Podcast 166: Herbalism & Climate Change: Heatwaves

This episode begins a series on herbalism & climate change. Heatwaves have struck the US and many places throughout the world, and all signs indicate this is going to be our “new normal”. Climate change affects everyone and requires us to recognize our interdependence. We need to cultivate community care as a social ethic & public good before and until it becomes necessary as a disaster response. Herbalism offers a great deal to us in this regard.

Heat is dangerous. Heat with high humidity, even more so. Learning and sharing low-cost, low-energy methods for cooling your house, your body, and your pets is a great way to prepare and to help others near you. But herbs can help in particular ways, too:

  • demulcents to improve hydration (especially with a bit of sweet added: honey, maple syrup, or – yep – even sugar)
  • mineral-rich nutritive herbs for mineral repletion… more than just “electrolytes”, trace minerals too
  • relaxing & cooling diaphoretics to open the pores and allow release of heat
  • refrigerants to help cool the body, even if air conditioning isn’t available

Aside from nutritive aspects which could be gotten from food, all of these are actions unique to herbalism. Climate change, heatwaves, flooding, fires, changes in the ecosystems we inhabit – everyone can benefit from learning how to prepare & respond to these events.

Herbs discussed include: marshmallow, violet, elm, seaweeds, nettle, red clover, tulsi, peppermint, elderflower, linden, catnip, lemon balm, peppermint, skullcap, passionflower, betony, motherwort, blue vervain, lobelia, cucumber, watermelon, sumac, wild cherry, rose, hibiscus, citrus (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, etc).

Our Emergent Responder program is a complete guide to holistic disaster response & preparedness. Learn how herbal first aid, long-term care strategies, and emergency clinic management unfold in austere environments. Get the skills you need to be confident and ready to care for yourself, your family, and your community – even if help never comes. Once enrolled, your access never expires, and you get any updated material we add in the future free of cost!

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Episode Transcript

Katja (00:16):
Hi. I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:16):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:17):
And we’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:21):
And on the internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast. And we’re back together.

Katja (00:26):
Yes. I had some extra projects that I needed to get done. And thank you so much for doing the podcast by yourself while I was working on that.

Ryn (00:34):
No problem. So, today we’re going to be talking about supporting the human body in high heat, and especially high heat plus high humidity situations. Because that’s the month a lot of us in our part of the world have been having.

Katja (00:50):
Yeah. This is the first in a series of episodes that we’re going to do on herbalism and climate change. And this whole combination of high heat plus high humidity poses unique dangerous, unique risks for human beings. Probably for all mammals, actually.

Ryn (01:13):
Yeah. Certainly you’ve heard about how especially this has been problematic in the Pacific Northwest, you know, this month, this season so far. And we’re still pretty early in the season. The likelihood is that this is just getting started. That we’re going to continue to see this again this year and in future years as well. So, we want to make some plans now, and get ourselves ready. But first let’s just give you our reclaimer, and remind you that we are not doctors. We are herbalists and holistic health educators.

Katja (01:42):
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. So, these discussions are for educational purposes only.

Ryn (01:54):
We want to remind you that good health doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Good health doesn’t exist as an objective standard. It’s influenced by your individual needs, experiences, and goals. So we’re not trying to present a dogmatic right way that you should adhere to.

Katja (02:08):
Everybody’s body is different. So, the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you. But we hope that they’ll give you some good information to think about, and some ideas to research further.

Ryn (02:18):
Finding your way to better health is both your right and your own personal responsibility. This doesn’t mean you’re alone on the journey. But it does mean that the final decision when considering any course of action, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always yours to make.

In(ter)dependence & the Emergent Responder Program

Katja (02:34):
All right. Well, one other thing about this time of year. July, you know, it’s a time when in this country people are thinking about independence. But this is when I like to spend a lot of time thinking about how we’re not really as independent as we think we are. In this country there’s so much value placed on the idea of independence, the idea that somebody can just go it alone. But that’s really not how it works. And even if we look at it historically, you know, we think about our independence from England in this country. But that’s not even true. Like the United States and England are strong allies. So, I guess we do need each other after all.

Ryn (03:21):
Yeah, yeah. So, you know, if it doesn’t even work in international politics, then why should we expect this to happen on the individual level? But it’s so culturally ingrained in us. Not only the idea that independence is good in and of itself, but the idea that the way to have value is to be independent. And to be not independent is bad. That we have to be very deliberate about breaking this idea down, and remembering that humans are community creatures. It’s not always easy to be in community. But the very moment that trouble hits, we realize that in fact it is necessary.

Katja (03:58):
Yeah. You know, we think dependence is somehow something that needs to be avoided. But that can’t be avoided. Like we are dependent on one another. And this week there has been a lot of trouble you know, or not this week, but this month, yeah. This whole month with the heat everywhere. And then in Texas, the electrical grid is, I guess, failing again. Yeah. There’s been incredible heat in Canada. The wildfires are… I want to…

Ryn (04:30):
In full swing.

Katja (04:31):
Yeah. I wanted to say starting up, but we’re long past starting up. And also, like a minute ago, the ocean was on fire. So yeah, the climate situation is really going to force us to recognize that we have to be in this together, that we have to rely on one another. Some people will still try to just worry about themselves and leave everybody else behind. Right? Certain billionaires who want to get close to space are coming to mind. But the truth is we need one another.

