Podcast 040: Wildfires, Trainwrecks, and Cold Digestion in Hot Weather

The world’s on fire, no one wants to admit they’re occasionally catastrophic, and sometimes all you want to eat is ice cream. In this episode we’ll talk about herbs to support respiratory health in times of dryness and smoke inhalation. We’ve also got a dramatic* reading of Katja’s favorite blog post ever, You’re A Trainwreck. We’ll wrap it up with a listener question about cold digestive systems in hot weather.

* Not in a bad way.

Herbs discussed include tulsi, calamus, mullein, linden, marshmallow, hibiscus.

Mentioned in this podcast:


If you like our podcast, you might like learning from us in a more intentional way – like with our Family Herbalist program! It’s a great way to start incorporating herbs into your daily life, to keep you and your loved ones healthy and resilient all year round!

Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.


Episode Transcript

Katja: 00:19 Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn: 00:21 And I’m Ryn.

Katja: 00:21 We’re here at the CommonWealth Center for Holistic herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts –

Ryn: 00:25 – and on the Internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast!

Katja: 00:29 We are, as you know, not doctors. We’re herbalists and holistic health educators.

Ryn: 00:36 Ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice, no state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the US. These discussions are for educational purposes only. Everyone’s body is different, so the things we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you, but it will give you some information to think about and research more.

Katja: 00:53 We want to remind you that your good health is your own personal responsibility. The final decision in considering any course of therapy, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by your physician, is always yours.

Ryn: 01:04 We want to give a shout out to countryroadherbalist on iTunes. Thank you so much for giving us a review there! Reviews on iTunes make the algorithms happy and when the algorithms are happy, more people can find our podcasts.

Katja: 01:19 I mean, it’s like basically society is already in service to our robot overlords. Just the robots are actually algorithms, which is not what we thought they would look like in the sci-fi movies. But here we are.

Ryn: 01:30 Where are the boxy heads and the claw hands and all of this other good stuff?

Katja: 01:34 And the like the, the arms that are made out of that dryer vent? No, it’s just algorithms. You can’t even see them. They’re just in a computer somewhere and they’re deciding what we will like and what we won’t like and what we get to hear and – whatever. If that’s the way it is, let’s get the word out there about something positive. So write us a review, tell your friends, host a listening party. Thank you.

Ryn: 01:59 Thank you. Thank you.

Ryn: 02:03 All right. So what should we talk about this week?

Katja: 02:06 Well, I have a few things on my mind. The first one right off the bat is herbs for wildfires, because everything is on fire and it just keeps getting worse.

Ryn: 02:19 Yeah, I’ve been feeling that kind of, boy, I’m really fortunate over here on this side of the country that’s not burning down, and also, hmm, when is our side of the country going to start burning down?

Katja: 02:32 Yeah, kind of thing. I mean, like Scandinavia is on fire, you know, there’s fires in the Arctic Circle, this is just not… But, there are actually herbs that can help, because smoke inhalation is no joke. It is a serious thing. And there are herbs that will make your life a lot more pleasant – in one small way, if you are having to deal with the terrible unpleasantness and danger of, of wildfires. Mullein is one of my favorites. It’s really helpful to expect to rate all of the smokey crud that gets trapped in the lungs – frankly, whether that’s from a forest fire or from cigarettes, mullein actually, you know, if you know smokers, even if they don’t want to stop smoking, mullein tincture taken daily can be really, really helpful to help them cough up the crud that just coats the sides of your lungs. And I think mullein makes a really delicious tea … why are you laughing? I really like it!

Ryn: 03:41 It’s okay.

Katja: 03:42 No, it’s so tasty. I love it!

Ryn: 03:47 This is brought to you by the same woman who really loves to drink uva ursi tea. Just for the record.

Katja: 03:53 Mr. kava pants, I can’t believe you like that stuff! Okay. Well anyway, I think that mullein is tasty. Perhaps some might, some people might just think it’s boring, but for smoke inhalation, I personally prefer the tea just because that’s that much more liquid going into the body. The tincture will do the trick, but in a fire situation like I just want everything to be so hydrated.

