Earthbeat Herbals Apothecary

celebrating the healing power of herbs and oils for five generations

Defeating the Smoke: Herbs & Natural Remedies for Wildfire Season

Eugenia Merkoulov

It’s wildfire season, and for many communities on the west coast and northwest regions this means dealing with poor air quality and all associated physical discomforts. While a certain amount of patience is needed to wait out the fires, the good news is that you can improve upon and even eliminate some of the physical symptoms of wildfire smoke right now with the help of our allies in the plant kingdom.

Some of the primary physical responses to the wildfire smoke, which contains both particulate matter and gasses, are coughing, sinus & throat irritation, headaches, shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, and eye irritation.

There are many wonderful herbs that provide significant respiratory and immune support when taken as teas or tinctures. This article will focus on a handful that are either local to the Cascade/Western region or easily available for purchase.
 

Elecampane root  (Inula helenium)

Elecampane is anti-bacterial and works as a lung tonic and expectorant. It is highly effective in helping to loosen mucus so that it can be more easily coughed up and expelled, thereby avoiding congestion and stagnation in the lungs. Mucus production is a good thing in these smoky fire conditions, but we want to keep it moving. The body will continue to produce it as part of the immune response to smoke irritation, and we can best support this by staying hydrated and expelling the mucus as needed.

Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

Licorice root is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and acts as a demulcent, lubricating the lungs. It helps to create “runny mucus” to assist in clearing the body of irritants. Mucus is important as it traps particles and defends sensitive tissue. In the case of continued wildfire smoke, drying up can occur. Licorice root can help to liquefy mucus so that the body’s defense mechanisms can function to their fullest. Note: Licorice root is not recommended for those with high blood pressure, kidney disease, and pregnant or breastfeeding women. Consider marshmallow root instead.

Marshmallow leaf (Althaea officinalis)

Marshmallow contains natural mucilage and thus acts as a demulcent, or lubricant, to the respiratory system. It helps to relieve dryness and congestion.

Mullein (Verbascum spp.)

Mullein is a demulcent and expectorant, helping to both lubricate the respiratory system and expel excess mucus. It is anti-inflammatory and offers soothing and toning to the system.

Osha root (Lingusticum porteri)

Osha is a powerful antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory with a particular affinity for the respiratory system. It relieves deep congestion and acts as an expectorant while preventing infection. Additionally, it is soothing to the throat. Note: Osha is not recommended for extended use for those with liver or kidney problems. Osha should never be taken by pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)

Stinging nettle helps to counteract smoke irritation and boost immunity for several reasons. Its natural antihistamine properties help to soothe the body’s allergic response to smoke.  Its astringent properties help to tone the irritated and inflamed mucous membranes. It is high in Vitamins A and C as well as many minerals, thereby strengthening the immune system. Nettle is safe and highly effective. Taking nettle for extended periods of time can significantly improve overall health.

Sage (Salvia officinalis)

Sage is much more than a culinary herb. It has many medicinal properties, some of which have powerful effects on the respiratory system. As an astringent, sage helps to tone irritated mucous membranes. It acts as a decongestant and its cooling properties reduce fever and may help with headaches. Sage is also beneficial in reducing nervous tension and acts as a blood purifier.

Lobelia (Lobelia inflata)

Lobelia, also known as Indian tobacco, acts simultaneously as a respiratory stimulant and full systemic relaxant. This is a very effective herb but due to its potency and powerful effects on the nervous system, lobelia should never be used in high concentration. It is best in very small amounts as part of an herbal formula. For example: to a formula that is 2/3 cup mullein leaves and ⅓ cup elecampane root, one might add a teaspoon of lobelia. Taking too much lobelia can cause severe digestive discomfort at the very least. Note: Lobelia should not be taken by people with high blood pressure, heart liver or kidney disease, seizure disorder, and pregnant or breastfeeding women.

 

The aforementioned herbs have a strong affinity for the respiratory system. There are many more herbs which have additional actions that may be beneficial in dealing with some of the discomforts of wildfire smoke.  A few more are listed below:

 

For general immune support:

  • Elderberries

  • Goldenseal

  • Oregon Grape root

  • Echinacea

  • Ginger

  • Turmeric

  • Reishi (this is actually a mushroom but deserves mention here due to its many immune benefits)

 

For stress and anxiety:

  • Lemon balm

  • Lavender

  • Chamomile

 

For eye irritation make an eyewash with any combination of:

  • Chamomile

  • Calendula

  • Lavender

 

Steps you can take in addition to herbal support:

