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Herbs for Fire Season

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                                          Mullein (Flowering Tops: UC Gill Tract Farm, Albany, CA)

In these times of wildfires, there are many herbal allies that can support keeping your lungs healthy and immune system strong. Here are a few of my favorites:

Mullein (Verbascum Thapsus) (soothing, anti-inflammatory love for your respiratory system)
Ginger (Zingiber officinalis) warming, anti-inflammatory, boosts immune system)
Pine Needles (supports both the respiratory and immune system)
Thyme (Thymus spp.) (especially helpful for coughs and congestion)
Elderberry (Sambucus spp.) (overall immune system love)

These can all be brewed as a tea, together, individually, and/or in simple combinations of two or three herbs can provide both symptom relief and overall health support.

A few tea options I like.

Pine Needle (pine, spruce, and fir needles all work). Note though that Norfolk Pine and Yew Pine are poisonous, so if you're plucking them from trees, make sure you know what Norfolks and Yews look like.)

Ginger and Thyme (a great combination and both are easy to find in grocery stores)

Mullein, Pine Needle, and Ginger (both warming and cooling/soothing at the same time)

Elderberry (rich, tasty flavor and good to have regularly during the late fall and winter months anyway)

Generally, I say it's best to use whichever of these herbs you have available already, or can get easily. These 5 are all pretty common, which is one reason I chose to highlight them.

Preparation: Medicinal teas are easy to make and can be use for both acute symptoms and for long term or preventative health. Make sure to brew any tea for at least 20 to 30 minutes. This will ensure that's it strong and potent. You can drink a few small glasses (or less) a day, or as needed.

In addition to the herb list I offered earlier for folks impacted by the wild fires in California, an easy way to address eye irritation and inflammation from smoky air is to use Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) tea bags. Chamomile tea itself is another good addition to your lung and immune system health list. So, you could make the tea as you normally would, then allow the wet tea bags to cool to room temp. Once cooled, place them on closed eyes and let them rest there for 10 to 15 minutes. For those who have an allergy to Chamomile, you can get somewhat similar benefits from using Cucumber slices.

More herbs to consider:

Respiratory support:

Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)

Grindelia (also known as Gumweed)
Elecampane (Inula helenium)

Liver health support:

Our livers are definitely getting taxed by all the toxins in air right now. Liver detox and liver protective herbs like Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) seed, Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus) (leaf or root), Dandelion (Taraxicum officinale) (root or leaf), and/or Burdock (Articum lappa) root would be good choices to add to the mix.

Tumeric (Curcuma longa) is also a possibility. It's not only good for liver heath, but is also anti-inflammatory, and supportive of improved brain function (note the increased levels of "brain fog" right now, due to the toxic smoke). However, Tumeric can be overly drying to the system (especially in larger amounts), and for people who generally have a dryer constitution (dry skin, overall lack of sweat and mucus, etc), Tumeric can actually be irritating and even aggravating. It's a great herb, and I'm seeing it on different wildfire herbal support lists, but it's one that needs a little bit of care in use.

Mood Support: Bad air quality and concerns about fires can definitely mess with your mood. Some people experience a lot of anxiety and/or depression. Herbs like Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), Wild Oats (Avena fatua), and Chamomile can be helpful for soothing frayed nerves and calming the mood.

Immune system support: In addition to Elderberry, you can consider adding Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) and Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum).

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Elecampane (Inula helenium) Monograph

Inula heleniumLatin Name: Inula heleniumCommon name(s): Elecampane, Elf Dock, Horseheal, Velvet Dock Family: AsteraceaeBotany: Elecampane grows up to 4 to 5 feet tall, and blooms from June to August. It has bright yellow flowers, and fairly large, downy leaves. Habitat: Elecampane is an adaptable perennial, but prefers more moist soil, and shadier locations. History/Folklore: The name helenium from Helen of [...]

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Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

Melissa officinalisLatin Name: Melissa officinalisCommon name(s): Lemon Balm, Sweet Balm, Balm Mint, Sweet Mary Family: Lamiaceae Botany: Lemon Balm is a perennial herb that grows up to 5 feet tall. Habitat: Native to south-central Europe, Iran, and Central Asia, Lemon Balm has been naturalized in many other places around the globe. History/Folklore: Lemon Balm has a long history of [...]

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Elder Monograph (Sambucus Spp.)

(Elder Flowers: photo by author)Sambucus Spp.Latin Name: Sambucus nigra, Sambucus canadensis L.Common name(s): Elder, Elderberry, Elder flower, Black Elder, European Elder, American ElderFamily: AdoxaceaeBotany: Elders are deciduous shrubs that grow anywhere from 5 to 20 feet tall, with the European variety tending to be taller. Habitat: Elder likes moist, rich soils. It grows along trails and roads, near lakes [...]

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Wild Oats (Avena sativa) Monograph

Avena sativaAvena Sativa MonographLatin Name: Avena sativa Common name(s): Oats, Wild OatsFamily: PoaceaeBotany: Oats are a species of cereal grain, commonly used as a food for humans and livestock animals. Habitat: Oats are best grown in temperate regions. History/Folklore: The wild ancestors of Oats grew in the Fertile Crescent of the Near East. Domesticated Oats first appeared in [...]

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Comfrey (Symphytum officinale ) Herbal Monograph

Symphytum officinale Latin Name: Symphytum officinale Common name(s): Comfrey, Knitbone Family: Boraginaceae Botany: Comfrey is a fast growing, perennial herb with large leaves and small, various colored, bell shaped flowers. Habitat: It’s native to Europe and prefers growing in damp, grassy places, but can also grow elsewhere. History/Folklore: Comfrey has a long history of use in Europe. In Ireland, [...]

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Nettles (Urtica dioica) Monograph

Urtica dioica Latin Name: Urtica dioica Common name(s): Nettle, Big string nettle, common nettle, devil’s leaf, European nettleFamily: UrticeaeBotany: The species is divided into six subspecies. Five of them have hollow stinging hairs called trichomes on the leaves and stems. The plant grows 3 to 7 ft tall in the summer months, and then dies back during the winter. It has [...]

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Cleavers (Galium aparine) Monograph

Galium aparine Latin Name: Galium aparineCommon name(s): Cleavers, Goose Grass, Bedstraw Family: RubiaceaeBotany: Cleavers are annuals with tiny, star shaped flowers and creeping stems which cleave on whatever they grow on. Habitat: Grows around the globe, and is often found in fields, woods, and in disturbed soils and waste areas. History/Folklore: Cleavers has a history of use among [...]

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Astragalus: A Great Adaptogen Herb

AstragalusLatin Name: Astragalus, Astragalus propinquus, Astragalus membranaceusCommon name(s): Milk Vetch, Astragalus, Huang QiFamily: FabaceaeBotany: Astragalus membranaceus is a perennial, native to Northern and Eastern China, as well as Mongolia and Korea. Habitat: Astragalus does well in deep, sandy, well drained, and somewhat alkaline soils, but is fairly adaptable to other conditions. History/Folklore: Astragalus has been a staple [...]

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Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)

Verbascum thapsusLatin Name: Verbascum thapsusCommon name(s): Mullein, Great Mullein, Common Mullein, Cow’s Lungwort, Wollen Blanket Herb, Mary’s CandleFamily: ScrophulariaceaeBotany: Mullein produces a rosette of leaves during its first year of growth. The flowering stalk grows during the second year, and can grow as tall as 6 to 8 feet. Habitat: There are nearly 300 species of Mullein native [...]

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