Staying Healthy During Wildfires

Strategies for Health and Resilience

by Anna O’Malley, MD, Director, Natura Institute for Ecology and Medicine

Here in the Commonweal Garden, as in much of California, we have a wildfire burning nearby. We are safe, but our bags are packed. We are counting our blessings and focusing on health and resilience. Here are a few suggestions:

Wildfire smoke contains tiny particles that go deep into the lungs, into the bloodstream, and create inflammatory problems and lung damage, especially for children, those with heart and lung conditions, pregnant women and elders. An ounce of prevention makes a big difference.

  • Stay inside when it is smoky (or if AQI >100) with windows and doors closed. 
  • and are both reliable resources for updated local conditions.
  • If you must go out, wear a mask. An N95 is most protective; however, supplies of N95 masks remain short.
  • Wait for clear air to exercise outdoors. 
  • Use an air purifier to create a clean air room in your home or workspace.

Wildfire smoke irritates the airways and can trigger “bronchospasm”. While it is essential for people with asthma to have a “rescue inhaler” available, there are also many plant allies who have a soothing, relaxing effect on the airways. A few growing in the garden are:

  • Mullein: make a soothing tea of leaves, strain with a paper filter to avoid irritating hairs
  • Thyme: make a strong tea from fresh leaves/stems, strain and add lemon and honey
  • Grindelia (gumplant): my favorite; infuse resinous buds into honey over low heat to make a delicious cough syrup. (Watch Natura’s website for forthcoming video on how to do this!)

Wildfire, like pandemic illness, offers us the opportunity to cultivate resilience. Key practices include:

  • Being prepared
  • Reaching out
  • Helping one another
  • Taking good care of yourself
  • Bringing mindful awareness to thoughts and emotions

May we all be safe and sound.

With care,
Anna O’Malley