that I deposited inside the glass jar on July 27th are a sickly yellow-green. Tomorrow is the day my long-term, sustainable, anti-capitalist, potentially drug-free allergy treatment begins, although I imagine I’ll keep up the Zyrtec for a while. I’m also trying to immunize myself to regional pollen by sweetening my morning’s coffee with local honey. It’s delicious AND remedial. Should these treatments work, I’d like to think I can one day live free of my ragweed enemy. Now I just have to find a way around dust, mold, and bird feathers…
UPDATE: I've begun the healing process, taking two drops of the tincture per day. Some pictures below: