Herbs to help you deal with the wildfire smoke

smokey in the Kootenays

smokey in the Kootenays

Hello plant lovers,

No doubt about it, it’s fire season in the pacific northwest.  I pray that everyone reading this is safe from harm.

As the old saying goes… where there’s fire, there’s smoke.

(Ok, I know that’s a little backwards, but it’s a better segue like this)

And the smoke from forest fires can drastically reduces air quality.  Specifically, because the smoke carries with it fine particulate that we’re all breathing in.  Yuck.

Right now, the amount of fine particulate in the air in the Nelson area is 3-4 times the standards set by the canadian government.  I know it’s similar in many places.  Here’s a link to the BC air quality page where you can check your region.

Because of all this smoke, I’ve had a number of friends contact me asking for herbals suggestions to help them deal with their assorted symptoms.

Most people are complaining about sore throats, a runny nose, more coughing and some difficulty breathing.

So, I thought I’d share a few herbs that may help. 🙂

Before we jump into herbs, let’s talk about a couple of Action Categories of herbs to get us all on the same page in terms of how to think about which herbs will be best.

But just before we start, I want to point out that these herbs will be helpful for pretty much everyone.  Whether you’re experiencing symptoms or not, you are breathing in more particulate matter that doesn’t really do you any favours hanging out in your lungs.

There are two main Action Categories that are relevant here… demulcents and expectorants.

Let’s start with demulcents.  These are herbs that have the action of moistening (and usually cooling) the body.  This is helpful when dealing with a hot and dry condition like breathing in too much fire smoke.

Any herb that produces an “egg white” sort of consistency is considered a demulcent.

Herbs commonly known for this are:

  • Slippery elm powder
  • Marshmallow
  • Licorice (I find the chinese variety more effective and yummier than the european)
  • Aloe vera
  • Plantain
  • Comfrey*

* best to avoid comfrey if you’ve had any health issues with your liver.  Specifically the root and the young, fresh leaves contain a chemical that could be hard on your liver.

fresh mint teaBut any herb that produces that quality can be helpful and might be easier to find.  For example:

  • Other Mallows are common ornamentals or even considered “weeds” and grow abundantly in gardens all over the place (such as Malva sylvestris and M. neglecta – which I can’t seem to remove fast enough from my garden)
  • Hollyhock, a cousin of marshmallow, is also a common ornamental with very similar medicine
  • Honey.  I know it’s not an herb, but it can really soothe a dry or sore throat
  • Colt’s foot – either the european variety or any of the 3 native varieties in the PNW
  • Fennel seeds – you likely have some in your spice cupboard

I’d suggest making a tea with the leaves of any of these plants.  Tinctures can work, but the alcohol can be drying.

Let’s talk expectorants.  These are herbs that aid the body in eliminating phlegm and mucous from the lungs.  Meaning, they help you cough stuff up.

So, let’s take a small step back from herbs for a moment to talk about coughs and runny noses.

You’ll notice that I’m not talking about herbs to relieve your cough or your runny nose.  That’s because these are necessary for your body to protect itself from the extra particles you’re breathing.

What we’re trying to do with herbs is to support your body to heal itself.  Your runny nose or cough will improve as your body has an easier time eliminating the crap in your lungs.

Ok, back to herbs… here’s a list of well known expectorants:


  • Colt’s foot – again all varieties
  • Elecampagne root or flowers
  • Mullein
  • Fennel seeds
  • Slippery Elm
  • Comfrey

There are actually many herbs that fall into this Action Category, but I’m not including them because they’re too heating or too drying to help as much for this condition.

For example, I’m not promoting my Clear Lung Formula in this article because it works much better on cool and damp congestion.

melissaI suggest mixing one or more herb from each of the two Action Categories in your tea.  Pick the herbs that are easiest for you to use so that it doesn’t turn into a huge chore to make this tea.

And feel free to include an herb that you really love the taste of.  Cooling herbs such as mint or lemonbalm would be great in this.  But warming herbs like cinnamon, not so much.

For dose, I’d suggest 2-3 cups per day (or about 1 L) or as needed.

I hope this is helpful.  Please share your stories of what herbs are working for you in the comments below.  These are just a few ideas and I’ll bet that some folks have things to add to this conversation.

And if you’re having other symptoms related to the smoke, please share those.  I’ll try to cover them in a future post.

Praying for rain and safety for all,

PS.  If you like this way of thinking about herbs and would like to learn more about using herbs based on their Action Categories, then you’re going to be excited to hear that I’ve spent the last 2 weeks putting together an Herbal First Aid Workshop that I’ll be touring with this Fall and Winter.

Keep your eyes peeled for the official launch coming in a few weeks.



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17 Responses to Herbs to help you deal with the wildfire smoke

  1. Katrina September 8, 2017 at 3:23 pm #

    Thank you for an alternative way of finding relief in our smokey days and nights.
    I like that your article covered the cool/hot, moist/dry aspects of the herbs, not many know that there is that big of a difference and end up with a negative benifit from what they have used.

