Thursday, August 16, 2012


The ragweed has begun to bloom. Like everything else this year, it’s early. Unlike a lot of other plants, it does not seem to object to the drought. Ragweed is the main reason that the end of summer is not my favorite season. Without the pollen going up my nose for a month or more, I would love this bountiful turn of the year. My ragweed allergy has become less virulent with age, but it still drains my energy and discourages outdoor activity.

Common ragweed
I shot these just before full bloom.
I'm not going near them later.
Ragweed is an American member of the genus Ambrosia, mysteriously named for the food of the immortal Gods. The plant may be indestructible, but I can’t imagine the Olympians eating it, even accompanied by a golden goblet of nectar. The most prolific species here are common and giant ragweed. They line the country roads, the giants towering as tall as 15 feet, waving their yellow fronds. The smaller common ragweed fills in along the edges of the gravel; its lacy leaves frame delicate roadside blossoms.

Giant ragweed
There are some recorded medicinal uses of ragweed, mainly topical application of the leaves to soothe insect bites and poison ivy. It provides cover and forage for wildlife, but its main function seems to be causing the bulk of seasonal allergies in North America. Each plant produces about a billion grains of pollen in a season.

Photo by David McLain,
National Geographic
Enlarged images show that grains of ragweed pollen look like the caltrops used to stop medieval cavalry charges, or maybe like tiny but fully functional death stars. This makes me feel a little less frail when I sneeze. That spiky pollen is a serious enemy. I fight it by cutting back on dairy, which helps me avoid congestion, and with simple antihistamines. The newer, more expensive drugs are just like the array of older drugs: they have no effect on ragweed, at least for me.

Meditation has been the best cure so far. When my daughter was in junior high, she began listening to a guided meditation to help release things she did not want in her life. She threw her reaction to ragweed into swift running water. She flung it up a ladder of moonlight into the night sky where it bloomed harmlessly among the stars. She stopped sneezing. I began to do her meditation. It helped. It’s not a cure, but after years of dreading August, I’m happy for any improvement. I’ll take what I can get. I don’t care whether the fix is psychosomatic, magic or imaginary as long as it helps.

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