Ryn: 04:22 So if you do take some tincture then drink a lot of water with it.

Katja: 04:28 Speaking of water, another important factor in smoke inhalation is dryness. And so plants like marshmallow root and linden and hibiscus can really help you out there.

Katja: 04:40 And this is going to be a cold infusion and that doesn’t actually mean your refrigerator has to be involved, but it just means that you’re not going to boil the water, you’re going to put, you’re going to put those plants, you know, a teaspoon or a tablespoon depending on the size of your jar. If it’s a quart size mason jar, I like to just put a couple tablespoons in the bottom of the jar, and then put in room temperature water like tap water or, or whatever room temperature water. It’s okay if you put it in the refrigerator and it’s not like that’s not allowed, but it’s also not necessary. So if you are in the middle of a power outage for example, you still can make this, and these plants are really soothing to that hot, irritated situation that happens in the lungs and the whole respiratory tract.

Katja: 05:30 So if you are in a fire zone, first off, be safe and we’re thinking of you. And secondly, make sure that your family is getting these plants daily. And frankly, you know, marshmallow and hibiscus and linden, cold infusion, any individual, any one of those three or all three together, they’re really great. Any dry situation, even if you’re not on fire, if you just live in a really arid area and you want to keep your body hydrated, then these are wonderfully supporting for that too. And all three of these herbs are fine for your pets, so if you can get your dogs and cats to drink them, it will help them deal with the smoke and the dryness too. For that I recommend just putting them in the food because they probably won’t drink it if you just leave it out as water.

Ryn: 06:22 Make some marshmallow root or linden cold infusion. And then just pour it over the food, stir it up a bit.

New Speaker: 06:30 Maybe not hibiscus because that’ll be really sour and that might put them off. But the marshmallow and the linden both should be mild enough that the food will cover the flavor of it.

Katja: 06:41 These herbs are also really awesome when your life feels emotionally like a wildfire or perhaps like a dumpster fire. Speaking of which, I would really like to read a blog post that I wrote titled You’re A Train Wreck. I honestly think it’s one of the most important things I’ve ever written. And I think if I never said anything else in my life, this one thing would be good. And I’ve been thinking about it specifically quite a lot lately because right now you guys, I am a total train wreck. And one of my business students is having a hard time and she was getting down on herself for lacking motivation and I said that I couldsympathize and I was trying to be encouraging, and she wrote back to say, yeah, but you’re so rational and you don’t let your emotions run away with you and you’re so together.

Katja: 07:34 And I was like, Oh man, I have a blog post for that. So, here you go. A dramatic reading.

Katja: 07:43 Hi, my name is Katja. I’m a total train wreck.

Ryn: 07:47 Hi, Katja!

Katja: 07:49 Think about the last time you had this experience. You ran some public place, maybe at work, maybe at a party, maybe at a work party, ack. Maybe it was a brunch with moms or guys at the gym or other people in your community. And you didn’t feel great that day. So you kind of picked something up off the floor that you’d worn two days ago and hadn’t gotten around to putting it away yet. And you hoped it wasn’t too wrinkled or dirty because you just didn’t have the energy to figure out something nicer to put on and you arrived at your location realizing you left something important at home and you felt embarrassed about it. You were just getting really down and low, working up a nice lather of awful feelings about this whole damn day and this awful event and all you wanted was to be home in bed and then across the room you see That Person.

Katja: 08:39 You see That Person around. Sometimes, yes, That Person is accompanied by a little halo. A. You see that person around sometimes and they’re always so together. Why can’t you have your act together like That Person? That Person always looks nice with clothes that are just right on a body that is just right and hair that is always done right, or the right car or the right sport skills or whatever it is that embodies right to you in this moment, and That Person never forgets their important things. Whenever you talk to That Person, everything, everything always seems to be going right for them. Why can’t you just get it together like That Person?

Katja: 09:23 And there you go. The whole rest of your day or evening or the event that you’re at, you spend berating yourself that you’re not together like That Person and that if only you were like That Person you’d have put on something nice and clean for this event, and in fact, if you never leave your clothes on the floor, you work up a whole imagined life for that person in which every aspect of every day is just right, and then you compare yourself to it carefully, noting all the many areas in which you don’t make the mark, and then you proceed into whatever your habitual responses to a good bout of self-loathing.

