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Pine Tree Pollen: Friend or Foe?

Pine tree pollen is more beneficial than detrimental to our health.

Scattered pine cones in a pine tree tunnel provide many uses in craft projects as well as food and medicinal purposes.      Ahhh...springtime at last.  Mother nature's best show of all the seasons.  Days are longer.  Weather is warmer. Trees are blooming.  Flowers are blooming.   Time to shed those coats...and get out the antihistamines.  Yellow dust.  It's landing everywhere.  Everything is covered in it. Outside.  Inside.  On the furniture.  On the car.  In the car. In the air?  Nope.  Unless you're sitting in the middle of a field of daisies,  all that pollen you see is not the culprit of springtime allergies. It's pine tree pollen and really quite harmless if not even helpful.  It just happens that pine tree pollen is dominate in the spring season any time from March through May.

     The pollen from a pine tree is exceptionally large and heavy.  Though wind born, it quickly settles out of the air landing on everything nearby on calm days, and somewhat further away on windy days.  Even though pine trees produce enormous amounts of pollen, covering surfaces with yellow dust, it doesn't generally cause allergic symptoms.  There are two reasons for this.  The pollen doesn't linger in the air for inhalation as a respiratory irritant.  Also, pine tree pollen is not considered an allergen.  Oak, cedar, maples and elm trees as well as grass pollens, are the major allergen triggers in the spring.  People who might rarely be allergic to pine pollen are those with specific allergies to pine or those with severe reactions to bee stings.  The obvious pine pollen that we can see serves us well as an alert to other pollens lingering in the air as well as a reminder to keep windows closed during this time of the season.

Pine tree catkins are the male pine cones that provide pine pollen with containing many health benefits.White pine trees provide health benefits from their needles, bark and pollen.
     Pine trees have both male and female pine cones known as 'strobili'. Male pine cones, smaller than female cones, are long and thin.  Female pine cones are larger and rounder.  The familiar woody cone is the female cone containing ovules where seeds are produced when fertilized by pollen grains.  This seed or nut is famously known as the 'pine nut'.  Some refer to the caterpillar-like structure of the male cone as a flower or 'catkin'. These catkins contain many pollen sacs.  They only appear in the spring and once they release their pollen, begin to disintegrate.  The female pine cones are generally found in the upper branches in the crown of the tree above the male cones.  On a windy day, this release of pollen can be quite spectacular with dense, yellow smoke-like clouds of pollen rising from the trees and rolling across  a field or meadow.  Click the video below to see the pollen fall from the catkins.

     Pine trees have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries.  The needles are used to make tea, while the bark, seeds and pollen are eaten for health benefits as well.  Pine tree pollen contains powerful antioxidants and many vitamins.  It is purportedly used to regulate hormone imbalances, reduce cholesterol, improve metabolism, regulate prostate function, protect the cardiovascular system, strengthen the immune system, and even touted as a preventative for the common cold.

     Pine tree pollen can be purchased in powder, capsule, or tincture form.  Why not collect your own during pollen season.  Don't collect pollen from trees near areas that have been sprayed with chemical fertilizers or herbicides.  Remember to look for the male small, flaky catepillar-like catkins. You won't find any pollen in the female pine cones.  You may want to wear disposable gloves in case there is any sap still around.  Just tap them over a bag or container to collect the pollen on a dry, preferably not windy day.  Be sure not to take it all from one pine  tree, but from several different trees as it does serve as their method of reproduction.  And finally, dry it out on a tray on a hot sunny day or on a low heat in the oven or food dehydrator.  Store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator or in the freezer and it will last for several months.  Just sprinkle a little on cereal or salad or mix it in a smoothie.  See if you notice any difference in how you feel.  Check with your health care practitioner for concerns about ingesting pine tree pollen.  Remember not to ingest pine tree pollen if you are one of the rare persons allergic to pine or bee stings.



Traditional Mothers Day Flower Gifts for the Mom with Allergies

Roses make great gifts for those with allergies.

     Flowers always make great gifts for Mothers Day, right?  The traditional roses, carnations, daisies, lilies, azaleas, rhododendrons...and the list goes on and on.  Except when your mother has allergies, specifically pollen allergies.  In that case you might want to stay away from certain varieties of flowers heavily laden with pollen.  Fortunately, this list is fairly short and only includes varieties from a few well known families of flowers. Although, certain heavily scented varieties can trigger an allergic reaction as well.