Ryn (05:04):
Yeah. And as herbalists, you know, we’re well-suited to these times, honestly. You know, our tools don’t depend on petroleum. They don’t have to be shipped long distances. We can grow them right where we are. And herbalists can be available to everyone. This has always been a kind of community support work. Plus we can teach others, and in that way we can multiply our impact. So, you know, we’re pretty excited to be herbalists in these times is what we’re getting at here.

Katja (05:33):
Yeah. And honestly, pretty much every day in every location it’s a good time to be an herbalist right now. Because I think at this point, everyone has gotten the message. That it’s not just, oh, poor the people who have hurricanes. Or, oh no, those poor people on the west coast who have fires. Or oh, the poor people in wherever who have that kind of natural disaster problem that doesn’t affect me where I live. I think at this point we’re all recognizing that this kind of problem is for all of us, actually. Even if we live in places that haven’t typically had a lot of natural disaster type scenarios, that’s not necessarily true anymore.

Ryn (06:09):
Right. Yeah. So here let’s take just a moment and mention the emergent responder program that you put together. So, this is a complete program to prepare you for anything. Which is good, since things are happening that people never thought they’d have to deal with, you know. Who in the Pacific Northwest thought that they’d be dealing with epic heat. Or who in Texas thought that they’d be dealing with serious cold, you know?

Katja (06:33):
I grew up in Texas. And I remember when 50 degrees was like oh my goodness, you know?

Ryn (06:39):
Get the parka.

Katja (06:41):
Yeah. I think it snowed once in my entire childhood. Yeah.

Ryn (06:45):
Yeah. So, it’s not enough anymore to just be kind of ready for the same old thing that has usually happened. Because the same old things are getting stronger. And hey, there are entirely new things that we get to deal with too.

Katja (06:57):
Yeah. So the Emergent Responder program has been, or is built to prepare you to support yourself, support your loved ones, support your community, even if help never comes. And I think that’s a really important factor. Because, you know, our emergency response people are stretched to the limit already. And we have to be able to fill those gaps. So don’t worry. There’s plenty in the program about how to work together with governmental and non-governmental relief agencies. But again, like there just aren’t enough of them to go around. So in order to be ready to take care of ourselves, this course is going to teach you basically everything you need. Everything from how to organize your community groups. How to get the supplies that you need. How to create safe shelter spaces. How to find people who are missing. How to do triage. How to ration supplies in an equitable way. How to build things like sanitation stations and water purification and communal food service areas. But also how to organize your first aid and your longer term care station. How to plan out what supplies you’ll need. How to make supplies if you don’t have them or if you run out of them. How to care for basically everyone in the community, the young, the elderly people who are pregnant or have just given birth, folks who have chronic illness and need support, folks who are more vulnerable to the situation. We talk about how to contain disease, like communicable diseases. How to even deal with the dead and support the grieving. And how to start the rebuild effort. So like literally everything is in there.

Ryn (08:44):
Yeah, it’s pretty great. It’s very comprehensive. You know, you worked really hard on it. A lot of people have taken this course after a disaster. And pretty much all of them have written back to us and said that if they had known these things in advance, it would have made that event a lot easier to get through. So, at this point I honestly feel like we should be, all of us, all the herbal community, should be teaching these kinds of skills, these community first responders skills. In public schools even, would be fantastic, you know. But until then you can check this course out. And by the way this is appropriate for teenagers, tweens as well with some parental support. They can go through that course together with you, you know? And hey, don’t forget that we do have a special coupon code for our podcast listeners. You can use the code PODCAST at checkout, and you can get $50 off. So, there is a whole discussion about heat injury and associated concerns in the Emergent Responder course. But you’re going to get a piece of that today right now.

How the Body Handles Heat & Mucilagenous Herbs

Katja (09:42):
Yeah. I really want to break some of this down. You know, in New England we weren’t quite as bad as it was in the Pacific Northwest. But it was really hot with about a hundred percent humidity. And now it’s a little less hot, but it’s still like 99% humidity. So, this is really on my mind right now, especially the humidity part. Because humans cool the body with sweat. The sweat evaporates. And it is through that process of evaporation that the body becomes cooler.

Ryn (10:19):
Yeah. That’s how the heat kind of gets drawn off of your body and gets into the atmosphere.

Katja (10:25):
So, that works great in a hot environment. And this is why people often say, yeah, but it’s a dry heat. And like, I can remember as a kid, again growing up in Texas, in August sometimes it would be like 115. And like everybody was like, yeah, but it’s a dry heat, you know. Because as soon as you went outside you never sweat. You went outside and just the sweat evaporated before you even had a chance to sweat it.

Ryn (10:51):
Yeah. So you don’t feel like you’re covered in sweat.

Katja (10:56):
Right. You don’t feel like you’re covered in heat. Yeah.

Ryn (10:58):
Because it’s moving, right? It’s moving away from you. Yeah. So, you know, dry heat really is more comfortable than a damp heat to a certain point.

Katja (11:06):
Yeah, obviously.

Ryn (11:07):
Above a certain point it doesn’t matter if it’s dry, you know. That much exposure time is the critical thing. You know, you can still get into serious trouble there. But that certain point is a lot higher in a dry heat situation. Because if it’s dry sweat will evaporate right off the skin real quick, and that will allow your body to regulate your internal temperature. But you know, when it’s humid, the survivable temperatures, and certainly the comfortable temperatures, are much lower. Because if the air is already full of water, the sweat you make is just going to sit there. It’s not going to evaporate off of the skin. So, you’re still sweating, but cooling isn’t actually happening. Because the cooling doesn’t really happen until evaporation occurs. So, this is what they’re referring to. You may have heard recently some discussion about what’s called wet-bulb temperature. This is basically a way to measure what amount of heat is tolerable or even survivable for a given amount of humidity. Again, it’s simple. The lower the humidity, the more heat we can survive. The higher the humidity, the less heat we can survive. This is why a hot but seemingly survivable temperature like 95 degrees, even 90 degrees, can actually be very dangerous. If it’s 95 degrees with super high humidity, then this is not actually going to be survivable for many people without some climate control. Some availability of ice or cold water or other things that can help them to get through the day.

