Keeping our Bodies Healthy and our Spirits Strong In the Face of Fire

In times of fierce fires and in the face of other natural disasters, we often feel helpless and hopeless.  It is important in these times to remember there are always things that can be done to be helpful, ready and prepared even though it may seem so small in the face of such great tragedy. And don’t forget to pray, pray as if Creator herself is listening. Send out healing energy, and remember- there are likely thousands of other people just like us, praying, sending forth light, and calling in the rain.

On the practical side, be sure to have all of your first aid items in order, and a good supply of food and water on hand, as well as your flashlight and any other emergency items you might need.  Keep those photo albums and other family treasures loaded up and ready to go.

Wild fires create special health issues for those who live close to them. Long term exposure to smoke and poor air quality as well as the fear, stress and anxiety caused by fires can be extremely taxing. But we are not helpless. While we may not be able to put the fire out, there is a lot we can do to improve air quality in our homes, and protect our health and the health of our families and neighbors. We hope these suggestions are easy and helpful.

Respiratory Tonics

Respiratory Tonics help keep lungs healthy and happy during long-term exposure to smoke. Helpful tonifying respiratory herbs include Mullein, Coltsfoot, Nettle, Raspberry leaf, Calendula, Marshmallow root and leaf, and, for those who feel safe using it, Comfrey.  (Please note; there is controversy surrounding the safety of using Comfrey long term. Be sure to educate yourself before deciding to use it. Click here to view Rosemary’s thoughts on Comfrey safety.)

Respiratory Tonic Tea

Ingredients

  • 2 parts Mullein leaf
  • 1 part Nettle (and/or Comfrey leaf)
  • 1 part Calendula
  • 1 part Marshmallow root (and/or leaf)
  • 2 parts Peppermint or Spearmint

Notes

Infuse the herbs and drink 3-4 cups daily.  This makes a good herbal steam, also.
Sweeten with honey, if preferred. Honey is moisturizing and hydrating to tissue. 
 
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Expectorant Herbs

Expectorant herbs help to clear the lungs of excess mucus. This combination of herbs is more specific to congestion and inflammation in the lungs.

Expectorant Blend

Ingredients

  • 2 parts Elecampane
  • 1 part Pleurisy root
  • 1 part Licorice root very moisturizing and hydrating
  • 1 part Marshmallow root very moisturizing and hydrating

Notes

Decoct; drink 1/4 - 1/2 cup several times throughout the day to equal 3-4 cups in total. Sweeten with honey. Honey is moisturizing and hydrating to tissue. 
You can also make into a tincture to have on hand. Take 1/4 -1/2 tsp. every 3-4 hours or as needed.
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Cough Syrups and lozenges can be very soothing to the respiratory system and are an especially tasty way to get herbs into children and elderly folks.

Not only tasting sweet and good, herbal cough drops and lozenges you make yourself from healing herbs can be soothing, hydrating and healing to irritated tissue.

Soothing Throat Balls

These are among my favorite remedies to take at the onset of a sore throat or cold. Take two medium size balls every two hours or as often as needed. The following proportions are approximations; adjust flavor for your personal taste.

Soothing Throat Balls

For sore throats, laryngitis and other infections of the throat or mouth.

Ingredients

  • 2 part Licorice root powder
  • 1 part Marshmallow root powder
  • 1 part Echinacea root powder
  • 1 part Golden Seal root powder Organically grown Golden Seal. It is not necessary to add the Golden Seal if infection is not present; i.e. if making these balls for irritation and soreness rather than for infection. 
  • Honey
  • Peppermint oil A few drops
  • Carob To thicken

Instructions

  • Mix first powdered herbs together. 
  • Mix enough honey in to form into a thick paste. Add a drop or two of pure Peppermint oil.
  • Add Carob and more Licorice root powder to thicken, if necessary. Knead “pill dough” until it has the consistency of bread dough (smooth and elastic, not sticky).
  • Keep adding Carob (or Cocoa) until desired consistency is reached. Roll into pill size balls.

Notes

These will keep for months in the refrigerator. They should taste good, a bit like a peppermint drop, and feel soothing to the throat.
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Soothing Syrups

Syrups are the yummiest of all herbal preparations, and children often prefer their medicine in this form.   The honey is moisturizing and soothing to inflamed tissue.

Soothing Syrup

This syrup for sore and inflamed throats and with the addition of honey is very moisturizing and soothing.  

