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How To Test Herbs For Allergic Reactions

Did you know that you can be allergic to certain herbs?

It’s true!

Just like seasonal allergies from plant pollen can affect people by giving them itchy, watery eyes, a sore throat, cough, and hives and food allergies which cause all sorts of problems from stomach cramps, to itching and hives, to full out anaphylactic shock, herbs can cause allergic reactions as well.

Small amounts. Large amounts. First-time use. Hundredth-time use.

These days, allergies are more common than they used to be, and if you’re going to use herbs, you want make sure you’re using ones that agree with your body right away. Thankfully allergic reactions to herbs are usually mild.

So how do you know whether you are allergic to a particular herb?

You need to take your current allergies into consideration. If you have allergies to ragweed (a common allergen), then chances are they may have allergic reactions to plants in the Asteraceae family such as chamomile, calendula, and yarrow, to name a few.

If you think you may be allergic to a particular herb, or if you’re not sure, there’s a way you can find out.

You can test yourself for allergic reactions.

Now before you go testing yourself for herbal allergic reactions, if you currently have a large number of allergies or have any allergies are severe, it’s best to test herbs for allergic reactions under the supervision of your doctor to play it safe.

How To Test Herbs For Allergic Reactions

  1. Begin by rubbing the fresh herb on the skin on the inside of the wrist and wait to see if a skin reaction occurs before testing the herb by ingesting it. If you only have access to dried herbs, soak them in a bit of warm water and rub the moistened herb on the skin first. If no reaction occurs, move on to step 2.
  2. Make a strong infusion and drink 1 teaspoon. Wait 30 minutes.
  3. If no reaction occurs, drink 1 tablespoon. Wait another 30 minutes.
  4. If no reaction occurs then, drink 1/2 a cup.
  5. Wait again, then try 1 full cup.

If you don’t have any sort of reaction after all of this, it’s very unlikely that they are allergic to the herb you’re testing which means you can go ahead and use the herb. However, it’s important to remember to start small with the doses and work your way up anyway. That’s always a safe way to dose herbs.

Have you ever experienced an allergic reaction to an herb? If so, what was it like, and how do you determine whether your allergic to other herbs or not?

25 thoughts on “How To Test Herbs For Allergic Reactions”

  1. Elaine McFadden, MPH, RD

    This topic could help #parents of children that are displaying #allergies. You will want to pinpoint just which plant/herb is causing the reaction and here is a step by step procedure for that test. As a dietitian agree with this approach to know the truth which can be very helpful and remove a lot of fear.

    ALWAYS START WITH SMALL AMOUNT! If the reaction that was identified was severe, tests can be done under a doctors supervision. May need to keep anti histamine and epi pen on hand if severe.

    Herb allergies not talked about as much but do exist. If you’ve have ever had a Poison Oak/Ivy experience you know without a doubt a plant can cause an unpleasant severe reaction that does not go away next day. ONLY BUY ORGANIC. Reaction could be from pesticide(s) sprayed.

    Tests have determined plants like vegetables purchased from Lowe’s and Home Depot could come with RoundUp already sprayed on them. Some seeds come coated in pesticides and leave deposits in all parts of the plant.

    Before education as RD was responsible for at least a couple of allergic reactions.

    One person reacted to niacin supplement….bad one. Felt awful and had no idea that could happen.

    Went through a heavy #beepollen phase and ate a lot. Had this great source that was so sweet and chewy was fun to eat. You want to ALWAYS test for bee pollen #allergic reaction with a VERY SMALL AMOUNT FIRST as I saw what can happen when someone allergic and is scary and life threatening.

    Thought would mention as like herbs not talked about much as the peanut, egg, shellfish, gluten type reactions.

  2. Thanks for this information! Just this week I found out I was having an allergic reaction to the Oil of Oregano supplement I’ve been taking. It manifested in incredibly itchy palm of my hands. Around the same time I began taking the oil I also bought new hand soap, so I initially thought that was the culprit. Now I’m curious to try your method with oregano leaves to see if I have a general allergy to oregano (I hope not!), or if I experienced this reaction due to the concentrated oil.

    1. Yeah, definitely check it out. It could be the oil only and not so much the herb as the oil is WAY stronger. Another thing to consider is that it may not be an all out allergy, but instead your body getting sensitive to it from too much use. Just some things to think about!

    2. My itchy palms could indicate allergies? I’ll be sure to mention that at the clinic I’m headed for this week for testing! Thanks!

  3. Many supplements have fillers which can cause allergies as well. I found this with my son. Read your labels. Meagan, what is a strong infusion?

    1. Infusions can steep for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to four hours to overnight. The longer you let it steep the stronger it will be. So a strong infusion to me is an overnight infusion. Hope that helps!

  4. Thank you for this. I tried a cup of organic yarrow tea today, and had awful stomach cramping along with nausea and chest pressure. I did take one digestive pill shortly beforehand (and have never had trouble with that before), so wondering if I may be allergic. Esp since Yarrow is said to calm the digestive system. I have more from a different source; thinking of trying it, but using your method instead.

