Suzanne here: Smoke and Air Pollution.
My heart is heavy for all of those affected by the current Northern California Fires. Heavy. Close friends have lost their homes, many have evacuated. Many are still scared. There is so much trauma around losing a home, losing a community, a piece of land you knew and understood, animals that you witnessed or cared for daily. Essentially people are losing a sense of security and deep peace.
Stress and smoke have a major affect on our wellbeing. Breathing in particulate matter from smoke can exacerbate asthma and heart disease, and cause respiratory irritation and shortness of breath. Children, the elderly, and animals are particularly susceptible to smoke inhalation. Trauma can cause nervous instability, insomnia, and deep stress on your immune system and your flight/fight response (endocrine system).
Here are some key herbs and foods you can integrate into your routine during these difficult times. I’m going to start with some of the more available herbs that you may be able to find in any store (natural or corner market) and then move to the more specific and obscure herbs that are more difficult to find.
- Peppermint: Peppermint is easy to find in many forms, even the cheap boxes of tea can be used (use 3 or 4 bags to get a stronger dose). Herbs high in aromatic essential oils can help create barriers to decrease inflammation. This is wonderful for opening the bronchials, increasing lung capacity. These oils can help decrease muscle pain and spasm (you can use the oil externally for muscle pain support) and aids in digestion – it’s been known for IBS. Peppermint (Mentha peperita) is high in rosmarinic acid which is an anti-inflammatory. Please do not use peppermint in high doses if you have acid reflux, or GERD.
- Chamomile: Many children are affected by these fires, and chamomile is my favorite children’s herb. You can make a strong tea of chamomile (again, cheap tea bags okay), to help them calm down. If you steep chamomile for a long time it is slightly bitter which will aid in digestions. A strong cup of tea added to a bath will help reduce stress, and the tiniest bit of essential oil in chamomile will help with wound washes and eye irritation in smokey air. * For an eye wash, make a cup of tea for yourself, take out the tea bag let cool down. Rub it gently over your eyes, squeezing a bit of the tea out into the eyes. This works in first aid situations and chronic eye care.
- Turmeric: Thank goddess this herb has gained such popularity. Turmeric (Cucuma longa) is wonderful for reducing overall toxicity through it’s antioxidant compounds and reduces inflammation. This herb can be taken in very high doses in dried form (spice), and in extract or tea. Curcumin, which is the active constituent in Turmeric, is known to reduce heart disease and increase brain function.
- Licorice Root: Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is a demulcent (contains goo) and is wonderful in protecting the mucous membranes from excessive particulate matter. Adding licorice root to any tea will make it sweeter, sometimes helping with the compliance issue of many herbal teas. Sometimes you can find this in celestial seasonings teas, Traditional Medicinals, or Good Earth tea has licorice root as an ingredient. *Note, this herb has been known to increase blood pressure when taken in large amounts.
- Marshmallow Root: Marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis) is also high in demulcents, and will help protect those sensitive mucous membranes. This herb is wonderful at cooling and soothing the entire system, especially if there is constipation associated with high stress.
- Lavender: Lavender (Lavendula spp.) has an affinity for the lungs, and reducing anxiety and stress. If you can muster up some dried lavender, make a strong tea (1 tsp. / cup of hot water) add it to your bath and drink a little. If you have access to lavender essential oil, add a couple of drops on your hands and rub it on your chest and your feet to aid in relaxation and breathing capacity. Lavender is also a beautiful first-aid remedy for cuts and wounds.
- Echinacea: Echinacea is touted as an immune stimulating herb, which it is, but it’s also wonderful at reducing inflammation in the entire body, decreasing chances of getting sick while under stress. Echinacea is also a good first-aid for cuts and bites of any kind. Take this in tincture, tea, or capsules.
- Reishi: Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) is used for boosting the immune system, and aids in lung conditions including asthma and bronchitis. This is a herb that I recommend for long-term use, but short-term Reishi can do a lot to help reduce chances and signs of asthma. Reishi has adaptogenic qualities, therefore it will help reduce the hightened stress response in the body. Reishi is also studied for decreasing heart disease and contributing conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and one of the best known herbs for cancer. Take this in tincture (liquid) or capsule form.
- Mullein: Verbascum thapsis is a beautiful lung tonic, and used for dry or wet cough. This can be taken in tea (very well strained out) or in tincture or capsules.
- Lobelia: Lobelia inflata is a bronchial dialator and anti-spasmodic, helping with bronchitis, pnuemonia, or general cough. This herb should be taken in medium-low dose in tincture form (recommended dose on bottle) or tea in small amounts.
- Tulsi: Tulsi, or Holy Basil (Occimum sanctum spp.) is one of my favorite herbs to help heal the emotional heart during times of major change and to decrease stress load (cortisol) in the body. This can be drank during the day or before bed to help with sleep as well. Tulsi is high in aromatic essential oils so it will help with digestion and breathing.
- Ashwaganda: This is my go to herb to help with sleep issues associated with stress. Ashwagandha is a beautiful adaptogen, and helps increase vitality during times of change. I recommend taking this in powder form with milk (it’s added to Turmeric in our Golden Milk) or you can take this in liquid extract tincture or capsules. Take daily.
There are many more herbs I would recommend, but I would start here if you are needing guidance. Please reach out if you have any specific issues you need support with.
All my love to those affected by these devastating fires,
Clinical Herbalist, mother, friend