Ingredients

  • 2 parts Fennel seeds
  • 1 part Licorice root
  • 1 part Marshmallow root
  • 1 part Thyme
  • 1 part Sage
  • 1 part Cinnamon bark Not powdered Cinnamon powder as it will clump and be hard to mix in

Instructions

  • Combine herbs with water in a saucepan, using 2 ounces of herbs per quart of water.  Over low heat, simmer the liquid down to 1 pint. While simmering keep lid slightly ajar so steam can escape.  This will give you a very concentrated, thick tea.
  • Strain the herbs from the liquid. Compost the herbs and pour the liquid back in the pot.
  • Add 1 cup of honey (or other sweetener) to each pint of liquid.
  • Warm the honey and liquid together only enough to mix well.  
  • Optional: When the syrup is finished heating,you may add a fruit concentrate or a touch of brandy to help preserve and to aid as a relaxant in cough formulas.

Notes

Remove from heat and bottle for use.  Syrups will last for several weeks to even months, if refrigerated.
Take 1–2 teaspoons every hour or two throughout the day, or use whenever a bout of coughing starts up.
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Air Purifiers, Humidifiers, Herbal Steams and Herbal Spritzers

As much as possible, try to improve the quality of air inside your home by adding moisture. Keeping lungs (and body) hydrated is essential during exposure to heat and smoke.

  • A humidifier with a few drops of essential oils such as Lavender or Eucalyptus can be helpful.
  • Aromatic cleansing herbal spritzers or air fresheners can also be so soothing and refreshing to parched lungs.  Making your own keeps them affordable and they are extremely easy to make
  • Herbal baths can be so relaxing and calming as well as hydrating and soothing.

Herbal Spritzers and Sprays

Making a spritzer or spray is so simple, easy to use and is an excellent way to add moisture and herbal ‘essence’ to the air around you.

1) To make a spritzer, you will need a spray bottle (one that sprays fine mist is the best). Most  spritzers are simply distilled water and a few drops of essential oil to enhance the water.

2) Mix together:

  • 4 ounces of distilled water
  • 5-10 drops essential oil

* You can add a small amount of alcohol (vodka, gin, or brandy) or witch hazel approx. to preserve if you wish, but not necessary if used within a couple of weeks.  Use  1 tablespoon per 4 oz bottle.

3) Combine the water and essential oil in the spritzer bottle, shake and use!

* Essential Oils to consider adding: Lavender, Eucalyptus, Thyme, Rosemary, Tea Tree, Mints, Orange, and Grapefruit.

* Add Rescue Remedy or other calming centering flower essences to the spritzer for added benefits.

Herbal Steams

Herbal steams are soothing, healing and refreshing to the entire respiratory system.  Add a few handfuls of selected herbs (fresh or dried) to a large bowl or pan (large enough to hold approximately 3 quarts of water). Boil water and pour over the herbs. *Optional; add 2-3 drops of Eucalyptus or Lavender essential oil to the mix.  Have a large towel handy.*  Make a ‘steam room’ by completely covering your head and bowl with the towel.  Lift a corner of the towel to cool down if it gets too hot.  Breathe deeply.  Steam for 10-15 minutes.  Cool down with a rinse of cold water or a hydrosol spray on the face when finished.

Herbs to use for steam include: Calendula, Comfrey, Mullein, Eucalyptus, Peppermint, Nettle and more.

Herbal Baths

Herbal baths are not only relaxing and calming, but also add much needed moisture to the air.  Select calming, relaxing herbs like Milky Oats, Roses, Lavender and herbs like Marshmallow leaf for soothing.  A drop or two of Lavender oil adds an extra bit of calming energy to the waters.

Don’t have time for a long soak, or don’t have a bathtub? Herbal foot, hand baths and herbal steams will do! The water is so calming and lubricating while the powerful healing properties are absorbed through our skin and respiratory passages.

Strewing Herbs

An old-fashioned way of ‘purifying’ the air in enclosed smokey buildings was to strew fresh herbs on the floor of the entrance way so that when people walked in they would crush and release the scent.  Not so popular these days as it makes for a rather messy floor, but it certainly releases a wonderful refreshing scent as you enter your dwelling.  Strewing herbs include Thyme, Rosemary, Lavender, Marjoram, Oregano, Peppermint, Spearmint and other abundant and fragrant herbs. These herbs are best if strewn fresh, but also work well when dried.