    A flower is usually insect-pollinated as opposed to a tree, grass, or weed which is usually wind-pollinated. Small, drab, inconspicuous flowers with little color, like those found on weeds, tend to be the culprit of an allergic response. Their pollen is smaller and lightweight making it easily carried by the wind.

     Orchids are an all time favorite of gift recipients.  Their pollen consists of a compacted mass of pollen grains coated in wax forming a pollinia and is not released into the air.  Roses are another favorite.  When giving rosebuds the pollen cannot be released.  When the buds open the pollen found inside is large and heavy preventing it from being released into the air.

     When looking for flowers, search for those with lots of petals and no visible centers.  Hybridized double chrysanthemums, begonias, hydrangeas, azaleas, asters, dahlias, gladiolas, irises, cyclamens, and double peonies all have little to no pollen.  Of course, cacti and succulents are good choices.

     Daisies including the gerbera daisy, single chrysanthemums, lilies, sunflowers, zinnia, jasmine, honeysuckle, and pussy willows are some to stay away from. They all contain lightweight pollen which easily becomes airborne.  Giant sunflowers to be planted outdoors are fine because they have large, heavy pollen that is not easily airborne.  Lilies can be made allergy free simply by removing the brown or yellow pollen-bearing anthers at the tip of each of the six stamens.  Calla lilies and other deep-throated flowers make excellent choices both for their beauty as well as the fact that the pollen producing parts of the flower are deeply embedded within the bloom.

The deep-throated calla lily with its deeply embedded pollen stamens makes an excellent choice for those with allergies .

     Some people are even allergic to heavily scented flowers.  This can happen from a sensitivity to the natural chemicals produced by the plant.  It is very rare to be allergic to this, but it does occur.  Climbing roses tend to have a heavier fragrance than other roses.  Another thing to beware of are flowers enhanced with artificial fragrance in grocery stores or even at some florists.  The artificial chemicals used in the fragrance enhancers can trigger allergy attacks.

     It is a myth that goldenrod is an allergy trigger.  Welcomed as a flower by some and a weed by others, it produces a heavy, sticky pollen.  This brightly colored, yellow flowering plant is entomophilous (animal or insect-pollinated) and is not likely to cause allergies.  It got it's bad rap due to the fact that it blooms in the wild at the same time as ragweed.  It serves us well as an alert to ragweed season. 

     Pot mums make great Mothers Day gifts for both indoors and outdoors.  Outdoors they provide beauty and color while indoors they clean the air of formaldehyde.  See the article Breathe Easier: Buy a Houseplant and Clean the Air. For those with allergies, pot mums are also available in double petal varieties which prevents the pollen from becoming airborne.  

Colorful pot mum plants provide color and beauty while helping to clean indoor air of formaldehyde.

     From a single flower rose or carnation, to a giant bouquet, or a grand potted plant, it's good to know their are still plenty of choices to be made even for those with allergies.  This Mother's Day the allergic  mother will be grateful you cared enough to research and seek out the appropriate flower or arrangement for her. Nowadays, some florists even offer sneeze-free bouquets.  All you have to do is ask.

     It's up to you to decide.  The beauty of a particular flower might far outweigh the occasional sneeze or two.



Hay Fever, Allergic Rhinitis, Pollinosis: What is it Really & What Can I do About it?

     I haven't seen any hay growing in my back yard, or any straw either for that matter.  And if it were, I'm sure it wouldn't be feverish.  It's not that hot out yet.  So why is everyone sneezing?  As the story goes, hay got a bad wrap as an allergen from days gone by when farming was a major profession.  Hay very rarely is an allergen and hay fever does not cause a fever.  It was just coincidental that pollens were in the air at the time when farmers were working on the farm in the hay fields and pollen allergies became known as hay fever. Once specific to grasses only, it has now become an umbrella term for other plant pollens as well.  Hay fever is also known as allergic rhinitis or pollinosis.  So the next time someone asks you if your hay fever is bothering you, you can say no, it's just my pollinosis.


