Podcast 167: Herbalism & Climate Change: Flooding
This week we continue our series on herbalism & climate change. Flooding causes great devastation, and it also brings many risks. Foremost among these are isues of pathogenic load: mold, bacteria, and other pathogens spread through flood waters. Minor wounds can easily get infected, breathing in the spores of mold can make one sick, and it’s difficult to avoid introducing germs to the digestive system in these conditions.
Herbs can help. Antimicrobial herbs can be taken to protect against infection or fight off infection in all these areas of the body. Knowing the right method for applying or ingesting your herbs is critical to success here. Sometimes an herbal steam you inhale is much more important than herbs you eat or drink.
When it comes to herbs, their antimicrobial abilities are many & varied. Each plant (or group of similar plants) has a different set of chemicals to offer to the effort than all the others. Here are just a few key categories of antimicrobial herbs which may be helpful after a flood:
- strong aromatics with sharp, hot, and piercing scents
- berberine-bearing herbs with their powerful, bitter yellow signature compound
- resins from evergreens and other plants, as well as propolis (resin + bee magic)
- tingly herbs for local immune stimulation
- skin-dyeing herbs for long-lasting protection
This variety & the synergy between these different compounds is one of the great strengths of herbalism. Climate change & flooding frequency come together, so this is going to be another part of the “new normal” as the world changes. Plan ahead!
Herbs discussed include: garlic, “mighty mints” (thyme, oregano, sage, monarda), “gentler mints” (peppermint, lavender), eucalyptus, aromatic evergreens (pine, spruce, juniper), yerba santa, elecampane, berberines (barberry, oregon grape, algerita, goldenseal), propolis, myrrh, chaparral, purple loosestrife, usnea, echinacea, prickly ash, spilanthes, turmeric, henna, black walnut, clove, cinnamon, cardamom, calendula.
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Hi, I’m Katja.
And I’m Ryn.
And we’re here at Commonwealth Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.
And on the internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast. Well, so we’re continuing our series on herbalism and climate change and in the face of climate change. And this week we’re going to be talking about flooding.
Yeah. Another topical topic, because that’s a thing happening in lots of places.
Lots of places. Yeah. Germany recently,
China, a place in South America, but I can’t remember if it was Argentina.
A lot of places.
Yeah. Anyway, there’s flooding. And man, in China it was something like 55 inches in two days or in three days. In Germany recently it was two months worth of rain in two days. It’s kind of crazy out there.
Changing weather patterns, right? Changing rainfall. So yeah, that’s what we’re faced with. And this week we’re going to be talking about what we can do to help out if there is a flood in your area or somewhere that you’re close to. What would be helpful? What would you want to have on hand? What kind of problems would you end up facing that herbs can help out with? So, that’s going to be our topic. But first we want to give you our little reclaimer and remind you that we are not doctors. We are herbalists and holistic health educators.
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.
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.
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.
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. So, then flooding.
Yeah. And I mean, you know, herbs are not necessarily going to stop the flooding.
Yeah. We don’t have a flower for that one.
No, no. The flooding is going to happen if it’s going to happen. But there are some very predictable health issues that happen when there are floods. And so we sort of broke those down into three categories of the most common things that we see. And we want to talk about how to support the body through those issues. So, those three categories of concerns are first mold, because everything gets wet. And you still have to live in your house. Hopefully you have a house still to live in, but your house is probably soggy and moldy. And so we want to talk about mitigating the risk of that mold.
And it’s also, you know, it’s a risk that it’s there in the environment. It’s a risk that if you do get injured then mold is one of the things that’s going to try and infect you as well. But it’s also to be concerned with in the sinuses and in the respiratory tract. Because as you’re breathing in just the air after a flood goes through an area, there’s going to be a much…
Even if your house is not soggy, everybody else’s house is soggy. You might get lucky. Maybe your house is a little bit high or something like that. But there’s so much mold everywhere after a flood that it really does affect everyone.
Yeah. So that’s one, another one here is going to be a wounds just because if you’re moving through water, well that’s dangerous. When we have a flood it is not clear, pure water like comes out of your tap.
You can’t see the bottom.
Yeah. It’s pretty gross, actually. Muddy, full of debris, and obscuring what may be under the surface of the water. So, it’s very easy to get cut on bent pieces of metal. It’s very easy to get impaled on plant matter and tree branch trees that are broken, stuff like this. So it’s easy, it’s common for people to get small injuries and things. Even just if you’re trying to get through an area and there’s a bunch of debris and rubble. Even if you can see your way. That’s wet material with a bunch of microbes on it and a bunch of other contaminants as well. So yeah, that’s a problem.