Neti Pots for Clearing and Cleansing the Nose and Throat Area

A neti pot is a great way for clearing your sinuses and congestion from the nasal passages and keeping the nasal passage clear and moist.  You may use a saline solution or a diluted tea to rinse, clear and heal the nasal tissue.  Chamomile is a great herb to infuse and rinse with.

To blend:

  • 1 cup distilled water
  • ½ teaspoon pure sea salt

Mix your solution and add at room temperature to your clean Neti Pot.  While tilting your head/nostril over a sink, start pouring the solution into the top nostril (it will clear through the bottom nostril.).  Use half of the solution and switch nostrils. Once you have completed both sides, you may blow your nose. Be sure to clean the Neti Pot with soapy water and store for the next use.

Stress and Anxiety

Even all the way across the country, I get stressed and anxious thinking about those raging wildfires and the harm they are causing the environment, the people, animals and landscape in flames way. While fire is normally a ‘friend’ and a force we depend on for comfort, heat, to cook food, and to relax in front of,  fire when ‘out of control’ can be terrifying.  How do we keep calm and centered in the face of fire?  How do we remain prepared for the worst, yet stay strong in our centers?

  • For suggestions that can prove helpful, click here to view my hand out on Stress and Anxiety as it has a lots of information and herbal remedies for promoting calm.
  • Rescue Remedy and other flower essences are subtle, but powerful ‘medicine.’ Flower essences can come to the rescue and keep us calm and centered even in the worst of situations.  Add daily to your water bottles.
  • Relaxing fortifying herbs for the nervous system include Tulsi, Ashwagandha, Milky Oats, Lemon Balm, Kava Kava, Catnip, Skullcap, Wood Betony, Valerian, California Poppy are all great herbs to support us. And Cannabis. I also suggest taking Rhodiola; it has such an excellent way of supporting our body’s and minds in times of stress, perhaps, because this little tender succulent has learned to survive in the harshest of climates. Even in the most trying of circumstances, Rhodiola continues to grow and flower beautifully.

Rosemary’s Note on Using Comfrey

Rosemary shares her personal experience with Comfrey and why you should consider using this important herb.

Comfrey

  • Symphytum officinal and related species
  • Boraginaceae
  • Part Used: Entire Plant

Forty years ago while walking down a back country road on an herb walk with a group of friends, I was struck by a young aspiring Hells Angel on a Harley Davidson.  Thrown in the ditch next to a little plant called Self Heal, I sat up only long enough to see bones sticking out of my legs, laid back down, and decided to let the universe take care of this.  Two surgeries and several months later, I was informed that my right leg was not healing and would require additional surgery and the insertion of a permanent metal plate that would extend from my knee to my ankle.  I wasn’t eager to have this surgery and decided to take matters into my own hands.

For the next several months I drank and ate copious amounts of Comfrey, learned to maneuver quite graciously in my full leg cast, and continued to visit my doctor on a regular basis. It was his monthly task to inform me that I was being foolish and that my leg would not heal given the condition of the bones.  I always assured him that it might and I just wanted time to try.  I discovered 110 ways to cook Comfrey, juice Comfrey, and drink Comfrey.  I believe I was turning green around the gills.  It took eighteen grueling months, but it was a joyous day when my cast came off.  I had a healed bone and a hairy non-metal leg to behold.

Comfrey is a marvelous herb and is one of the most famed healing herbs of all times.  Its very name, Symphytum, means `to heal’.  Comfrey has been touted for centuries for its bone mending qualities, for its healing effect on ulcers, and for its general soothing effect on the mucous membranes.  It contains tannin as well as mucilage in its chemical make-up, making it not only soothing but also constrictive and healing for wounds, cuts, and tears.  It also contains steroidal saponins making it particularly beneficial for reproductive and hormonal imbalances.  Rich concentrations of Allantoin, a cell proliferant that stimulates the growth of connective tissue and cartilage, make Comfrey a specific for broken bones, torn cartilage, swellings, and bruises.  Along with all its specific healing properties, Comfrey is also a delicious and nourishing food herb.  It contains high amounts of plant digestible calcium, iron, protein (up to 35%, seven times more protein than soybeans!), B vitamins, and vitamin A, among other things.

It was a favorite herb of most early herbalists and has been written about for centuries in the famed old herbals.  Hildegard of Bingen, famous visionary, saint and herbalist of the Benedictines, recommended it for wounds in the 11th century.  Paracelsus, Pliny, Gerard, Dioscorides, and Culpepper were all fans of the herb and recommended it highly.  Down through the ages in most parts of the world Comfrey was recognized as one of the great healing herbs. Comfrey maintained a scrupulous reputation….right up to the present day.