Katja: 09:56 You vow to make some kind of doomed change like going to the gym before work every day or never eating another cookie again. Or instead you sink into a nice puddle of despair and splash around in it for a few days. Much to your roommates or families or friends delight – not at all, which you notice and then add to your pile of reasons I hate me (TM), or both consecutively.

Katja: 10:23 Does this sound familiar? It should because the reality is we’re all trainwrecks. Nobody has it together, not even That Person, despite outward appearances, and outward appearances are part of the problem. We live in a culture obsessed with appearance and combined with that, we live in a culture where we don’t really know the people around us. Everyone is too busy and we move around a lot so we don’t know the whole story of everyone’s past anymore like people did hundreds of years ago.

Katja: 10:57 Sometimes that’s good. It’s liberating to have the chance to start over, but it’s also a hindrance because it fuels this idea that we can somehow achieve a state of non trainwreckness that we can leave all of our trainwreckage behind us and start fresh and never do it again and that’s not really possible.

Katja: 11:18 When I was a kid, I was very embarrassed about going to the bathroom. I never wanted anyone to know that I ever even entered a restroom at any time ever. I would hold my pee for an entire day and not pee until the evening when I got home. So that no one would know that I peed. How dumb! Everyone pees. Eventually I realized that this was dumb and that everyone pees, and further, that my kidneys really did not like this habit. So at some point in high school, I think I started making myself go to the restroom promptly and furthermore I made myself announced I have to pee every time. I’m almost – well when I wrote this, I was almost 42, but now I’m 44 – and I still do it, because old habits die hard.

Ryn: 11:59 She does. Even if it’s just us!

Katja: 12:03 It’s true. But I really was trying to program myself to get over this hangup that I had. Anyway, that’s a ridiculous story. But my point here is that whatever it is that you don’t want people to know, it’s not any different than peeing. Everyone has messy, smelly, wrinkled moments that they wish no one knew about or that they try to keep secret so that no one will. And everyone wants to appear to be together all the time. No one wants anyone to know that they pee, or whatever it is. So we all go around trying to keep these secrets, trying to always put our best face forward and we’re all believing in each other’s facades while we’re feeling awful about our own. There’s another way. Just be your own train wreck. Some days you’re feeling pretty good and things seem to actually be going right and you’re chugging along.

Katja: 12:55 This is great! Other days you experienced a minor derailment. No problem. Just smile. Remember that you’re a train wreck – that we’re all train wrecks – ask for some help if you need it and get back on your way. Sometimes there’s a massive wreck full of impressive explosions and freight spilled everywhere along the tracks for miles. That’s okay too. It’s a mess and it’s ugly and it’s definitely inconvenient, but it’s real. So be honest about it. Ask friends for help. Come up with a few simple sentences you can use in public, something like “I’m going through some tough stuff at the moment and I want to apologize that I’m a little distracted” – and then move through your days as best as you can until you get it all cleaned up. That’s the beauty of acknowledging not only your train wreck, but the universalness of trainwreckage. When you’re not trying to hide it, you can’t ask for help, but further when it’s just a normal part of your understanding of what it is to be human, you also don’t have to make a huge deal about it.

Katja: 13:55 You don’t have to get worked up and panicked. You don’t have to try to pretend it isn’t happening. You don’t have to justify it, by making it bigger than it is and you definitely don’t have to make promises that it will never happen again. You’re a person. You’re allowed to have a wreck sometimes. That’s all there is to it.

Katja: 14:13 If that sounds hard to accept. Let’s go back to the pee example. You’re just allowed to go pee. You don’t have to make the need more urgent than it is to justify your need to pee. You don’t have to promise that if you pee this once, you’ll never have to pee again, and you don’t have to pretend that you don’t have to pee. Just go pee! Peeing is a natural function of people. It turns out train wreckage is also a natural function of people.

Katja: 14:38 So great, you’re wrecked. What do you do now? Here’s some of my favorite ways to get myself moving again.