Right. You know, and then the third category actually kind of crosses over here. And that third category is that the water is contaminated. So, we want to think about that from the wound perspective. Because if you get wounded, which is much more likely just because you can’t see all that stuff, but also there is probably sewage in the water. There’s who knows what else in the water, just depending on your region. There may be chemicals in the water. There may be all kinds of hazards in the water. And so those things… oh, and then of course all the natural things that are growing in the water as well. But sewage really is a big factor. And so that’s going to cause a lot of problems for the wounds, but it also causes a lot of GI problems. You know, obviously you’re not going to be drinking that water. But then again, depending on where you are, it might be contaminating your drinking water. But even if it isn’t, you’re still in it all the time. And as we all learned through COVID, it’s very difficult not to touch your face. And so, you know, we all got a lot of practice, so hopefully that’s gotten easier for people. But still, maybe you’re trying to help somebody else clean up or something. And you’re pushing your hair out of your face, but your hand is kind of soggy from the… Or you have small cuts on your hands and then contaminants come in that way. But even GI issues are going to be a problem, because a lot of that contamination can get into the GI tract. So, we want to talk about that as well.
Yeah. So, really for all three of these different issues here, our major focus is going to be on antimicrobial herbs. Herbs that can help to fight bacteria, fungi, various other kinds of pathogens that we’re going to be encountering in this situation. So, the good news is that there are lots of herbs that have antimicrobial actions. But those actions are a bit different, each one from the other, and suited to various types of work. There are lots of areas of overlap. But there are also places where one or another is a much better choice. So, we want to make sure that we’re choosing the right herbs for the job. The key factor we’re thinking about in this choice is that we need to get the herbs or the action of the herb or the constituent of the herbs to the affected area. And that really means that when we’re making our choice about our herbs, we’re also thinking about delivery mechanisms for them. How am I going to get the effect of this herb that I want to the place that I need it?
You know, that’s always what we’re thinking about when we’re working herbally. But I feel like when we are talking about antimicrobial actions, it is like so much more important. There’s a lot that you can do with tea or tincture, and it will find its way to the right place. You know, like oh, a UTI or a kidney infection or this or that, and maybe you don’t have to be quite so precise. It’s always a good idea to be thinking this way. But when it’s anti-microbial work you have to do, then it really is so much more important to be thinking about that mechanism of action and the delivery mechanism. Simply because just because you research an herb and you see oh, golden seal is anti-microbial, that does not mean that it’s going to be antimicrobial everywhere in the body just because you took a couple squirts of tincture. That’s not how it works. So, we really do need to think about how we’re getting the herbs to the problem.
Mold & Sinus & Lung Issues
Yeah, absolutely. So, all right, let’s start and deal with some of these issues in the sinuses and in the lungs. And again, this is like from the moment the flood hits, this is going to have to be a concern for us. From that moment on, there’s going to be more spores in the air. And for that matter, not just mold, but freely flying bacteria are going to proliferate.
Yeah, like on the droplets. It doesn’t even have to exactly be airborne. It can be droplet-borne.
Yeah. You know, particulate dust that gets stirred up, whatever. All these kinds of things are vectors.
Right. So like, don’t wait and say oh, I’m thinking about mold. I’m going to really pay attention and see if there’s any mold. There’s going to be mold. So, be ready.
Yeah. Yeah. So, this is a great place for mints, mints that have a strong scent. And we’re going to actually have a couple varieties of mints here. We’re going to be looking first at what we call the really strong ones or the very aromatic and warming mints. That’s going to be like thyme, oregano, monarda, sage. Plants of this nature, of that same kind of scent and flavor profile.
That sort of heat behind it. Not just the minty aspect, but there’s a hotness to it. Like almost a sharpness. If you think about really good thyme, there is a little sharpness to it.
Yeah. You can taste it in the flavor, and you can also smell it. If you have the herb there in front of you, and you crush it up and take a good sniff. Or if you have dried plant material and you prepare an herbal steam with it, you can feel the potency of these herbs. And it really is those scent compounds, the things that give it that strong scent, that strong flavor, that are doing the job of fighting off the microbes directly, and also stimulating your own immune defenses to wake up and be a little more active in that moment. So, we like those. And you’re going to want to have those on a regular basis. But we’ve learned that when you’re doing steams once a day, or certainly twice a day or any more than that, that you’re going to need ultimately to alternate those powerful mints with some gentler ones. Things like peppermint, lavender, spearmint even, and I would kind of put eucalyptus here. That’s not a mint, but..
It has a similar profile.
Yeah. So these are a little less intense, less potent. They are still antimicrobial, don’t get us wrong.