    • garliq September 8, 2017 at 8:16 pm #

      you’re most welcome, Katrina. i hope this helps 🙂


  2. LJ September 10, 2017 at 9:32 pm #

    Could you write more on herbs that will help the folks down in the south? Many people are suffering respiratory distress from flooding. Also, when it comes to the flooding I have a theory that the volatile organic compounds released into the environment along with other unknown chemicals may have initially irritated respiratory systems. Now many people are suffering from bacterial infections that in some ways I believe could be secondary infections to chemical exposure, mold, and fungi.
    I am also wondering where oregano fits into the warm dry versus cool and wet categories for treating lung irritation.

    Thanks for the above. Good article.

    • garliq September 11, 2017 at 12:38 pm #

      thanks for your feedback and your request, LJ. I hear your longing to help those dealing with this flood.

      that said, i live really far from there and i’m not able to see what people are experiencing. there are some very talented herbalists that are more local.

      as for oregano essential oil, i’d say that it’s hot and dry. and generally, i don’t use it. it’s very easy to use it in a more heroic rather than a nourishing way because of it’s strength and our tendency for impatience 🙂

      i hope that’s helpful.

    • A. Williams September 13, 2017 at 2:09 pm #

      Dealing with mold protocol from my herbal school Wisdom of the Herbs:

      • garliq September 13, 2017 at 2:19 pm #

        awesome! thanks for sharing that.

    • Deborah S October 12, 2017 at 11:35 am #

      Hi there, as a veteran of the mold wars which devastated my family and seriously compromised my son, all the suggestions for bodily support are good, but mold, dead or alive, must be physically removed from your environment in a safe manner before supportive treatments are effective. Be very careful when attempting to clean a compromised environment as you can make your environment worse by spreading the spores and mold particles.

      Best regards,


  3. Jan S September 11, 2017 at 9:04 am #

    Thank you! I love anything that has to do with natural healing! There are so many good remedies for so many health issues. It’s back to basics for me. Thanks again for sharing!

  4. Alexis September 11, 2017 at 10:54 am #

    Wonderful…. I shared your article on my herbal facebook page – so many people struggling with air quality these days.

  5. Linda Girl September 16, 2017 at 2:06 pm #

    Am interested in your tour and will pay attention to where & when it is. I live east of Portland on the Washington side and am experiencing the Eagle Creek fire. Yesterday & today its very smoky and am bothered w/ the smoke. Your article came at a critical time for all of us. Thank you. Did you live in Sonoma County Calif. years ago? I remember an herb lady named Rosie at local fairs and such. Lost track if her over the years and am wondering if this is you. I lived in Monte Rio (40 yrs ago) and in Sebastopol for a long time before moving to the PCNW.

    • garliq October 14, 2017 at 11:13 am #

      Hi Linda Girl,

      i have heard that there is another “garlic” human in the northern cali/oregon area, but it’s not me. sorry.

      i heard a few stories about the Eagle Creek fire this year. it was a doozie! so much gratitude for the rains.

      may your lungs continue to clear and heal.

      PS. oh, and i’m a cis-gendered man, so I wasn’t the herb lady from all those years ago 🙂

  6. Rita October 12, 2017 at 12:45 pm #

    Thanks so much! I am adding some eyebright as my eyes are killing me..

  7. Deborah Henderson October 14, 2017 at 8:50 am #

    Thank you for this information! I don’t use herbs very often because I am blessed to be quite healthy, so I’d like more information about ‘dose’. How much dried herb do I use to be steeped as tea, and how long should it steep? Thank you!

    • garliq October 14, 2017 at 11:23 am #

      I hear you Deborah. I don’t get sick very often either. it’s more challenging to create a habit of using herbs preventatively. Most of the modeling that we see is to respond to illness by taking something. I admit that I too lose motivation or fall out of habits that don’t get re-initiated until I get sick.

      anyway, re: dosing … I suggest a small handful of dried herbs in 1 L of boiling water. Steep for 15-20 minutes. this will produce a “medicinal strength” tea to be taken throughout the day.

      But the main thing is to try it out and see what you enjoy. If you like it, it’s much easier to drink it regularly.

  8. Deborah Henderson October 14, 2017 at 12:22 pm #

    Thanks so much for your reply. I had an experience years ago that tipped me off to the idea that herbs ARE medicine and I’ve rarely had the need. Thanks for helping me get ‘up to speed’.

  9. Beatrice Clark August 17, 2018 at 9:58 am #

    I was told to only use fresh young coltsfoot leaf as the older leaves are poisonous??? and never to use the flowers?

    • garliq October 1, 2018 at 10:13 am #

      Hi Beatrice,

      i’m not sure what those theories are based on. i love coltsfoot flowers as medicine. i’ve never had an issue with it and never heard anything about it being toxic in any way.

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