Katja: 14:46 Ask for help. Find a friend you trust and talk to them about train wreck theory. Make some plans for supporting each other the next time you wreck, and remind each other that, hey, you’re a train wreck! It turns out that it’s such a ridiculous phrase that being told by a caring friend that you’re a train wreck can insert a moment of humor into the situation that’s generally just what you need to allow yourself to shift your perspective, especially since you and your friend will have already discussed train wreckage, and the phrase will have some meaning and some compassion along with the humor. Once you feel your perspective start to shift, you can move on to figuring out what you need to get up and get going again and believe it or not, every time you do that, recovering from wrecks gets easier.

Katja: 15:30 Next, get outside. When we humans surround ourselves only with humans and things made by humans, we really get trapped in our games when we go out into the rest of the world, when we listen to the trees and watch the squirrels and the birds. When we see plants growing and also when we see them dying back – in the observance of these things, we can understand what it is to be human. If we only ever compare ourselves to other humans, we get very wrapped up in artificial constructs. When we put ourselves back into connection with our context, the whole rest of the world, we can understand who we are and we can take the human games much less seriously.

Katja: 16:10 Find an elder. Elders have beautiful perspective on these kinds of things. If there’s an elder in your life who you trust and respect, cultivate a practice of sharing your wrecks with them in humility. You may find that you can laugh together about them and furthermore, they may have some good advice for you. Whether you have an elder around or not Pema Chodron is an amazing wise woman. She’s written lots of books, all of which can be helpful, but my favorite is when things fall apart. If you’re feeling like trainwreck theory resonates with you, but you don’t really have anyone you feel safe to talk to you about this stuff, get this book, read it, give yourself 15 minutes at the beginning and end of each day to just read a page or two and think about it. You can call it meditation if you like!

Katja: 16:56 Have some tea. Just the act of making tea for yourself is a wonderful first step to getting yourself going. Again, it’s all about doing something to shift your perspective. There are plants who can help encourage that shift as well. I particularly like tulsi for this kind of work. It’s my “pick yourself up and dust yourself off” herb of choice, whether you’re experiencing a minor derailment or an all out multiple car pile up. Tulsi can help get things moving again. You could add linden as well. I like to call linden “a hug in a mug”. Together, these two herbs are just what you need: one to give you a hug, another to help you back up,

Katja: 17:37 Whatever you do, the most important thing to remember is that to train wreck is human. We all do it. Even That Person.

Katja: 17:46 Well anyway, I don’t mean to make light of any problems but, but man, lately, these last couple of weeks, there’s a lot of serious stuff going on in the world and the world is on fire and you know, all this stuff. But also in my own life I have been taking a lot of stuff really seriously and really personally and a lot of other stuff I can’t do anything about. So I just needed a good minute to shake myself up and say, so it’s a train wreck! Whatever. And today I have to say I’m feeling a lot better. I got out my Pema Chodron. I drank a lot of tea. I realized that I had stopped making tea because it got so hot that there were several days that went by that I just didn’t drink any tea at all, and I don’t know what that was about. Well, I guess hot, but uh, so I made tea again, and … yeah.

Ryn: 18:48 Yeah. We’ve got to bump up our iced tea game.

Katja: 18:51 Yes. Yeah, for sure.

Ryn: 18:56 We got a message from Jennifer in North Carolina who wrote in with a question about digestion and energetics and hot weather. She was talking about having a cold constitution and needing a lot of warmth to get her digestion going – except that it’s really hot out and all she wants to eat is cold stuff, which –

Katja: 19:20 – totally reasonable –

Ryn: 19:22 – but that, that gets her kind of bloaty. So she was wondering how can she apply herbal energetics to this problem? What do you think?

Katja: 19:32 I have so many ideas about this. So first off, and you guys know, I always like to look at traditional foods and traditional cultures and back into history for answers. So that’s my first thought. And Japan has an answer for this problem: sushi! You never eat sushi by itself, you eat it with hot tea and a cup of broth. And pickled ginger and wasabi, which all might just be like, oh, that’s just how we serve sushi.