Katja (12:36):
That, I think like continues to be really shocking to me. That like you know, and even 90, 92, 93. That these temperatures can be deadly temperatures. I mean, they’re hot. It’s not like I would ever say that 95 isn’t hot. But I wouldn’t expect it to be something that could truly be life-threatening. And then when you add in that humidity aspect, that’s really what we have. It really truly is life-threatening.

Ryn (13:07):
Yeah. Now when we talk about herbs to help people tolerate heat, oftentimes the first sort of herbal category to come up is demulcents. So ,this is things like marshmallow root herbs that get a slimy, we say mucilaginous texture when you soak them in cool water. So, these are to help us stay hydrated better because they’re more than just water, right? They have electrolytes in there. That’s mineral content, right? And that’s important for our physiology and even for the sweating response itself. But they also have these mucilagens that are soothing to mucous membranes, that are protective to these sensitive tissues in the body. And when you’re sweating a lot, you’ve got to be replacing that fluid and those minerals too, so that you don’t end up dehydrated.

Katja (13:57):
So the herbs in this category, like you said, marshmallow root, also linden. Slippery elm, although we typically try to avoid slippery elm just because it’s at risk due to Dutch Elm disease. But many, many elms will still do this work, including Siberian elm, which in many regions is considered an invasive. So, that would be it an excellent one to work with. Violet also can be in this category, especially if you make it with the fresh leaves.

Ryn (14:27):
Yeah, and any seaweeds.

Katja (14:29):
Yes. And any of the seaweeds. Maybe those won’t be as delicious to drink as a cold infusion tea.

Ryn (14:34):
But they’ll get those minerals in you.

New Speaker (14:36):
They will.

Ryn (14:37):
They will supply your electrolytes, for sure. Yeah.

Katja (14:40):
So, all of these have that demulcent action, that mucus membrane soothing action. And they all have mineral content as well. So, they’ll all help to support the body when it gets dried out, so dried out because of too much heat in the environment. Also, all of these are very helpful topically for burns. So, if you find yourself sunburned in this kind of a situation, which is entirely likely, right? Because maybe you have to be outside. It’s hot so you don’t want to wear a ton of clothing. And then oops, sunburn. And sunburn in a hot situation is really dangerous. Because when you have a sunburn, it’s very, very difficult for the body to regulate the temperature. So, all of these herbs are going to be helpful, especially in a dry heat situation, because they help the body to stay hydrated, so that you don’t dehydrate through the sweat process.

Cold Infusions, Sugar, & Mineral Content

Ryn (15:44):
Yeah. So, the best way to prepare those herbs is going to be with a cold infusion. That doesn’t have to be cold like in the refrigerator, although you can do that if you want to .but room temperature should be sufficient for this. The key here is that it doesn’t need to be boiling water. And in fact, you’ll actually get a faster and more slimacious effect with room temperature or cool water than you will with heated water. Fast being relative there, you know. It’ll take two to four hours to really extract well. And also this doesn’t preserve super well. So it gets a funny flavor fairly quickly, you know, eight to 12 hours after you’ve set it up to infuse. Definitely that’s going to be more like eight hours if it’s a very hot situation. But you know, if you can it does make sense to put it in the fridge, not just to preserve it but also drinking it cold is going to be helpful on a hot day.

Katja (16:39):
Cooling down the core of your body.

Ryn (16:41):
Right. Yeah.

Katja (16:42):
Yeah, normally I’m not a fan of cold beverages because they cool down the body, and especially cool down the digestive system too much. But like in this case, that’s actually what we’re trying to do. That’s what we in fact need to do. And you know, we’ve been talking about hydration and demulcents in this sort of dry heat situation, or at least I keep saying it. But I just want to point out that it’s still important in this humid heat situation too. Because even though the sweat is not cooling you off, you’re still creating the sweat. So, you’re in a really human environment. You feel covered in dampness. You probably are not thrilled to be drinking a ton, because you’re probably already feeling very soggy. But just the same as in a dry heat situation where you are sweating everything out and you need to replenish it. You’re still sweating everything out, and you still need to replenish it, even though it doesn’t feel like you should need to do that.

Ryn (17:49):
Yeah. So you can still end up dehydrating that way. Right. Yeah. So, a couple of other factors for hydration status. First off, the body will absorb more liquid and faster if there is some sugar, which could be honey or it could be maple syrup, in the mixture. So, you do want to put some of that in. You know, normally we do try to limit sugar consumption. Yes, of course. But in this kind of situation if you don’t have honey, if you don’t have maple syrup, put some white sugar in there. Honestly the survival issue is much more important than worrying about a teaspoon of sugar today above your baseline consumption.

Katja (18:26):
Yeah. It doesn’t have to be like as much sugar as a soda would have. But you know, a spoonful of sugar is going to be important in there.

Ryn (18:34):
Yeah. It’s serving a physiological function or a medicinal purpose in a way. There’ve been studies done on this. And look, you’re not going to get this effect from alternative sweeteners, you know. Even stevia, it’s a great plant and everything, but it’s not going to help with this particular function, because the sweet from stevia is not a sugar. It’s a different kind of a chemical. Other fake sugars or sugar alcohols or things like that, they’re also not going to work. It has to be actual carbohydrate.