  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Eat highly nutritive foods, especially those high in antioxidants. This will help the immune system function at maximum capacity.
  • Eat plenty of garlic. It helps the body to fight off infection as well as assists in the absorption of minerals.
  • Take Vitamin C and Vitamin D supplements. This will help boost the immune system. Vitamin C is an antioxidant and helps to repair tissues in the body. Vitamin D is a general immune system strengthener and has a particular effect strengthening the cells which line the respiratory system.
  • Inhaling steam infused with herbs or essential oils can provide relief from respiratory symptoms. A few examples of herbs/oils which are great for steaming include lavender, mint, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and sage.
  • Rinsing the sinuses with saline solution will literally flush irritants out of the nasal passage. Make sure to use distilled or previously boiled and cooled water.
  • Chlorophyll drops in water or chlorophyll tablets provide a significant antioxidant boost.

 

If this article has helped you, please share with anyone you know who may benefit from this information. While these herbs and remedies are beneficial for those waiting out a fire season, they are also beneficial for firefighters both during season and during post-season recovery. 

 

 

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Benefits of Using Companion Planting in Your Garden

Eugenia Merkoulov

Are you gardening this year? Try companion planting!

Modern large-scale farming practices have painted a very particular picture:  single rows of the same plant neatly growing in perfect linearity as far as the eye can see. However, this approach to agriculture, known as monoculture, is a relatively new practice in human history. Prior to the widespread embrace of monoculture, which relies heavily on pesticides in order to sustain itself, small scale and large scale farmers worldwide looked to the organic patterns of growth, as demonstrated by nature, to create their gardens.

Nature thrives in systems, small and large. These are contained within and overlap with one another, truly representing the many layers of micro and macro. This is all contained within the greater system of the Earth itself. For thousands of years agricultural success depended on mimicking these natural systems and harnessing their organic potential. Companion planting was one way in which this was implemented. Farmers would observe which plants grew best in proximity to one another and which ones hindered each other's growth. They observed which weeds seemed to improve the soil around certain crops and which herbs repelled pests. By observing such interactions between specific species, they formed a thorough understanding of compatible plant groups and were able to maximize their yield and overall garden efficiency as a result. 

With the current re-emergence of original farming practices as part of a greater cultural and conscious awakening toward holistic living, the success that comes with applying the companion planting principle is a common topic of discussion. There are many reasons to utilize the companion planting approach. Here are three of particular significance:

COMPANION PLANTING AND PEST CONTROL

Planting certain herbs around vegetables acts as powerful pest control. Many herbs have strong odors that are unappealing to common garden pests. In rarer cases, certain herbs are highly attractive to specific insects, keeping the rest of your crop unaffected. An example of the latter is nasturtium, which attracts spider mites. Another approach is utilizing herbs and plants to create favorable environments for beneficial insects that make a meal out of the pests. An example of this would be ladybug larvae, which happily consume aphids.  For a thorough list of herb/insect relationships consult reputable sources online or, even better, support a local organic gardening author who specializes in the particular environment of the area in which you live.

COMPANION PLANTInG AND SPACE AND RESOURCE EFFICIENCY

Companion planting makes efficient use of space, both above ground and below ground. Grouping compatible vegetables and herbs in consideration of their height and general behavior above ground creates partial shade for plants that do not desire too much sun and provides pest protection for the stalks of the taller plants. When planting for space efficiency, consider stories: root vegetables, ground covers, shrubs, etc. A direct example of how plants work together is the classic Native American "three sisters" relationship between corn, beans, and squash. The corn grows tall and sturdy and allows the beans to climb it as they grow. The squash stays low to the ground and acts as a nitrogen fixer. [A nitrogen fixing plant works with bacteria in the soil to convert gaseous nitrogen into usable nitrogen that is stored in the roots and released into the soil upon the plants decomposition, thereby becoming available as food for next year's planting.] When researching this topic further, search terms such as "companion planting guide",  "planting using guilds" and "food forest stories".

Companion Planting and Improved Flavor

Though there is little scientific study surrounding this, farmers who have been practicing and experimenting with companion planting for years will swear by the enhanced flavor that comes from grouping plants. A common example is the Mediterranean group: tomatoes, peppers, and basil. The basil acts as a pest repellant for the tomatoes and peppers. This combination also offers space efficiency, with tomatoes acting as the highest story, the peppers coming in as a close second, and the basil being the lower-growing herb which, at times, prefers a little shade. The flavor enhancement resulting of all three combined can be traced back to traditional farming practices in the Italian countryside and has been tested, time and time again, by many a happy pallet. Get familiar with this benefit of companion planting by applying the method to your garden and testing the flavors yourself. Other variables may affect the final outcome, so be your own backyard scientist. Above all, remember to have fun with it! Gardening is art, and there are many benefits to companion planting!