Will Growing One’s Own Herbs Avoid Allergy Problems?
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Keith
Posted on: August 9, 1999

I’ve got a bunch of allergies and I can’t tolerate any of the herbs that you buy at health food stores. Would growing my own herbs and making my own tinctures be a way for me to go? I’m interested in herbs like Echinacea, Milk Thistle, and Astragulus.

This question has no definite answer yes or no because the allergic reactions can develop in different ways.

One way is what you have in mind: that commercial herbal medicines may be made with herbs contaminated with chemical pesticides, fungicides, or fumigants. Or they may be made with allergenic additives, fillers, binders, etc. that are added to make pills, capsules, extracts, or other forms of medicine. There is no question that growing your own herbs can help avoid allergens of these sorts. The vast majority of the commercial herbs market is still grown and processed conventionally with chemicals and there are good reasons to worry about that. For example, there was a recent case in which ginseng roots were found to contain excessive levels of fungicides, forcing the dumping of vast quantities of roots. And some companies are known to fumigate incoming herbs at their factories with harmful chemicals to control pests.

Allergic reactions can develop also from the herbs themselves. Certain herbs are known to cause allergic reactions in some individuals. Examples are feverfew and chamomile. Obviously, growing your own is not necessarily going to avoid the problem. However, in the case of feverfew, careful picking of the tops before the seed heads develop may help to reduce the potential for allergic reactions because the seed heads are known to be allergenic.

Is growing herbs an easy enough thing to do?

Some herbs are very easy to grow or use. Echinacea is one; it is a hardy perennial that grows easily without much care, and gives a great show of purple flowers to boot. However, many of the most popular herbs are in fact quite difficult to grow, especially for the novice gardener. Ginseng and goldenseal are but tow examples.

We are very passionate about encouraging people to grow their own herbs. There is nothing like the satisfaction of growing herbs in a beautiful garden and then harvesting the medicinal parts and making your own herbal medicines. There are now some very good books that show you how to make your medicines and one of the best is "Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants" (available from Richters).

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