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Nourishing Tips & Recipes

Smoky Skies and Respiratory Health

Updated: Sep 14, 2020

Fires up and down the West Coast have created unhealthy and even dangerous air quality. Smoke and particulates in the air irritate the delicate membranes of the eyes, nose, throat, and entire respiratory tract. This makes us not only uncomfortable, but more susceptible to infections, asthma, and other systemic imbalances. While this time might feel overwhelming, we can be empowered knowing that there are simple things in our medicine cabinet and kitchen that can bring us immediate relief.

Here is a brief guide to support you during this time; remember that your dual goals are to decrease your exposure and to soothe and heal affected areas.

Here are some tips to decrease exposure:

  • Stay inside and close the house up tight; use towels in drafty areas (under doors and windows)

  • Put the AC fan on to recirculate air (but not if it pulls from outside)

  • Make a DIY filter with a box fan and a filter added to the back

  • Breathe through your nose (this is always a good health tip), as the nose filters and moistens the air pulled into your body, acting as the first line of defense for your lungs

  • Irrigate your eyes with eye re-hydrating drops or an eye cleaning solution

  • Irrigate your sinuses with a sinus wash/neti pot. This can be really helpful for allergen and/or smoke inhalation.

  • Irrigate your throat by drinking warm water constantly

  • Disinfect and moisten the air, and trap irritants, with a pot of herbal boiling water! Toss any combination of the following herbs and clippings into water and let the fragrant steam help cleanse the air and relieve irritation: sage; rosemary; fir, spruce, or cedar clippings; bay leaves; lemon peel; clove; ginger; peppermint; and thyme. You can also add essential oils (see below).

  • Do a steam inhalation treatment with essential oils. Add a few drops of essential oils -- especially eucalyptus, tea tree, mint, lemon, fir, spruce, lavender, myrtle, or rosemary -- in a diffuser or a pot of near-boiling water, and breathe in for a few minutes to directly treat the entire respiratory tract.

  • Don’t add any irritants to the air: no sage or other favorite “cleansing” burnables like palo santo or incense. No candles, frying or broiling anything that will smoke.

Soothe and heal delicate mucous membranes:

  • DRINK warm water all day. You can add lemon, honey, and herbs (see below) for greater healing and mucous clearing. Don’t underestimate the power of this simple technique.

  • Enjoy foods that are soothing to the respiratory tract: steamed pears, oatmeal, warm soups and other warm homemade foods, and foods high in antioxidants to help protect delicate tissues (think colorful berries, fall squash, and greens!)

  • Consider respiratory herbs in a tea or tincture: slippery elm, althaea, elecampane, licorice, osha, lobelia (small amounts), lomatium, elderberry, reishi, plantain, cherry bark, turmeric, goldenrod, ivy, and any other personal favorites.

  • Consider supplementation: NAC, glutathione, Vitamins A/C/D, turmeric, antioxidants, and mushroom blends.

And lastly, tend to that sweet heart and soul of yours.

Smoke is “excitatory” to our nervous system, initiating a cascade of stress hormones and perpetuating the fight or flight response. If you are experiencing heightened anxiety and worry, be extra gentle with yourself. Drinking tea, taking a warm (not superhot) bath, sitting in a sauna, dedicating time for relaxation and mediation, video chatting with someone whose face makes you feel good…. these are as important as any herbal remedy.

Take good care of yourself until, and after, the smoke clears.

In good health and peace,

Erika Siegel ND LAc



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