Right, and they’re still quite strong. It’s just that they don’t have the same heat. And I don’t want to not have that aspect, right? So, all of these scent profiles, they are phytochemicals. Like each scent is a chemical. And each chemical – of course these are organic chemicals, chemicals that the plant makes – does a certain type of job. And so that sharp heat, it does do important work. So, I don’t want not have it. But if you steam with that every single time, it’s kind of overbearing. After a while the heat becomes too much. It becomes quite irritating. And so consistency is going to be really important. That we make sure that nothing really has a chance to take hold in the sinuses and in the nasal passages and the respiratory tract. So, we want to make sure that we’re doing this regularly, but we don’t want to cause irritation to the mucous membranes. Everything right here is about protecting those mucous membranes, because they are playing an important role in keeping the mold out as well. So, when we switch up with these herbs that are still quite potent, but they don’t have that heat profile to them – that sharp, aromatic aspect – that does just give your nasal passage a little bit of a break, and prevent some of that irritation from happening.
Yeah. So, it’s going to alternate. I also like to work here with aromatic evergreens, like pine or spruce or juniper, and for similar reasons, right? In this case, again, the aromatic elements of these plants, those compounds, they are going to have direct antimicrobial activity and also some local immune stimulation effects in your own body. So, same kind of idea with those plants.
You know, when we think about those, if we’re talking about doing a steam, I infinitely prefer to do a steam with dried herbs. They’re actually more potent for this particular purpose. If you’re going to work with fresh herbs, you’re going to need a lot more of them. But that’s a real exception for the evergreens, because they don’t dry well. They’re always there, so you can just go grab some branches. And when I do that, honestly, I even put the twiggy parts in. But they just really lose almost all of their aromatic qualities when you dry them. So, if you’re working with those mints, well mints and eucalyptus – we give it an honorary mint title there – then those would be dried herbs. And if you’re working with the evergreens, then those would be fresh.
Right. Yeah. They don’t have a ton of moisture content to them as they’re sitting on the tree anyway. So yeah, yerba santa is a good herb to work with here, especially if that’s local to where you are and you have it in abundance. It’s not one that lives in our part of the world, but we’ve worked with it a bit. And it has a great set of effects here where it has that aromaticity. It has these resinous compounds in it. It has some drying effect that can be beneficial in this kind of flood situation. So, that’s a good one to work with. And then there’s elecampane, one we work with quite frequently. And that has effects aside from just being directly antimicrobial. It has some nice expectorant effects for eliminating phlegm and mucus from the lungs. So, that’d be one to keep in mind if it was no longer just a threat, but a reality that you were dealing with some respiratory infection. Elecampane is powerful. And with elecampane and yerba santa both, you can get great effects from them as tincture. Those two don’t need to be delivered as a steam. And yerba santa probably will work pretty well as a steam. Elecampane maybe, but honestly you’re better off making a decoction with it, taking tincture of it, or some inner ingestion way like that. But absolutely with those mints and those evergreens, steam is the way that we want to go with that, right?
You know, and you might even be thinking I don’t want any more water. I really don’t want to do a steam, because there is like water everywhere. And I totally am with you on that. But having steam as the carrier, the key here is that we need to get those aromatic constituents into the respiratory tract itself. We could work with steam or we could work with smoke, but steam is much friendlier to the mucous membranes. And so like smoke is not out. If you want to work with incense in this way or something like that, a really high quality incense, that would be fine. But for working with it really regularly in this way, the steam is just going to be gentler and more supportive to the health of the mucous membranes overall. And since that’s going to be such a concern for us, really keeping them strong, then even though everything is already very soggy, steam is going to be the way to go.
Yeah. Incense could be helpful. If you have a bunch of incense stashed away and haven’t been burning it, then after a flood that’s for sure a good time to do that. It can have an effect to reduce the amount of pathogens in the air, and having that coming into your sinuses as you breathe, and you get that in. That will add a little bit of support for you. But a steam where you’re hovering right over it, or if you were to smoke some herbs and ingest them more directly that way, that’s a lot more powerful for your inner parts than some incense in the room. But all of these things, you know. Yeah. Burn some incense. Sure. Do some steams daily once or several times in a day. These are good habits to start the moment that the flood occurs, and also to keep in your habit for a while after the flood. Because there could be mold in the living environment, you know, in between the walls, down in the basement, wherever else.
It takes a while to get that stuff cleaned up. It might take a year.
Wound Care with Aromatics, Berberines, & Resins
Yeah, I mean remediation projects are still ongoing for any of the big floods that have occurred in the last couple of years. So, it takes time, right? So, plan for the long haul with that one. Okay. Well, let’s talk about the possibility of wounding then, and what we can do about that.
I would say the probability of wounds really. I just don’t think you come out of a flood situation without some wounds.
Scrapes and cuts and everything. Yeah.
Yeah. I mean, unless you are lucky enough that you can not leave your house the entire time, and there’s someplace dry in your house. Like any kind of moving around that you need to do at all is a risk.