    1. Well, you could definitely have had a reaction to it, but you’ll need to consider some other things before you decide if that was it. First, you said you took a digestive pill first. Do you have stomach issues that are bothering you right now, and could your symptoms be related to that? Second, the most common herbal side effects are headaches, nausea, or mild rashes, and these tend to be rare. If you try the yarrow tea again and get the same results, then it’s likely it is the yarrow (and possibly even that plant family) therefore it would be best to choose another herb to help with digestion or whatever you’re taking it for, but if you try it again and you don’t have those symptoms, it may not be the yarrow. No matter, yarrow isn’t the only herb out there so you definitely will have more choices for others! Let me know how it goes for you though.

  5. Thanks! I haven’t tried the other kind yet, but I will let you know how it goes. No stomach upset prior to trying it that one time.

  6. I’ve long wondered about people with nsaid allergies and if they would react to herbs containing salicin (which is the natural form of salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin), like willow bark. Have you ever read anything about that? Or know of any references or studies that I can refer to? I was planning on posing this question on the HANE boards, but figured since I came across your post today, I’d ask your opinion too.

    1. I actually just came across this when looking at something the other day, Michele. It actually said that if you have allergies or adverse reactions to aspirin that it’s advised to use caution with herbs that contain salicylic acid. So willow bark is one of the better-known herbs that contain salicylic acid, but meadowsweet, wintergreen, cottonwood, black haw, black cohosh, birch, and cramp bark among others I’m sure. A lot of times, when someone has an allergy to a medicine, they most likely not going to react to an herb with similar chemicals because herbs are milder, whole food plants with other chemicals that buffer the stronger ones. However, it’s still wise to be careful. I hope that helps. This is a good one to still ask in the HANE forums. Someone else may have more experience in this area. Hope this helps! Thanks for your comment Michele.

  7. Hi!
    I started having insane eczema on my hamstrings at 8 months pregnancy. Now my son is 1.5 years old and although it used to come and go, my eczema is terrible now. I’m wondering if it’s from an herb/plant. Do you know if there are any accurate/reliable tests for this? Thank you 🙂

    1. Herbal reactions rarely show up in the form of eczema, Alexis. If you were allergic to a particular plant, you’d most likely have an acute rash that would quickly come and go as opposed to something that lasts. Do you take any herbs on a regular basis? If so, have you tried stopping them for a while to see if your eczema gets better? I’m sorry I’m not much help. From my understanding of eczema, it’s usually linked to gut issues. Perhaps you could look into that for more information.

  8. I would add if you have a peanut or legume allergy, be wary of the Fabacae family. I was making a blend with alfalfa leaf and my wrists and arms broke out in hives. Soon after the area under my nose became enflamed from smelling the bag too much. I can normally eat alfalfa sprouts so I was surprised. I wouldn’t trust tasting even a teaspoon of alfalfa tea after that reaction. Since then, my test is to rub the leaf on my wrist and see if rash occurs. Safer than ingesting.

    1. Great point, Gina, especially for those with strong allergic reactions to nuts or pollens. I’d say for anyone that has the potential to react severely, a skin test would be the safest first step. Thanks for pointing that out!

  9. Pingback: How To Make A Fresh Yarrow Tincture (Plus 5 Ways To Use It)

  10. Hi I’m interested in learning more on how to treat/prevent herb allergies, I’m severely allergic to herbs, to the point where it’s life threatening, the only problem is I just can’t pin point which herbs it is, as my reaction only happens when I ingest them, even then it takes time for my body to start digesting before a reaction breaks out.

    1. Hi, Josh. I’m sorry you’re experiencing allergies to herbs. Unfortunately, I have very limited experience in that area, and with your severe reactions, I wouldn’t feel comfortable advising you. I’d suggest seeing a homeopathic practitioner as they work with very diluted amounts of herbs, and I’ve heard people with general allergies having success with that sort of therapy. Best of luck, and I hope that is helpful in some way.

  11. Soooo I know that I have a mild allergy to mugwort and I bought loose mugwort tea and I wanted to smoke it for the wonderful affects I’ve been reading about abd I would also like to drink the teas as well, however I’m wondering if I’ll still have an allergic reaction internally because when I was tested for allergies they used the patch test which is for contact dermatitis so I got a small hive, but of I invested it would I have a bad reaction? I’m not sure but I might bite the bullet and throw back a benadryl if it’s worth it…

    1. Hmm… I’m honestly not sure. Allergies are an immune response so I would imagine that if you had a reaction to a skin test, you would also react if you ingest the plant internally. The only way to know is to give the allergy test in this post a try. The safest way to test, particularly since you already know you react, is to schedule an appointment with your doctor to test the herb in their office. Best of luck!

  12. I’ve foraged most of my life and im still alicve yay. Once i seen a berry i wasn’t famoliar with and there were definately enough to forage so… i grabbed one and smooshed it on my arm, yea the spot got red and i started to get a hive a big one. I immediately wiped it off my arm and remain grateful for words to the wise. If its something your unfamiliar with proceed with caution. Get hooked up with an outdoor enthusiasts club or something of the like to learn what may or may not be viable and try the wrist thing research research research and did i say research. Never go on foraging trips with just you and someone you don’t know is safe, just saying. Not all that glitters is gold, just like not rverything that looks edible is. All the best.

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