In 1968 an independent Japanese scientist first reported finding pyrrolizidine alkaloids, substances that are regarded as potentially hepatoxic and carcinogenic, in Comfrey.  What a furor that report has caused.   Once considered one of the great all time healing herbs, Comfrey now sits on trial as a possible carcinogen and also for possible toxicity of the liver.

Austrian studies confirmed the Japanese reports.  Pyrrolizidine alkaloids are found in concentration in the young leaves and roots of Comfrey.  The news spread through the scientific community and filtered into the herbal community like wild fire.  A recent headline in one newspaper states “Warning! Comfrey Tea Can Kill You”.

Though it is important to be open to the possible dangers of Comfrey, it is as important to sift through the information and misinformation and form an opinion based on fact, rather than hysteria.  The truth of the matter is that most plants, reveal within their chemical blue print a wide variety of constituents, many of them potentially harmful.  These chemicals form a synergistic relationship with one another, often nullifying and/or strengthening certain aspects of one another.  Michael Tierra states in The Way of Herbs, “Plants have a dynamically complex biochemistry.  In many instances this allows for small amounts of substances, which when isolated and concentrated might otherwise be poisonous, to be quite safe and harmless.”  The sum total of these hundreds of chemicals determines the personality, or action, of the plant.  Judging a plants action based on one chemical is like judging a person by the fact that their hair is brown.

Comfrey is rich in allantoin, a cell proliferant, calcium salts, and mucopolysacharrides, all of which are very nutritious to the cell and serve to neutralize the cell inhibiting action of the pyrrolizidine alkaloids.  It is also important to note that the pyrrolizidine alkaloids found in Comfrey are in a “N-oxide”, or organic state, unlike those used in laboratory studies.  These organic compounds are more likely to be degraded when digested in the human body.

Another important issue to consider in this `trial’ is the nature of the tests conducted.  Once identified, the alkaloids were isolated and injected into laboratory animals in rather massive amounts, far more than would normally be ingested.  The animals developed liver damage and cancerous tumors.  Another experiment was done on six-week-old laboratory rats, doomed to death from their first day of life.  They were fed Comfrey root as 50% of their total diet.  This could be compared to human consumption of several plate fulls of comfrey daily.  After a period of time, the rats did develop tumors, which merely proves one of the standing laws of science: that every substance or chemical is a poison if we consume enough of it.  It must be noted that 30-50% of one type of food is a ludicrous amount.  It would be wiser to observe that Comfrey is used extensively as a fodder for dairy and beef cattle throughout the Pacific Northwest with no problems.  In fact, farmers are growing fields of Comfrey because of the outstanding results in milk production and the health of the herds.

Studies conducted in Washington found very minute amounts of pyrrolizidine alkaloids in Comfrey.  Some plants tested had none at all.  An independent researcher in the U.S. found that of three samples tested for pyrrolizidine alkaloids, one was negative, the second contained only trace amounts, and the third contained one part per million equaling a sum total of an infinitesimal amount of this alleged toxic substance.  But the Comfrey controversy continues to rage.  It has been banned in several countries including the U.S. and Canada and most European countries ban its use also. Many herbalists continue to use Comfrey basing their faith `on the empirical evidence of the ages’. Others take a more conservative route and elect not to use it for internal purposes.   While current consumption by humans and animals has not caused liver damage and/or cancerous growths even from extensive use of the plant., many herb books now state that Comfrey should be used externally only and medical journals warn of the potential and largely unproven hazards of Comfrey.  The Austrian company that conducted the original tests verified that the tests were inconclusive and the results were not scientifically based.  In Japan, where the alkaloids were first discovered, doctors still continue to recommend Comfrey for cirrhosis of the Liver.

Through it all, Comfrey continues to grow unabashedly in gardens and waysides.  A large luxurious plant, its carefree attitude seems to say, “If you doubt my safety, don’t use me!  I’ve been around a long time.  I’ll outlast the controversy.”

Though legally, you can’t prescribe or use Comfrey for internal purposes, I continue to use Comfrey in personal formulas for both internal and external purposes, but I don’t include it in formula for other people unless they aware of the controversy and make an educated decision to use it.  As with every discussion like this, there are two sides. It’s up each individual to decide whether or not they feel safe using it.   However, it’s best not to use Comfrey in formulas for other people without first discussing the controversy and allowing individuals to make the decision for themselves.