Yeah. And you know, we were talking about the lack of visibility in flood water. And how you don’t know what you’re stepping on and that kind of thing. It’s also just the force of it, you know? I mean the water doesn’t have to be higher than your ankles and it can knock you over. It’s powerful in that way. So, yeah. So, wounds are likely to happen.
Yeah. Well, let’s talk about some antimicrobials for wounds. And maybe we’ll start here with the plants themselves, and then we’ll talk about different delivery methods. You know, one of my favorites is garlic. Because it’s super, super effective, and honestly you probably have some in your kitchen right now.
Yeah. Common, easy to get your hands on. That’s what we like to always think of first. Especially for first aid situations.
Yeah. And you don’t always know, even… okay, so let’s say it is a flood, and you’re thinking oh, I better make sure I have some Neosporin. Well, everybody’s thinking that. And so even if you’re a person who likes to use Neosporin on a wound, like that’s going to be sold out quickly, you know? So, I don’t like to do that. But my thinking here is that even if you did, like all those normal things are going to go fast, but garlic is widely available. It’s, like I said, it’s probably in your kitchen. So, I really like that one right off the bat. And here we also can turn to those strong mints again. So these are the same herbs that you’re putting into the steam for the mold: thyme, sage, oregano, monarda. But here we’re also going to consider rosemary, lavender. Eucalyptus gets to be an honorary mint again here. Again, it is those strong scent compounds that are doing the antimicrobial work for us here. So, those are going to be just as useful topically.
Yeah. This is also a place where berberine herbs are going to be really valuable. So, those are plants that contain this alkaloid called berberine. They tend to be yellow and bitter, some sensory cues that this is going on. But specifically we’re looking at barberry, Oregon, grape root, algerita, goldenseal, coptis. There’s a few others out there. But pretty much anywhere you happen to live, at least North America let me say, you’re going to have one or another of these berberine plants that’s either native where you’re growing or has become introduced and naturalized. So, these are very powerful, topical antimicrobials in large part due to the berberine, but also a whole compliment of related alkaloids and some other constituents that enhance the efficacy of the berberine itself. With these herbs, we’d like to work with both the yellow part, whether that’s the root or the inner bark, as well as the leaves of the plant, and get them into a combination together that makes them more effective.
Yeah, you know, that was not common a few decades ago. But it’s actually super important, because what we find is that yes, the yellow part, the bark or the root, has the berberine compounds, those antimicrobial antibiotic compounds. But it’s not enough actually. In the leaves is where you will find the like biofilm busting compound, the quorum sensing inhibition compounds. Because the thing about especially bacteria, but actually all of the pathogens will glom together in a community this way. They literally form like actual communities, like super pathogens, where they all glom together. They specialize in jobs. So, certain types of pathogens will do one kind of job, and other types will do another kind of job. And they really form this whole, well, I mean, film. That’s why it’s called a biofilm. And once that happens, it is very difficult for your immune system, or by the way a pharmaceutical antibiotic or a phytochemical antibiotic, to break them up. They don’t break them up. The immune system and antibiotics, whether they’re pharmaceutical or phytochemical, do best one-on-one. Once the pathogens glom together, they really are not effective anymore. And so what we need to do is break them back up again. And the leaves of these barberry plants have the chemical constituents required to break them up. So, when we combine them into our tincture, we get that busting action that is going to then enable the antibiotic antimicrobial actions to be effective.
Right. Yeah. So, we like that. We also are into resins for topical disinfectant activity. That could be pine resin. It could be myrrh, other kinds of resins. I mean, if you happen to have an extra bunch of dragons blood resin drops around, you can work with that. You could work with frankincense, you know. Any of these is going to do the trick. And then of course there’s propolis. So, that’s resins that the bees have collected from trees or plants, and have done some bee magic to, and make it into a black kind of tarry substance that’s very powerfully antimicrobial. So, all of these are very helpful, very effective topical antimicrobials and really broad spectrum as well, you know. It’s not one of these situations where it’s like ah, well for this particular kind of staph it might help, but for that other kind of common bug no. No, these do the trick against a whole broad array of things. That’s actually true for most of our plant-sourced antimicrobials, especially when it’s a full spectrum or a full plant extract that we’re talking about.
Chaparral is another plant that can be really helpful here. And I do just want to make a note that some people are sensitive to chaparral.
Like on the skin you can get a rash or an irritation.
Yeah. So, it is kind of worthwhile to know that before you go into an emergency situation if possible, and to just watch for that if you are working with chaparral with someone new. Because some people do have a topical sensitivity to it. And so if you see a little rash breaking out, then just stop and switch to a different herb right away. But if that does not happen, then chaparral can be a very, very effective antimicrobial topically. This is not a plant that we would work with internally, but topically it really is super effective. And especially when you need something broad spectrum that includes fungal problems, then chaparral’s a very good choice.