Ryn: 20:03 It’s a condiment. Oh, how about this one? It’s a garnish. Oh, garnishes. So maligned for so long.

Katja: 20:09 It’s a flavor! But what’s really going on here is that they’re using a combination of carminative herbs, warming herbs, and then an actual hot side dish and a hot beverage to solve the problem of efficiently digesting raw fish and cold rice. And also vinegar too in the pickled ginger. They’re raising the acid levels. So if you, when we stop looking at that stuff is just flavor and start realizing, oh, there’s a reason that this is part of your complete sushi bento box.

Katja: 20:46 So then I’ll look at other hot climate cultures and you know, most of them, like every hot climate culture I can think of, except I don’t have much experience with what they eat in Hawaii, but all the ones that I can think of, they cook their food even in the summer – I’m thinking of like rice and beans or like all the different Ethiopian food, all of it is cooked and in fact most of it is long cooked. Um, a lot of these places, they’ll have outdoor kitchens, but, and traditionally through history that was more and more common, but they still cook their food and putting lots of spices in it, which not only helps with digestion but also helps your body to stay cool, believe it or not, because those, those spicy herbs have a diaphoretic action. It means that they opened the periphery and allow heat to escape. So that’s, you know, that doesn’t answer the question of, but I want to eat cold food, but it does give us some insight into, well, what are, what did other cultures do when it was hot?

Ryn: 21:51 We could also perhaps look at some Mediterranean foods. A lot of those are – they’re cooked first, but then they’re eaten cold, you know, like gazpacho. Or if you go up a bit to the north, all these different kinds of potato salads.

Katja: 22:08 I’m actually, I’m really hungry right now. Potato salad sounds so good!

Ryn: 22:13 But I mean, even even salad as a category, a lot of times that just meant cooked greens with some salt but served cool or served chilled. And in that case you’re still getting the benefits of cooking like pre-digestion, but then you’re just not eating that while it’s still hot and iping.

Katja: 22:32 Yeah. So it’s like been broken down but um, but it’s just not hot anymore. Yeah. I just love looking back at this stuff. It’s not like people didn’t know that you can eat an apple raw, like they knew that and it’s okay to do it. Actually through the way back history, it was not very pleasant to eat an apple raw because they weren’t super delicious. But whatever. I’m getting very tangented here. Uh, it’s just that people in history lived much closer relationships with the life and death reality of needing to digest their food well because they didn’t have as much abundant calories as we do today and what they had, they produced themselves. So they really had to get everything they could out of it, which means they cooked, even when it was hot, and also I wasn’t really setting all this up to be like, you should just cook even though it’s hot.

Katja: 23:32 But I guess that when I turned back and looked at history, that’s what came up, but in modern life, the way that I like to do this is with a crock pot because that can be going overnight when it’s much cooler in the house and when I’m not in the kitchen anyway, or if I’m working from home, I can set it – or if I’m not working at home, if we’re at the school – then it can go during the day because I’m not in the kitchen anyway. When I do run the Crock Pot, I typically fill it, like I’ll run a huge batch even if it’s just the two of us with Amber away at camp. If I cook a whole lot of meat one day, first of all, it’s way more energy efficient. But also then I can just put it in the fridge and for the rest of the week I’ll have to do is heat up just that small amount, just a small amount.

Katja: 24:20 So it only takes a minute. It doesn’t heat up the whole kitchen or even I can make something into like chicken salad or something like that. Right now we have a bunch of steaks that we got in our farm share and I tossed them all into the crock pot – you can put a stake in the crockpot, absolutely – and so I put them all in there with a ton of cumin and garlic and some cayenne. And so now it’s like Taco Tuesday for a whole week because every night we just pull out a little bit and, and heat up some tortillas and boom: tacos.

Ryn: 24:55 Yeah. Yeah.

Katja: 24:58 Oh – and the other thing I wanted to say, because this isn’t all about just go cook your food, is calamus! Calamus is the solution – seriously actually the solution to so many problems, especially, but not in any way limited to, when your digestion is sluggish due to a lot of stress. Calamus is just – I don’t know, it’s possible that we talk about calamus like every third podcast. I dunno, but I just love this plant; it’s such a big influence in my life. And I can remember when I first was exposed to calamus, I was like, oh, I ‘ll never like that flavor. And now I, I do, I love it.