Katja (19:04):
Yeah. It really speeds the absorption, and increases the speed of absorption, and increases the rate of absorption. So, the amount that you are able to absorb and the speed with which you d it.

Ryn (19:18):
Yeah. And you know, those demulcent plants we were talking about, they do have some sugar content or better said some polysaccharide content. These are like sugars, but bigger, more complex molecules, you know. That’s what actually makes them slimy. Those complex polysaccharides are a type of plant sugar. But even if you’re making that infusion, go ahead and put a little honey in there, a little white sugar or whatever, and that will help with the hydration effect.

Katja (19:45):
So, the second thing that you need to speed and improve hydration is mineral content. And you can think about Gatorade in this situation, right? So these demulcents, like marshmallow, already have some mineral content. But especially if you’re exposed to high heat for a longer period of time, you might need more than is just available in the demulcent herbs. And honestly, in our culture today, most people are not getting enough mineral content from the diet. So, people might be coming into this high heat situation already with depleted mineral reserves. And so, now when they start to sweat a bunch out, that means that the mineral balance inside the body is not being able to be maintained. And at that point we can have like cardiovascular problems. You know, your heart requires certain minerals to be in a really finicky balance in the body. And if you’re sweating everything out, and you don’t have the minerals to replace it, then that can cause heart problems. And that’s just one of the problems that can happen, but it is a very common heat related problem.

Ryn (20:58):
Yeah. So thinking preventatively you know, start now or start yesterday to get some mineral density into your food and your drinks and your life. A few different ways to accomplish that. You can do that with a mineral additive or supplement, such as Concen Trace or Mega-Mag. These are liquid mineral supplements that we work with fairly often. And they’re simple. You just add a squirt or a few drops in some products to things that you drink. And they boost you up. You can also work with a powdered version, like Natural Calm that has magnesium primarily in it. We kind of prefer Concen Trace or Mega-Mag, because they have a broader spectrum of minerals. But we’ll sort of take what we can get in the moment, you know, in the day of the heat wave. Yeah.

Katja (21:48):
Yeah. It would be nice. Like Natural Calm is just magnesium citrate. So, you’re getting magnesium, but not all the other minerals. And it would be nicer to get all of them, but yeah, take whatever we can get.

Ryn (22:01):
Yeah. You can complexify it a little bit if you add a pinch of salt. And here, you know, ideally this would be like a pink mountain salt, or a sea salt of some kind, because those are going to be more than just sodium chloride, right? But again, if this is all we’ve got and you’re, I don’t know, visiting somebody and all you have is water and table salt. Still a little pinch of salt into that water will actually help. A little pinch of salt, a little spoonful of sugar, that’ll hydrate the system a lot more effectively than the plain water would. You don’t want so much salt that it tastes like seawater.

Katja (22:36):
Right. We’re not we’re not trying to drink the ocean here. Yeah. In fact it shouldn’t taste salty at all. It really is like a pinch. Like you could count the grains. It could be like 20 little salt things.

Ryn (22:54):
Yeah. Yeah. You can adjust it. We’re talking like a single glass there, but yeah. Okay. So, you can do that. And you can also reach for your high mineral herbs, like nettles, red clover, even tulsi and peppermint. They’re often like thought of as like not really nutritive in that way, but they have a good content. You know, dandelion leaf. All kinds of different plants are going to have a lot of mineral content to offer. And keep in mind that nettle, red clover, and honestly, a lot of our mineral rich herbs, like horsetail for instance, are quite drying in nature. And since our purpose here is to hydrate the system well, we want to make sure that, you know, marshmallow or other demulcents are the larger part of the formula, right? We can put all of these together into the same blend and let them infuse. Or you could have your demulcent cold infusions and then you could also make some mineral rich tea, and kind of alternate through the day. You’ve got options with that. But you do want to be cognizant of the energetics or the qualities of the herbs that you’re working with, and make sure that you’re balancing out drying and moistening influences.

Katja (24:06):
If you’re a person who tends towards, you know, dampness anyway. If you kind of have a tendency towards edema, or your body holds onto water very easily. Then in that high heat, honestly, a little bit of nettles or something might be quite comfortable. Because a lot of times in high heat, that can actually exacerbate edema symptoms. So, you might find it very comfortable to drink the nettles straight actually, because of the drying aspect. But then it’ll be important to just kind of balance that. And have a lot of awareness in your body, because at that point you’re balancing okay, well, I want to help move the fluids around in my body. And so I’m going to work with these herbs that have some drying actions to do that. But I don’t want to completely dry myself out. I do want to recognize I’m in an environment where it would be easy to get dehydrated, even though I’m a person that tends towards dampness. So, I want to make sure that I am getting both influences in the body.

Improving the Perspiration Function with Diaphoretics

Ryn (25:20):
Yeah. Okay. So, everything we’ve been describing so far is going to be simpler in the dry heat situation. Keep the person hydrated. Have some cool drinks coming in, all of that. But staying hydrated and helping the body to sweat is really only part of the equation. Because remember you can’t cool the body down effectively, if it’s so humid that the sweat doesn’t dry on your skin and allow that evaporative process to take place. So, you know, the, the deeper question is how can we create conditions to make the air cooler and drier, or to improve that perspiration function in the body, and preferably to do this with the least energy input.