Yeah. That’s a really good one for athlete’s foot and related kind of…
Right. You know, also I want to put purple loosestrife into that category. Chaparral is a southwestern herb, and purple loosestrife grows more in less desert areas.
It has its feet wet, you know. It grows in the water.
And you know, a lot of people consider purple loosestrife to be invasive. But actually this plant is a super valuable plant, not just for humans, but also for pollinators and for the environment. Purple loosestrife is the only thing I know that can break down PCBs. And they’re doing some amazing studies with that in the Hudson river valley cleanup area, and have been for the last decade or so. So, the handy thing about purple loosestrife is that if you are harvesting it for medicine, you are really slowing the spread. So, even if you live in a place where people are like oh, it’s invasive, and they’re really down on purple loosestrife, that’s just all the more reason to make more medicine with it. And it really does have a great effect against fungal type issues. So, if you have a wound, and there’s some infection going on, and you don’t really know what you’re dealing with, but the likelihood is that there’s probably something fungal in there – along with whatever other microbes are going on – then purple loosestrife or chaparral are both excellent choices, just sort of depending on where you are located.
Yeah. You know, we could also add usnea to that particular little group. So, usnea is a lichen. And it’s not, again, like these other ones it’s not only going to help out with the fungal aspects, but it is particularly good at them. Usnea combats a variety of different kinds of microbes very effectively. And it may be abundant where you live. Again, it’s a lichen. It grows on trees. It kind of hangs from the branches.
I feel like with those three plants we have a pretty broad swath of the US, actually.
Yeah. It covers it pretty well.
You probably have one of those where you’re located.
Immunity Awakening with Tingly Plants & Pigment Antimicrobials
Yeah. That seems right. Okay. Another group that I would talk about here would be plants that have a tingly taste to them. I’m thinking of echinacea, prickly ash, and spilanthes. So, each of these has their own, you know, particular qualities and everything. Obviously echinacea is famous as an immune stimulant. Prickly ash is pretty well known amongst herbalists as a circulatory stimulant. Spilanthes is sometimes called tooth ache plant. So, that gives you a hint about what it may support you with. But all of them, you know, they have in common this set of compounds that makes them tingle on your tongue, and also helps to both directly combat infection and possibly even more so to stimulate local immune responses in a wound, whether that’s in the gums or whether that’s a cut on your arm or a scrape on your foot or whatever else. So, these are things are very helpful there. I don’t regard them as like the most potent, direct, antimicrobial. You know, they’re not as strong at, at straight up killing bacteria as one of our berberine herbs or usnea or myrrh or something like that. But they’re very helpful for these kinds of situations. Because you do need to wake up your immunity in order to really get into all the crevices and little bacterial critters who are trying to sneak through your structure and set up a home.
You know, there’s one other category here of plants that maybe we can call them like, I don’t know. These are all plants that dye your skin. And in many of these cases we’ve been talking about plants with specific types of constituents that do specific jobs. And that’s true for this as well. I’m thinking here of plants like turmeric, henna, black walnut, that if you get them on your skin… well honestly, we could even put a tincture of iodine in this category as well. But when I was a kid growing up, we called that monkey blood. When, you know, like you’d get a wound, and you’d put like an iodine solution on it.
Was yours purple, or yellow?
No. It was deep orange,
I don’t know. I grew up in Texas. I don’t know. Maybe somebody else he grew up in Texas in the seventies and early eighties remembers monkey blood as well. Or maybe it was just weird in my world, but…
Orange, that’s the thing. So, all of these plants, if you put them on topically they will dye your skin. And in this case it is those pigments that are delivering the antimicrobial action. So, you know, when we think about those strong mints, it’s the aromatic constituents. And here it’s the pigment constituents. And you know, if you think about henna in particular here, and I’m talking about good quality plant henna. You know, there’s a lot of adulterated stuff that’s out there now, but we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about good, happy, organic henna. The early tradition around henna, that developed in a very damp area that was very prone to flooding. And it started off on the feet. And to me that says huh. This is a group of people who were worried about fungal foot infection. Because they would dye the entire sole of the feet up, you know, up like maybe a half an inch or whatever, or even a little more. Around, you know, coming up the top of the foot in between all the toes. And then, you know, the original design was just that, and then maybe like one stripe, you know, around just to kind of make it a little decorative or whatever. And of course now there are these beautiful decorative traditions with it, but that original application was fighting fungal pathogens that were trying to get into your feet. And they are going to do the exact same job in a flood kind of situation.