Ryn: 25:43 So it’s a, it’s a bitter herb for one thing and that helps with digestion. Gets all your juices flowing and it’s also a warming plant, so it’s not as hot and spicy as ginger or as hot and spicy as anything like cayenne or garlic or something like that. But it is, it is stimulating to digestion and it does also relax tension or constriction that’s happening in the Gi tract or in the belly. It can also help to disperse gas if some of that has accumulated – maybe eating from some cold foods that you didn’t digest too well, calamus can disperse that for you, and it also has these effects where it helps you to settle in and get present with your meal and get into that rest and digest state before you start introducing some food to be digested. So that’s very handy.

Katja: 26:44 I was just thinking, Gee, if it hasn’t been herb of the week yet, we should make calamus herb of the week this week – but it has been herb of the week. It was – when was it? It was back in March of this year. But August 14th, that’s Tuesday, is our herb of the week one year anniversary, and yeah. Yeah, that’s kind of exciting! So I don’t know, maybe calamus can have a replay in honor of the anniversary. But if you haven’t been following the herb of the week on our blog, you totally should. It’s a really fun and useful resource if I do say so myself – actually Ryn’s been writing them lately, so I can say that about him.

Ryn: 27:33 I will pass over them in silence.

Katja: 27:35 You are a really fun and useful resource, babe.

Ryn: 27:38 Oh my goodness.

Katja: 27:40 Well, anyway, So…

Ryn: 27:44 Maybe one other thought that just occurred to me about this problem of, you know, the cold constitutional type, the hot weather being drawn towards cold foods and so on it’s possible that you may get some benefit from working with vinegar because vinegar is a digestive stimulants. It is acidic in nature and so if you take it before a meal, it can help you to digest that food more efficiently, but it also has an effect to cool down the system and you see that reflected in things like shrubs, which are like herbal vinegar drinks oftentimes a herbal vinegar mixed with some sparkling water or with switchel –

Katja: 28:27 I’m cracking up over here. He’s looking at me like I’m crazy. I might be, but I’m cracking up because every time that we talk about shrubs, Monty Python just pops into my head. (Shrubbery!)

Ryn: 28:44 Yeah… So, shrubs, yeah, or switchel, switchel is where it’s like a … Actually, I don’t know what the technical definition is, but for me it means like some herb infused vinegar plus a little bit of molasses.

Katja: 28:55 No, maple syrup!

Ryn: 28:57 I like molasses.

Katja: 28:59 Okay, well I learned about switchel in Vermont, so it’s maple syrup.

Ryn: 29:04 If you have strong switchel opinions, please weigh in.

Katja: 29:09 And a shrub. Did we, did we define that? That’s herbs infused in vinegar.

Ryn: 29:14 Yeah, and also, you know, fruits – like blackberries, which for instance is really fantastic.

Katja: 29:19 You can make a shrub that way too.

Ryn: 29:21 I’m sorry, I’m getting the terms all messy – but hey, what –

Katja: 29:25 Basically what we’re talking about is vinegar, sometimes with sweetener, plus water, sometimes with fizzy.

Ryn: 29:34 And don’t forget the plants.

Katja: 29:36 Oh, right.

Ryn: 29:36 Herby bits. Fruity bits.

Katja: 29:38 Well actually I think either one of those. I mean they’re more fun with plants, but I think it technically is still switchel even if it’s just plain old vinegar. I mean, and maple syrup.

Ryn: 29:49 Get some plants in there. And some molasses.

Katja: 29:50 Yes. It’s better with plants. Everything is better with plants.

Ryn: 29:57 Yeah. Yeah. So that’s definitely worth considering if you have a kind of a slow moving digestive apparatus, but uh, you’re looking for something to help out in the summer heat.

Katja: 30:09 Alright. Well, I hope that you are surviving the heat and that, if you’re in a fire zone, that you’re safe, and that your family is safe, and we’ll be thinking of you, and we’ll see you next week.

Ryn: 30:24 Take care!


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