     Allergies are caused by wind-pollinated plants.  Fortunately, flowers are usually pollinated by insects and normally do not cause allergies. Exceptions to this are the heavy pollen flowers: chrysanthemums, sunflowers, daisies, and jasmine.  These types should not be planted near windows to prevent pollen from blowing indoors on windy days.  Trees, grass, and weeds are the most likely culprits of outdoor allergies. Generally, trees release their pollens in spring, grasses in summer, and weeds in the fall. Precise dates vary every season dependent upon current weather conditions. Fungi and mold spores tend to peak during midsummer to fall, although heavy spring rains and warmer weather can bring on an allergy attack.  The male part of the plant, or stamen, produces the yellow, dust like pollen.  It causes our immune system to mistake a harmless substance for a harmful one. Thrown into overdrive, it produces antibodies and releases histamines as a self defense mechanism. Trees, grasses, and weeds release these pollen particles that are then blown into the air to fertilize other plants.  Even if you were able to remove all pollen allergen triggers in your yard or even your entire neighborhood, it might only be slightly beneficial.  Pollen can travel hundreds of miles in the wind.  

     Cold-like signs and symptoms may include runny or stuffy nose, red, itchy eyes, sneezing, sinus pressure, headache, or coughing. When symptoms persist on and off for months, you more than likely are not catching multiple colds.  Colds usually subside in a week to ten days.  It's probably an allergy.  How long your symptoms persist depends on which pollens or triggers you are allergic to. Eventually, these allergies may progress into asthma.  Spring, summer, and fall, symptoms could be any one of the many pollen or mold allergies.  When symptoms persist throughout winter, it's probably something indoors.  It could be mold growing from dampness in your house somewhere or a dust mite or chemical allergy.  See Dust mites and what you need to know.

     Some allergies can be exasperated by particular foods that we eat.  Springtime tree allergy sufferers should beware of apples, peaches and pears.  These foods that normally wouldn't cause any reaction at other times of the year, can further irritate the sensitive individual during the tree allergy season.  Those with grass allergies should be aware that celery is a grass and shouldn't be eaten during the summertime grass allergy season unless it is cooked. Trigger proteins found in raw foods break down with heat.  Melons can also trigger a response in the grass sensitive individual during this allergy season.    
     Ragweed symptoms in the fall may be even more pronounced when eating certain foods.  If you know you are sensitive to ragweed, the following foods should be avoided during ragweed season and even shortly before:  melons, bananas, raw honey with pollen, sunflower seed, zucchini and cucumbers.  They may be fine when cooked.

     Goldenrod blooms at the same time as ragweed.  It is not a significant allergen because it is insect-pollinated as opposed to wind-pollinated.  The bright yellow flowers in bloom are an indicator of the timing of ragweed pollination and serve as an alert to those who suffer from ragweed allergies.

     You may also want to try to avoid foods high in histamines as allergy season approaches.  These include avocados, chocolate, beer and wine, aged cheeses, and fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut.

     Some foods can actually be beneficial during the ragweed allergy season.  Burdock root, dandelion, echinacea, nettle leaf, spirulina, green tea and licorice are just a few.  Available in tintures, teas, and capsules, they work by building up your immune system and suppressing histamines.  If you've never taken these before, use caution in the event you are allergic to one of them.  It is best to begin well before the allergy season starts so your body has time to build immunities.  For congestion try chili pepper, horseradish, wasabi or garlic.  These are all foods that act as a decongestant.

     Another thing you can do is try to avoid outdoor morning excursions between 5:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.  This is the time of the day when the highest pollen rates occur.  The later in the day you go outside the better.  So try to plan outdoor activities in late afternoon or early evening whenever possible.

     Sorry to say, but it is a good time to increase the vacuuming and dusting regime.  Always use a vacuum or air filter with hepa filters to trap the very fine pollen and dust particles that might otherwise escape.  Dusting should be done with a slightly damp cloth or natural furniture polish to prevent particles from escaping back into the air.  

     At the beginning of a known pollen allergy season you should close your windows and turn on the air conditioning if needed.  This is also a good time to change the air filters.

     When gardening you can wear a particle mask to prevent inhalation of pollens.  To prevent eye allergies, redness, swelling, watering, you could wear wrap around eye protection like goggles. Your neighbors might laugh at you, but when you are done you'll feel a whole lot better and breathe easier the rest of the day.

     If none of these things provide any relief you might have to resort to over the counter antihistamines and decongestants.  When you've had enough, a trip to the allergist doctor might be useful if your allergies are severe. They will try to find out just what it is that's aggravating you and possibly desensitize you to the offending agent. There's a new experimental form of oral desensitization called Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT) thats been being studied in Europe for many years.  Instead of the injections used with Subcutaneous Immunotherapy (SKIT) the allergen extract is administered orally under the tongue of the patient.  Although it is commonly used in Europe and Asia, it is not yet FDA approved in the U.S.  Some U.S. doctors do offer this treatment. You will have to investigate further to find out if it is available in your area.