Yeah. I attended an event not too long ago that was kind of like an advanced swimming course. And the place that we did it at, the name of it translated to something like stinking water. And it was pretty gross. And honestly each night after I came home from this place, I was like, boy. I sure wish I had a foot bath full of like henna and turmeric and black walnut and stuff to soak in, like soak all of me in it just get it all into my skin. Like dye me yellow, red, you know, dark brown, whatever. Because I know I’ve got a bunch of critters crawling all over me. And that would make me feel better
That was a sketchy location to be sure.
Good class, but that was pretty gross water. All right. So…
That’s quite a pile of herbs we’ve got going on there.
Application Methods, Frequency, & Bandaging/Wraps
Yeah. Well, again, right, there are options. And, you know, think too. You may have herbs that grow near you that are in some of these groups or meet some of these criteria we didn’t mention, but can do the job. We’ve got to think here about application method again, right? So we’re not really going to want to go with salve, even though some of these herbs can make a great extraction into a salve. When we’re dealing with floods and with wounds incurred in the course of the flood, we need to let the wound dry out to heal well.
I mean, we always do. We always need to do that. But it’s going to be so much more difficult in a pervasively damp situation.
Yeah. Right. You know, humidity and everything else too. So, salve isn’t really what we prefer. You’ve got the option for a tincture. You know, to work with an alcoholic extraction of your plants. Alcohol is not super ideal as a delivery method here. It does compromise the health of some of your own cells that are around the wound, in the wound site. So, you’re going to cause a little collateral damage there. But if no clean water is available, tincture is better than nothing, for sure.
Yeah. And you know, in some cases you’re stuck with tincture actually. Because you know, the berberine’s, that doesn’t really extract as well in water. You kind of have to work with tincture there. Honestly, the resins, you’re not going to get a water extract of that. So, you might have some pine resin that is soft enough to work with or some propolis. But most likely those are dissolved in an alcohol medium. Honestly, even usnea you really can’t…
Yeah, it’s not fantastic as a water extract.
Some of these plants, you really can’t work with easily in water. So, you know, my preference is a water application for wounds whenever that’s possible. But sometimes the plant that you want to work with has to extract in alcohol. And also sometimes the situation that you’re in physically doesn’t really make a water preparation possible. So…
Yeah, when we, when we apply tinctures, preferably you would have a spray top so that you can just kind of spritz it over the area rather than like taking a dropper and kind of putting rivers all over there. So, you know, that would be helpful just in terms of the direct administration of it. There’s a tricky issue here is that, you know, like you said, the wounds, if they’re too wet, they can’t heal. And if we’re stuck in a wet environment, it’s really hard to keep a wound dry, especially wounds on your feet, your lower legs. If you do have to wade through some inches of water to get anywhere, and it could be that way for awhile.
Especially if you’re part of the relief effort or a rescue effort or whatever else.
Cleanup crew, whatever.
Like, it’s not like oh, okay, you have a cut on your leg. Now you’re out of the game. Everybody has to help. You’re not out of the game. Yeah.
Yeah. So, there’s more likelihood for infection. The wound is having trouble healing itself. It’s also probably still getting wet, getting re-exposed to water that’s contaminated. So, this is extra factors that we’re looking at. We want to try and create some space for people who do get injured, to keep those injured parts dry, right? If they’re bailing out homes, if they’re moving around, whatever, it’s not so easy. But planning for that, trying to make that happen. And at least to say all right. At the end of the day, you know, before we go to bed, before we like just collapse, we’ve got to tend wounds. We’ve got to look at other people’s bodies, like parts that you can’t see easily on yourself, to do some little like community group care stuff.
Yeah. And really tending to wounds every day.
Every day. At least once a day, better twice or three times a day, you know. If there’s a lunch break or something, these are times to do those checks. Yeah.
There’s a product called Tegaderm. It’s a type of bandage. And it can keep water out, but still allow the wound to breathe. It’s like a one direction membrane. Yeah. But they’re very expensive. So, they’re very effective, and it can stay in place for several days. It’s clear, so you can see through it. So you can see if everything is okay. I don’t love the idea of keeping a wound covered for several days, because I want to get in there with herbs a few times a day. On the other hand in a situation like this, the trade-off might be I would rather that things stay clean and dry and not get recontaminated. And I will trade that for more chances to put herbs in there. Okay. And because it’s clear, you can watch it carefully and see if there’s problems developing. So that’s great. The drawback is that they are quite expensive. So, this would be something that we would prioritize for like rescue workers, something like that. Yeah.
Yeah. There’s another first aid tool called self occlusive wrap. Which is… it’s a little bit sticky, but it doesn’t stick to your hair. It doesn’t stick to your skin. It doesn’t stick to an open wound. But it sticks to itself. And that can be really helpful to wrap up wounds. And it’s not waterproof, but it is water resistant. So, as long as you can keep that wound site – your arm or whatever it is – out of standing water, then then this will do the trick. Even if there’s a little bit of rain coming down or whatever, this should be resistant enough to keep that safe, as long as it’s not actually like down in a puddle.