Katja (25:58):
Right. Because, you know, the energy input is part of the problem. Yeah. Not to say like, I mean, if you need to use air conditioning, you need to use air conditioning. And right now there are some situations in which it has become not actually optional. But being able to encourage cooling with other options that don’t require energy input will make our air conditioning more efficient. Yeah.

Ryn (26:31):
So once again, herbs to the rescue. They can help to make this work easier. So let’s start with that. First thing is we’ve got to keep those pores open, right? All of those tiny pores on your skin are like windows. When you’re cold, you clamp them down to hold the heat in. And when you’re hot, you can open them to help you sweat and to release heat. But if you’re tense, which can happen as a normal response to stressful situations, including just the stress of the heat itself, then it’s hard to keep those pores open. The tension is clamping things down.

Katja (27:03):
So, this is going to be a place for our relaxing and cooling diaphoretics. And we have quite a list here. We can think about elderflower and linden and catnip and lemon balm and all of the minty mints, like peppermint and spearmint.

Ryn (27:23):
Watermint, mountain mint, the ones they call chocolate mint, which is a variety of peppermint. But it’s a fancy one, so that’s cool.

Katja (27:30):
Tulsi, you know? Yeah. And then our cooling diaphoretics are plants like skullcap and passionflower and betony and motherwort and vervain. And hey, all those are kind of bitter.

Ryn (27:43):
It’s that connection between bitterness and cooling qualities, you know, that we see in traditional herbalism. Yeah.

Katja (27:50):
And then, you know, I also want to make a special shout out to lobelia here, especially if you’re holding a lot of physical tension. Because while I wouldn’t necessarily classify lobelia as a diaphoretic, it absolutely relaxes the body. And it does so very quickly. So, if you were adding a little bit of lobelia to these other herbs, where the other herbs are doing that diaphoretic action and the cooling action, and you’re allowing the lobelia to provide that real strong relaxation, that could be a really lovely formula.

Ryn (28:33):
Yeah. So, these herbs, you know, if you look at them, almost all of them – especially that that first set like elderflower, linden, catnip, lemon balm, minty mints – they have those aromatics. You can smell them. You open the jar, and you can get a big rush of scent. And those are doing a lot of the work to release that tension on the surface of the body. You mentioned the bitter note with your skullcap, passionflower, betony, motherwort, blue vervain kind of group. And the bitter is a taste key there. Lobelia has that acrid flavor. So, there are these kind of flavor cues that you can look at. And there are certainly other plants that can do these jobs. Remember these are example plants for the action that we’re looking for, relaxing and cooling diaphoretic effects. Diaphoretic, if you haven’t heard that before, it just means to open the skin as a pathway of elimination. And in this case of elimination of heat, you know. Sometimes people say oh, they’re plants that make you sweat. But it’s not always exactly what’s going on, or it’s not a complete description of what’s going on.

Katja (29:40):
Yeah. They don’t all directly impact the sweating mechanism, but they do all directly impact the opening of the pores.

Ryn (29:52):
Yeah. So, often when we’re working with diuretics, we’re going to give them as hot tea. That makes the diaphoretic reflex a little bit stronger. But in this case, don’t worry. You can still take them chilled. That will contribute to cooling down the core of the body. You could also take them as tincture. You could be drinking some chilled mineral rich tea, or some chilled demulcent tea. Taking some droppers of peppermint or vervain or one of these other plants. And having them in that format as well.

Helping with Heat Exchange

Katja (30:25):
Right. All right. So now we have herbs to get the pores open, and you’re ready to do that heat exchange. So, we need to provide a situation where that exchange can happen. And again, remember that is the problem with the humidity, is that you can sweat all you want, but no exchange is happening because that water can’t go anywhere. So air conditioning we’ll get that job done very, very fast. But the problem is that in addition to the energy expenditure, not everyone has it. And even if you do have it and the power goes out, now you don’t have it. Yeah. So, air conditioning is kind of a short-term solution. But it’s not really completely sustainable in the long term.

Ryn (31:14):
Well, with the way we’ve set up our power grids, right? Like if we get more decentralized, if we have more individual, you know, home or community solar panels. By the way, community solar panels are really, really interesting. And there are some cool projects that are working on that right now. There’s a group called the solstice project or solstice initiative. It’s trying to get into some under-resourced communities and set them up with like centralized solar panels for the whole block, you know? So, there are options for this kind of thing. We could make climate control more sustainable. But you know, we’re not there yet.

Katja (31:48):
We’re not there yet.

Ryn (31:49):
So, this is why we need that infrastructure bill.

Katja (31:50):
Right. Yes. And until then let’s look at some other options here. So, one is to cover over windows so that you’re not getting direct sunlight. And listen, this really does help. And you can cover them over with whatever. Like blankets. Tinfoil is one that people recommend and it’s not too expensive.

Ryn (32:19):
Yeah. And with that, you know, part of this is you want to consider what’s actually going to happen with the energy entering through the window. If you have tinfoil and it’s right up against the glass, it’s going to be reflecting all of the sunlight, all of the heat energy. It’s not even going to really enter into the house itself. If you have a window and then like a few inches of airspace, and then a black curtain, then the sunlight comes in. The heat gets in. And then it permeates the curtain itself. And so the heat is still kind of getting into your home. So, something pale colored or reflective right up against, as close as you can, to the glass is probably the most effective way to prevent that heat energy from coming into the house.

