Plant Allies for Fire Season
It is incredibly saddening and heart tearing to see the havoc of the current Apple Valley and Cherry Valley fires in Southern California, currently there is 0% containment despite the efforts of fire fighters which over 1000 firefighters are on the ground including the aircraft that is dropping fire retardant working hard to contain the fire and protect homes. The high winds are not helping in containment either and due to the high winds the smoke is dispersing throughout the area making it difficult to breath. Our sky today is grey with hints of orange with a rainfall of ashes. Despite what apps like Air Bubbles claim about moderate air quality, stepping outside without a mask is not healthy. Even wearing a surgical or homemade mask they do not filter out the particles in the air from wildfires. When the AC turns on it is followed with the stench of the fires, so I have turned the air off and am using a mini cooler called Arctic Air and have both fans going. I could not imagine the amount of smoke in the house using a swamp cooler.
Some folks are experiencing difficulties breathing and have dry sore throats along with dry coughs. I worry for those with respiratory disease and those recently recovered from Covid. Many do not have the ability to leave town until the air clears up, so the best thing to do is if you have a air filter, run it. Staying indoors and avoiding going outside will help.
I have offered to my community, friends and family herbal support during this time. Many folks are experiencing dry coughs, dry / sore throats, dry lungs, wheezing and tight chest. If you do not have an herbal apothecary in your community or the local health food store is out of herbs such as Mullein a demulcent herbal ally for dry cough and dry lungs, Marshmallow Root, Hibiscus (demulcent) or Slippery Elm Bark (listed on United Plant Savers as a Species-at-risk) we can look in our pantry, refrigerator and our gardens for support during this time as well as increasing the amount of water we drink. Look for demulcent and mucilage rich plants/foods for example Chia Seeds, Flax Seeds either in seed or powder for both Chia and Flax. Other foods are Oatmeal, Okra, Nopales (prickly pear cactus cladodes) Prickly Pear fruit (tuna) Aloe, Cucumber are some things that you may have access to.These plants are rich in mucilage and they are moistening, hydrating and lubricating to dry irritated mucosal tissues.They are relaxing and some are cooling, I say "some" because Cinnamon Cinnamomum spp. is an aromatic herb which means it will increase blood flow and on the thermal spectrum it is a warming herb, however it does contain mucilage making it an warming moistening herb, possibly not ideal for the current temperatures outside.
Other plants to look at is Mallow, mallow is moistening and if you are in the desert and are growing Desert Globemallow Sphaeralcea ambigua leaves are rich in mucilage, however the fine hairs on the leaves will be irritating, Read below on about Mullein and how to prepare these plants when making teas and infusions.
Nearly three years ago I began taking fish oils daily, taking 3 a day at least five times a week for controlling my inflammation and asthma. I have had asthma my entire life, I learned that fish oils will help inhibit inflammation which today allergens can trigger a asthma attack, things like smoke will increase breathing difficulties, increase inflammation and bring on an attack. Doctors will not tell you to take fish oils they will hand you a script instead. I used the brand Carlson.
Methods of preparation
Ideally when preparing a tea or infusion with mucilant rich plants the method of preparation to extract the mucilage is done using an overnight soak in room temp water, but this is not always helpful, if you need it NOW you can certainly use heat, I cut up or grind (if using seeds) the plant material soak in water then bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes allow to cool and pour off.
When it comes to veggies like Cucumber I peel/cut two cucumbers add to the blender and cover with filtered water, blend and strain. This is what we call in Mexico Agua Fresca.I strain the cucumber pulp add chili and lemon and eat the pulp. I do not find cucumbers to be slimy as I do nopales, aloe, okra but they are moistening and do contain fibers and mucilage. My mother takes the pulp of Aloe and makes juices with it, while I prefer making tea using Nopales which I can then have nopales left over to eat. I have done both in an overnight infusion and the decoction method and found both ways to still contain that slimy texture that dry tissue states so need.
Mullein Verbascum thapsus is one of my favorite lung ally herbs, it helps instantly quiet coughs and has helped me on several occasions with my asthma. However this herb is not slimy, it is what we call a demulcent and despite it not having the slime it will still soothe and coat dry irritated mucosal tissues. Like Desert Globemallow, Mullein is one which its leaves are covered in hairs that can be irritating to dry tissue states. I make a tea using the crushed leaves and pour hot water over allowing it to steep for an hour and when it comes time to straining I line the sieve with a coffee filter or a piece of old flannel or a paper towel and pour the tea through. This is a good way of not getting those tiny little hairs in your tea.
What are other plants that we can use?
Another favorite lung ally of mine is actually a lichen called Lungwort Moss Lobaria pulmonaria this is a not native to California and does not occur here, it is one that I met when in the PNW and began to work with for dry mucosal tissue but I understand it is not accessible for folks here, however if you have Flannel Bush Fremontodendron californica on your property the leaves have slime. Other lung allies we can look to are Oatstraw and if you do not have Oatstraw Oatmeal will work. Plantain is another herb that we can use, Licorice Root as well however it does raise blood glucose levels so I tend to not go with Licorice root. If you have Salvia seeds like White Sage you can use the seeds in the same way as you would Chia and Flax. It is past season but the seeds of London Rocket Sisymbrium irio are mucilaginous. I also want to say that I am not encouraging folks to go out and wildcraft these plants and if you do, have 100% positivity on the identification. Plants like London Rocket and Mullein are actually invasive so come spring gather them and remove the roots.
There are many lung herbs that are contraindicated for dry mucosal tissues states, dry coughs and dry sore throats. Herbs like Osha, Oshala, Elecampane, Yerba Santa, Garlic, Balsamorhiza sagittata, Thyme, Oregano are a few examples of excellent lung herbs for conditions that are damp. These herbs are drying which would exasperate the issue rather than treat it.
If you are in the community and having respiratory difficulties imposed by the smoke and would like herbal support email me.
Wishing everyone good health, stay safe and prayers for those fighting the fires.