Right. When you work with self occlusive wrap, you would first wrap the wound with gauze. And then so that is the direct interface with the wound. And maybe that gauze has some kind of herbal thing on it, or maybe you’ve put herbs on and now there’s gauze. And then you can put the self occlusive wrap. Sometimes you’ll see this called vet wrap. If you have a dog or a cat who’s ever, or a horse or whatever who’s ever had any kind of stitches or something like that, you’ll see that they wrap the wound with this. Because that way the animals don’t chew on it. The difference is that vet wrap typically contains latex, and it costs much less. So, if you’re working with people who don’t have latex allergies, then buy the stuff they make for animals. It is exactly the same product, but it does have latex in it. The self occlusive wrap is like beige colored and it does not have latex, but it’s like three times as expensive. So we stock both in our first aid kits. And if we’re working with somebody that we know does not have any kind of latex problem, great. We go with the vet wrap. And then we save the self occlusive wrap for people who have latex allergies. And it’s just a way to, you know, first aid supplies are very expensive. And when you’re buying all your own materials to help other people with, it helps if you can budget your first aid supplies in that kind of way. So yeah.
One other thought for this is that tinctures, alcohol extracts of propolis or of other resins, are very helpful here. And imagine this in a situation where it’s like all right, you got cut. You put some things on the wound. You do some work to clean it out, to disinfect it. Maybe you’ve got time to do a compress or something for a while. But now it’s time to kind of go back out and do some more work, do some more clearing or cleaning or whatever. If you could take a propolis tincture, especially through a spray bottle, and get that all over the wound area. Then wrap that up with some gauze. Then wrap that up with some self occlusive wrap. You’ve got several layers of protection there. And the first one is actually just the resin tincture itself. Because as you spray it on, the alcohol evaporates pretty quick. And then you’re left with like a seal or a coating layer of the resin itself, which is sticky, and is itself water repellent. So, it will absorb into your tissues. It will exert its anti-microbial and protective and immune stimulating effects into your body. But it will also prevent excess water from getting at the wound, and other kinds of contamination from getting at the wound. So, these are very valuable to have around. Yeah. All right.
Contaminated Water & Gut Infections
Well, let’s talk about some antimicrobials for gut infections as well. And again, this is that floodwater has some super dangerous pathogens in it. You know, some of them are run of the mill unpleasant pathogens. But some of them are pretty gross.
I mean, you want to get really grossed out? Like imagine that this is a flood happening through an agricultural community where there is an industrial feed lot full of like 5,000 pigs, and one of those cesspools of all of their crap and other excreta. Now that’s flowing through the middle of your town.
Right. And the likelihood that that is in the drinking water is high. Like even if you think that your drinking water is safe, I would automatically be taking action for gut health and gut infection, because it’s just so common. And we don’t have time for diarrhea. We just don’t. Like there’s too much to do. There are too many people who need help. There’s too much rebuilding and cleaning and everything else that needs to happen. So I just don’t ever want to get in that situation. And also diarrhea is very dangerous. It’s not just like an unpleasant thing. It really is a life-threatening thing. So, we want to make sure that we don’t get into that situation in the first place. So, let’s just be thinking about sanitation right when the problem starts. Or actually, let’s think about it right now.
Ahead of time. Yes. That’s the one, all right. Quick comment here. A lot of times you’re going to see antimicrobial gels, like Purell, you know, like we’re living in the midst of, or sort of post. I don’t really know. The COVID era. So, like even more than usual, you saw these dispensers of Purell or whatever else just suddenly pop up at every counter and window and checkout aisle all over the place. And so look, yeah, it does kill bacteria. That’s helpful. We can use that in a disaster environment. But it can also over dry the skin, like damaging the protective layer of the skin and some of the oil layers that are there as well. This can set you up to get more micro tearing into the skin, and actually provide pathogens a new way into your body. So, you know, it’s a balance here. Because like on the one hand we don’t want the skin to get too dried out. We also don’t want it to be super soggy. Because in both cases they’re not as resistant to pathogenic invasion. Too wet, too dried out, easier to damage as well, just to get scraped, and for it to tear more easily. Both of these are kind of outside your Goldilocks zone.