Katja (33:02):
And then if you can open windows and turn on fans overnight, as soon as the temperatures start to drop, that will really help as well. And so what you’re doing is sort of filling the house up with the cooler night air. And listen, part of the problem in these heat situations is that the air doesn’t cool off very much overnight. So, you know, you might have a situation where the overnight lows are only getting into the eighties. And that’s not really, that’s not really very cool. But we want to get whatever we can. So, as soon as the air outside the house is cooler than the air inside the house, then we can start bringing that in. And then again, you know, do that cycle the next day that then once the air temperature starts to rise, to close everything up to try to hold on to the coolness. And if you can create an outdoor shade on the sun exposure parts of the house, then that can be really helpful too. So, and some of this is some stuff that you might be planning ahead, realizing that this is a pattern you’re going to see over the next years. But if you can put like a lattice work or a row of trees. Like a lattice work that will grow plants – heat tolerant plants – up the front of the house, sort of a little bit away from the house, that will shade the whole house. If you can’t, you know, I mean, trees take a long time to grow. And if you can get something viney that will grow up a lattice fast, that can be very helpful.

Ryn (34:39):
Yeah. I mean, even a shade tarp, you know. Kind of create an awning or create a shady area under there. It’ll help. One way to think about this is to look at how houses are constructed, especially historically, in regions that typically dealt with heat and humidity. And see if there are ways that you can replicate some parts of that in your current living situation.

Katja (35:07):
Yeah. One thing you’ll find regularly in homes that are in hot regions is a lot of tile. So, you know, just like in a cold region, the stone around the fireplace will hold the heat and continue to warm the room after the fire dwindles. It’s like the opposite, but the same concept in the south. The tile gets cool overnight, and it’ll hold onto that coolness. So, we can use that to create a cool zone inside your house. You can get some tiles. You can do it with stone too, but you know, tiles might be a little easier to manage. And if you go to like a building store or a home improvement store, they don’t need to be fancy. Just whatever is on the clearance rack to get some sort of larger tiles.

Ryn (35:56):
Yeah. Or one of those places where they have like reclaimed materials from someplace that was destructed.

Katja (36:02):
Yes, yes, yes, yes. So, then you could put them in your refrigerator overnight. Or if you have a basement, put them in the basement overnight. And then you can lay them out on the floor to sit on or lay on during the hot part of the day. And that creates like a cooler. It will, literally cool off the air in that room. But also if you’re laying your body on it, then it is like creating a cool zone for your body as well.

Ryn (36:32):
Yeah. Just thinking about how our dog Elsie, when the day’s really hot, she’ll want to go downstairs. And we have access to the basement where we’re living right now. And she’ll go down there and just, you know, belly down onto the cold cement. And just like regulate her temperature that way.

Katja (36:50):
That’s actually really important, because it’s not always easy to cool off your pets. You know, you can put your kids in a kiddie pool. You can put yourself in a kiddie pool. But your pets might decline.

Ryn (37:04):
They might not want to.

Katja (37:06):
Yeah. But if you give them access to cool tiles, whether that is in your basement or like that you’ve artificially created a tile zone for them with tiles that you’ve cooled off, then they will happily lay down on that. You may already see it when they try to go into the bathroom to lay down. But then in this heat, the bathroom floor might not really be much cooler. So having tiles that you can pick up and put in the refrigerator can really help.

Ryn (37:36):
Yeah. And I mean, if you can have basement access. And if you can go and make a, you know, somewhat more comfortable place to hang out down there. Maybe your Wi-Fi will reach down there, and you can do some meetings or do some work or whatever in that area. That could be beneficial. And it may not be a basement, but it may be one room in the house that’s not in direct sunlight. Maybe it has better air circulation, or just holds on to the cool of the night a little bit better through the daytime.

Katja (38:07):
Yeah. A room that’s on the like north facing side of the house, so it’s not getting so much direct sunlight can be really helpful too.

Ryn (38:18):
Yeah. Okay. And then look, there are much simpler versions, right? Like a damp cloth that you put in the freezer for a while. Or those first aid gel cold packs. You can have those. You can just say all right, we’ve had a bunch of these hanging around. We haven’t really been using them. But now’s the time to make sure that they’re ready to go, that they’re cold. We’re stacked up on ice cubes, you know. Make good use of your freezer space. Also, by the way, remember that freezers are more efficient the fuller they are.

Katja (38:48):

Ryn (38:49):
So, if you literally just take some Tupperware containers, and put them halfway full with water. Put them into there. Now you’ve got a cold block. And you can take that out and have that for anybody who needs it. I mean even having a block of ice floating in your pet’s water dish is a great idea in these kind of situations. Yeah.

Katja (39:08):
Or like a hot water bottle, but you can make it a cold water bottle. Yeah, exactly. Just again, don’t fill it all the way full. Because water expands when it freezes, so you have to leave space for it to do that.

Ryn (39:23):
And then of course, getting into some cool water could help. It’s a direct mechanism for heat exchange. Water pulls heat out of a body about 25 times faster than air does even at the same temperature. So, it’s much more rapid as a way to exchange heat there.

Katja (39:44):
Yeah, it is important to make sure that the water isn’t too cold though. You know, if you’re really hot, you might think I want to plunge into an ice bath.

Ryn (39:55):
And if you’re feeling pretty strong and resilient and sturdy, then go for it. That’s fine. But if we’re thinking of elders, if we’re thinking of children, if we’re thinking of somebody whose health is compromised, we don’t want to give them that cold shock.

Katja (40:09):
Right. Or even if your health isn’t compromised, but you just feel completely exhausted from the heat. It might be very uncomfortable, and it can be dangerous, to get into water that’s too cold. So the water really only needs to be a degree or two cooler than the air. It doesn’t have to be…like even just cold tap water is going to be cold enough to get the job done. So, you know, this is where even a kiddie pool in one of the rooms of your house. Just put some towels down or whatever. But it can be a way to keep things cool. And it might seem a little bit silly to think that a situation could be extreme enough that we’re going to put a kiddie pool in the middle of the living room, and everybody’s going to take turns in it every hour. But let me tell you, when it gets really hot, keeping your body cool becomes a concern that occupies all of your time.

