Hives are raised patches of skin somewhat circular in shape. You might see only one, or a whole crop that breaks out the lasts one to three days. They can be white, pink, or red, as small as a dime or as large as a Frisbee. And they itch. Oh, how they itch! They may also burn or sting. Hives are basically an allergic skin reaction, during which certain cells release histamine and other inflammatory chemicals. These chemicals make the small blood vessels in the area leak, thereby producing localized swelling called a wheal. As the small arteries dilate, the skin reddens. If your allergic reaction involves other body systems, you might also appear flushed, wheeze, and have swollen lips and eyelids. Things that produce hives include certain medications, foods, insect bites, and exposure to cold. Less often, inhaling animal dander, molds, and pollens can lead to hives as well as respiratory symptoms. Rarer still, parasitic infestations, other infectious illnesses, and cancer can produce hives.
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
With its anti-inflammatory and anti-allergy properties, licorice acts in a way that’s similar to cortisol, the body’s own anti-inflammatory hormone. Use whole licorice, not the DGL, or deglycyrrhizinated, form. Typical dosage: up to six 400- to 500-milligram capsules per day; or 20 to 30 drops of tincture three times per day; or 2 cups of tea per day (simmer 1 teaspoon of dried chopped root in 1 cup of water for 10 minutes). You can also cool the tea and apply it to the affected skin with a clean cloth three or four times a day. Caution: Limit internal use to six weeks. Do not use if you are pregnant or if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or a disease of the thyroid, kidney, liver, or heart. If you are already taking corticosteroid allergy medications, consult a doctor before using licorice.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
This effective anti-inflammatory herb also helps you sleep–a welcome attribute if the burning and itching of hives keeps you awake. Typical dosage: 3 to 4 cups of tea per day (steep 1 teaspoon of dried flowers in 1 cup of hot water for 10 minutes). You can also cool a cup in the refrigerator, moisten a clean cloth and apply it to your hives three to four times a day. Or brew about a gallon of tea and pour it into a lukewarm bath (hot water usually aggravates itching). Caution: If you’re allergic to other daisy family plants, you might be allergic to chamomile. Apply the tea to a small patch of skin that doesn’t have hives and wait 24 to 48 hours. If the chamomile produces inflammation, don’t use it.
Yarrow (Artemesia millefolium)
This flower is in the same botanical tribe as chamomile and is also anti-inflammatory. Typical dosage: 3 to 4 cups of tea per day (steep 1 teaspoon of dried flowers in 1 cup of hot water for 10 minutes). You can use it externally in the same way as chamomile–but the same cautions apply. Caution: Do not use internally during pregnancy.
Burdock (Arctium lappa)
This plant is a traditional treatment for skin conditions, including hives. The roots, seeds, and leaves can all be used. Typical dosage: up to 3 cups of tea per (steep 1 teaspoon of dried root in 1 cup of hot water for 10 to 15 minutes); or up to six 400- to 500-milligram capsules per day; or 20 to 30 drops of tincture three times per day.
Stinging Nettle (Urica dioica)
Nettles may seem an odd choice to heal hives, because a serious case of them can result if you merely brush against the fresh plant. But taken internally, this plant somehow has an anti-allergy effect. If stinging nettles grow near your home, wear thick gloves, long sleeves, and long pants. Pick a couple of handfuls, steam them, and eat as a vegetable. Typical dosage: 1 to 2 cups of tea per day (steep 1 teaspoon of dried leaves in 1 cup of hot water for 10 minutes); or up to six 400-milligram capsules per day.
Aloe (Aloe vera)
If you grow this plant, slice a leaf lengthwise, scoop out the inner gel, and apply as needed to your hives. It will reduce inflammation and feel cool and soothing on irritated skin. You can also use a commercial preparation of pure aloe vera gel, preferably one without artificial colorings or preservatives.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
This spice’s strong anti-inflammatory powers come with a helping of heat, so you might not want to use it if your skin already feels hot. Typical dosage: up to 2 cups of tea per day (simmer 1 teaspoon of fresh grated root or 1/2 teaspoon of dried root in 1 cup of hot water for 10 minutes). You can also cool a batch to sponge onto your skin.
When Hives are an Emergency
Call for emergency medical transport if you experience wheezing or difficulty breathing along with swelling of you lips, tongue, and throat. If you suspect a new medication has produced the hives, call your doctor. No matter what the trigger, bear in mind that the next time you are exposed to that substance, you may have a much more severe reaction. To prevent this, you must identify and eliminate the cause of the reaction.