UT professor says her self-made gin may be protecting her from cedar fever

Allergy season is in full swing in Central Texas, and for many of us, cedar fever can be a nightmare. Could a martini or two help relieve it? A University of Texas biology professor—who happens to moonlight as a gin distiller—thinks there might be a connection.

When Molly Cummings first moved to Austin from Wisconsin, her cedar fever was pretty bad.

"I would be horribly congested, it would drip back into my throat, it would be like that for a couple weeks," said Cummings.

Years later the UT professor followed her siblings into the distilling business, but was especially intrigued by gin—for which juniper is a key ingredient.

"There’s thousands of gins in the world. But they all use the same juniper species, the common juniper. And I knew being a biology professor that Texas has eight species," said Cummings. "I thought okay, this is my job in the family. I'm going on a juniper hunt. I'm going to find the best darn ones in Texas."

She founded WildGins Co. and now distills gin using the Border Alligator and Sweet Berry junipers, both found in West Texas. Those varieties are genetically similar to the Ashe Juniper, better known as Mountain Cedar, whose pollen causes cedar fever.  

"I’ve been collecting junipers and making gin and drinking this gin for over five years, and I have not been laid up with cedar fever in that period of time," said Cummings.

So, could gin provide some sort of immunity? Cummings readily admits she’s not an allergist and her evidence is purely anecdotal.

"In science we call that an N of 1, a sample size of one, you can't do anything with that," said Cummings.

Dr. Ron Cox, a medical doctor with Greater Austin Allergy says there are some tried and true options for cedar fever—like nasal steroids and antihistamines.

"One of the biggest things you can do is there's what's called saline irrigation, where you're rinsing the cedar pollen out of your sinuses," said Cox. "And if that doesn't work or control it for you, then I would go see an allergist and get started on allergy shots or drops."

As for whether gin could help?

"It’s hard to prove without doing the study, but it's kind of in the vein of the local honey things that you know and with just natural immunity that you're getting from exposure," said Cox. "I think there's a definite possibility that some people could have some benefit out of it. You know, it'd be interesting to actually see a study on it."

If you’re allergic to juniper berries, you should avoid gin.

But if not, Cummings suggested as she laughed, "I would start every morning with an antihistamine, number one, and maybe at the end of your day, have a little of my gin," said Cummings.

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