Ryn (41:16):
Yeah. And I mean, consider if you’re like 10th floor in an apartment building. You’re on the sunny side of the place, you know. Heat rising up from all the people living below you, all the machinery around, everything like that. It can get, you know, pretty extreme.

Katja (41:30):
Yeah. So, just sort of, if you haven’t experienced that kind of urgency in the heat, then it might seem a little strange. But for everybody who has been through it this month, then you’re probably nodding your heads. But definitely for us there were some times when I felt like it was hard to think. It was hard to tell what was real. It was like having a fever, and kind of being just on the border of kind of hallucinating with the heat. And then realizing that like oh right, I have to do something now to cool myself. You know, I sort of had…there was one point in particular where I sort of fell asleep for a while on the couch and didn’t really take any action. I just kind of conked out and woke up. And I was like whoa, I feel like I have a really high fever right now. And it was really… you know, even though I had been making plans and I had. It was just to kind of wake up in that state of heat, and to think oh, okay. This is…you know? And so if you haven’t experienced this, then it might sound a little strange. But a kiddie pool in the living room y’all. Or, you know, in your bathtub also good.

Refrigerant Fruits & Herbs

Ryn (42:47):
Yeah, yeah, of course. All right. Yeah, so you might want to just jump right into the refrigerator. And there are, there are herbs that can actually help with this kind of cooling. We call them refrigerants. And so, yeah. There are herbs that help to cool the body down. They help to reduce metabolic heat. They help to support that kind of heat exchange process. So, some examples, cucumber. You may not have thought of it as an herb until this moment, perhaps. But literally just cucumber kind of blenderized up in some water.

Katja (43:22):
I mean or in slices if you want to crunch it.

Ryn (43:23):
Or in slices, yeah. But it has this cooling, refrigerant effect on the system. Watermelon is another one.

Katja (43:32):
It’s my personal favorite.

New Speaker (43:33):
It’s pretty good. Yeah. Yeah. And that’s true. Like eating the watermelon flesh. Blending it up, and drinking it that way. That’s fine. But it all helps. And then a lot of sour herbs can help out here too. Think about sumac, staghorn sumac berry. Kind of like a wild pink lemonade situation. Think about hibiscus, and think about the citrus fruits, you know? Lemon and lime and orange and grapefruit. All of them are going to have this refrigerant effects to them. And I think that’s a large part of the reason why humans are so enamored of citrus fruits all over the world and cultivate them extensively.

Katja (44:11):
Why lemonade is so ubiquitous when it’s hot. Yes.

Ryn (44:15):
Yeah. You can think about rose hips. You know, those are quite sour as well. And there are some other refrigerant herbs out there in the world, like wild cherry bark, for instance, that has a very cooling quality. It has some sourness to it. It’s in the rose family, right? So, they share some qualities in that way. But again, like taste-wise look out for either that sour flavor or things where no matter what temperature you eat them at, they taste cool. You know, think of cucumber. Think of watermelon. It doesn’t have to be cold to taste cooling in your mouth.

Katja (44:46):
Right. Like if your watermelon was out on the counter and it wasn’t in the refrigerator. And then you open it up, and you eat it. It still tastes cool. It just has that coolness in it, even though it wasn’t artificially chilled.

Ryn (45:05):
Yeah. So, this is important. Even if you’re caught in a hot situation and the power is out, then these herbs could still be helpful, right? Some cucumber, watermelon, sour plants, rose family plants with that…

Katja (45:17):
Basically stock up on watermelon is what we’re saying. Watermelon and lemonade.

Planning Ahead to Ride Out a Heat Wave

Ryn (45:21):
It’s a good thing. Yeah. Yeah. And of course these are summertime, you know, foods and drinks, right, and for this very reason, for this reason. Yeah. So overall it’s important to start early, right? If you’re going into a heat wave, you want to make some adjustments to your plans. You want to prepare. You want to think ahead, especially if you don’t have air conditioning available. Change whatever you can in your life to accommodate the heat. To allow yourself to slow down and to focus on staying cool when you’re in the midst of it. It’s so much easier to stave off these problems in advance, than it is to deal with them once they’ve already occurred. So, it’s worth whatever you can invest into that planning ahead.

Katja (45:59):
Yeah. It can be simple things like getting laundry done ahead of the heat wave, because washing machines and especially dryers take a ton of energy. So, if we can not do that in a time when everybody is using their air conditioning, then that actually is going to help make the electrical grid more sustainable. And this is really something that we have to think about, because our electrical infrastructure is not really built to be able to handle these kinds of needs. So, even though it’s, again, it sounds kind of dumb. If a heat wave is coming, do all your laundry before it gets there. Or just let it sit in a pile until it’s over. Stocking up on, I’m not kidding, lemonade and watermelon, right? If you can keep a watermelon or two in the basement, if you have a basement available. And if not just like on the counter it’ll still be cool. Or if you don’t, you know, lemonade is shelf stable. So, you can just get a bunch of lemonade and have it in reserve.

Ryn (47:06):
And the lemons themselves, you know. Find some sumac trees near you and harvest some of those berry clusters. Just having it on hand, having it ready. Another thing to think about is making plans for meals that you don’t have to cook, and preferably maybe don’t need to use a microwave either in case the power goes out or just to reduce energy demands in the midst of the heat.

Katja (47:26):
Yeah. Microwaves are another really big energy draw. So, trying to avoid them. You know, when it’s hot, we think oh, well the microwave won’t heat up the house. But we’re not thinking about the grid. And we’ve never really had to think about the grid in most places. And sometimes we do, but for the most part we don’t, and now we do. So, kind of thinking about the different appliances that we have in our homes, and the ones that will cause the most instability.

Ryn (47:57):
Right. If you do need to cook, maybe you can cook outside, right? Maybe you can cook on a grill. Or maybe you could plug in a Crock-Pot outdoors instead of inside the house. That’s a pretty low energy device. But you can unplug everything in the house that you’re not actively using. Most things that get plugged in are still going to draw at least a little bit of electricity, even if you’re not using them. And that does leak some heat into the home as well. It’s only a little bit, but pretty soon it can add up.

Katja (48:26):
I mean, yeah. Like how many…like you have a computer and you have a this and that, like all the different things in your home. And each one of them is maybe raising just a fraction of a degree. But now with all of them, you might be getting two degrees of heat in the house. And if it’s already 90 a million, than those extra two degrees are…actually, they matter.

Ryn (48:50):
Yeah. And if you do have air conditioning, you can make plans with friends and neighbors to stay cool together, right? Cool more people with less energy. That could be really important. And if you don’t, maybe talk to your neighbors. Talk to some friends that live close by and say hey, can I shelter with you in the hottest part of the day?

Katja (49:10):
Yeah. Or, you know, there are public cooling places. And even if you don’t have a public cooling space available, maybe there’s a mall that you can go to. And that mall is going to be air conditioned regardless. So, if you can take a book or whatever, and sit at the mall to be cool in the middle of the day, then that’s your air conditioner that doesn’t need to run because that one was already running. We can kind of think about grouping our energy that way.

Ryn (49:39):
Right. Right. Folding kiddie pool situation might be relevant here. Something that you can store easily for you, for kids, for pets. Maybe put down like one of those plastic drop cloths to protect the floor just in case a little splash here and there. But that could be a way to get that in. Throw some ice into it as well, right? Making sure that kids and pets get some exercise or some outdoor time early in the morning and/or after the sun goes down as much as possible to avoid them being outside in the middle heat of the day and getting exhausted or getting heat struck. And if you are going to take a walk with your dog, then go barefoot yourself or at least touch the pavement with your hands. And not for just one second, but like hold your hand on there for five or 10 seconds at a time to make sure that it feels comfortable enough that it’s safe for your pets paws.

Katja (50:40):
You know, early in the morning is the best time to take the pets out. But of course they have to pee whenever they have to pee. So, making sure that you have a route for them to get to grass, if they have to be on pavement to get to grass. Listen, if they won’t wear paw protection, which many, many dogs won’t, then take some towels and make them a little corridor so that they don’t have to have their paws right on the hot pavement. Because it really can damage their paws.

Setting Reminders for Cooling Care

Ryn (51:12):
And when it’s hot, this is another good time for some alarms. We’re actually fans of alarms for lots of reasons to remind yourself to move, remind yourself to drink, remind yourself to make your tea and all that stuff. But in this case reminder alarms for cooling, you know? Overheating can happen really quickly. So, intentionally stopping what you’re doing, checking in on yourself and on the folks around you every hour or every half hour can be really important. Even if you’re feeling fine, you want to make sure that you’re taking some kind of action to support your body every hour, right? Drinking some refrigerant herbs. Drinking some demulcent herbs, some mineral rich plants. Getting into the cool water for a little while. Taking a quick cool shower. Other things like that again on a consistent basis. And ideally while you’re still feeling okay, right? Because once you start to feel bad, once you start to feel confused, then it gets a lot more difficult. So, trying to take some action to support yourself every hour. And then if someone is sick or sunburned or elderly or otherwise vulnerable, you’re going to be more attentive to them than you might be on a normal day. Even someone who doesn’t feel well, just kind of resting on the couch for half an hour can get heat exhaustion if the room is hot, and if they’re really not able to cool down. It can happen fast. So, the extra attention is really worth it. Again, also think about checking in on neighbors or family members who are nearby. And particularly those who don’t have somebody to physically come in and check in on them. In serious heat it could be a good idea to call in a couple of times a day, and just talk to them for five minutes or so. What you’re watching for is signs of confusion, impaired cognition, saying completely random things and not just for a joke, but because they’re actually losing cognitive function. That’s one of the signs of more serious heat damage to an individual. Yeah. So take care of each other is basically what that means.

Katja (53:18):
Yeah. And I mean, again, the whole thing here is that we need to be recognizing that as the climate changes, we have to be more community minded than we maybe have been in the past. I know that especially living in a city, you don’t always know your neighbors. You don’t always know the people who live in the same building as you. And that’s like not an indictment. It’s not good or bad. It just is the way that it is in many places. But it’s not going to be able to stay that way. We are going to have to make those connections in order to take care of one another, so that we can care for others. And also so that we will have the support we need when we need it. So, starting now to start building those community connections that maybe have not been a priority up until now is important. And it’s an important part of preparing for the next big heat wave. Yeah.

Ryn (54:20):
All right. Well, I hope that was informative or inspirational for your preparation planning. We’ll be back next time with some more Holistic Herbalism podcast for you. Until then take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea.

Katja (54:38):
Drink some tea.

Ryn (54:38):
And stay cool.

Katja (54:54):
Bye bye.


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