Yeah. And the thing here is that a primary for getting contamination from water into your GI tract is on your hands. And if you are doing any kind of work after a flood or during a flood, you do need to keep your hands clean all of the time. If you’re going to eat, if you’re going to drink, if you’re going to wipe your nose, you know, like whatever. You’ve got to keep your hands clean. And the sort of standard response to that is these antimicrobial gels. And that might be the only option, because you might not have clean water to wash your hands with soap and water. But if you do, honestly I prefer that because it is less drying. It is not not drying, but it is less drying. So, we need to be thinking about taking care of the hands. We need to be thinking about every night when you’re done or whenever you come off your shift of helping people, however that is set up, think about taking care of your hands to protect your guts. It’s weird to think… and also to protect the rest of your body because it’s just…
And the people around you. Yeah. So, you know, we’re definitely making sure to wash hands really well. Remember those videos with like the blue ink, and how to wash your hands properly. And like make sure you get all your surfaces, in between everything and all that. But doing that every time that you’re about to eat or drink, or really just like transitioning between tasks. You know, I was doing this kind of cleanup work, and now we’re going to go do something else. Let’s all wash our hands in between, you know? Sounds super basic. Sounds like okay, we know. We’ve heard it a thousand times, but a thousand and one, a thousand and ten, why not?
You know, the thing is that we live in this time in fairly sanitary environments. I mean, things can be kind of gross, but also we tend to keep our contaminated stuff separate. So, you can get away with you’re at work. You’ve been on the computer all day. You’re doing this and that. You eat your lunch at your desk. You didn’t wash your hands. Right? Like that happens all the time. And so…
And it’s mostly fine, right?
And it’s mostly fine. We mostly get away with it. Which means that we don’t think about this. It’s not only mostly fine, but honestly, maybe it’s even a smidge good. Because it’s giving your immune system a little extra challenge now and then, fine.
Or some friendly exposures. If you are working in a really healthy garden that you grow yourself, and then you kind of have a nibble here and there. That’s not bad either, right?
You know, things can get over sanitized. But like, especially those of us who are in the herbal world and the alternative health world, we spend a lot of our time trying to remind people that it’s to get a few germs now and then, and possibly even good for you. But you can take that too far. And you can get stuck in that mode of being like no, no. It’s good to get a little microbial contact from my environment. That’s healthy for me. And then now you’re in a flood situation, and you need to totally flip that script.
Right. Because it is no longer… like the environment that you’re in at this point, you might as well be on Mars. You know, like just sort of think that way. The contamination level is really, really high. And okay, you can breathe the air kind of, but just the level of contamination that you’re faced with at that point is not something that if you haven’t lived through a flood you’ve ever really thought about before. Because you haven’t ever… like it’s hard to think about how disgusting this water is, and how much it gets into absolutely everything. So, it’s worth kind of harping on that for a minute, just because it is such a difficult shift to make. And it is so critically important to do that.
You have this line in our notes here. Not just before you eat either, getting floodwater on your face is a problem, because there’s so many holes on your face.
There are so many holes on your face.
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. But, right. So, many of those routes lead back to the digestive tract. And then you can end up with some really bad gut feelings.
Right. It’s like, all of it is on your face. All your digestive problems, your respiratory problems, your sinus problems. And then like oh, bonus. Extra eye and ear problems, you know?
So, yeah. And you know, we’re going to talk about herbs that can help out in a second here, but also any kind of protective gear, you know. So, masks or a face shield, gloves, of course, all this kind of stuff is important. And how you handle it, how you manage it, right? Like wearing gloves is good. But if in the course of taking them off, you rub the outside of the glove on the inside of your palm or on your eye or something else like… that broke down. So, a lot of this is about building habits around your personal protective equipment.
Yeah. And habits that we have not had to think about in the past, so…
Eat/Drink Your Antimicrobials & Probiotics
One way to think about protecting the guts is to think about incorporating antimicrobial herbs into your food every time you eat. And you might be saying oh, that sounds like it won’t taste that good. Some of these antimicrobial herbs are super bitter. But hang on, wait. There’s a whole category of herbs that we refer to as spices. And I guarantee you that all of those have some pretty mighty antimicrobial effect to them. Clove allspice, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, cardamom.
Oh, cumin and coriander also.
All of these things. And, you know, go around the world. Find all the different spices. Chili peppers, for that matter. All of these things, they have direct antimicrobial activity. And also a lot of them are going to stimulate your own humoral immunity in the GI tract as well. So spice it like you mean it. Spice it like it’ll save your life.
Yes. Yeah. Flood season is definitely curry season or chili or whatever kind of thing you really like that has all those strong, strong spices in there. This is the time for those things.
Yeah. And that includes garlic, you know. But garlic is something that can be helpful as a spice, as a food, as a… I guess we don’t call it a vegetable when we chop it up and put it in with the meal. But, you know.
I mean it is.
Yeah. But then you can also prepare stronger preparations of garlic if you’re like yeah. I actually do have some weird stuff going on in my guts. I think I’ve got some, I guess it wouldn’t be food poisoning, but environmental gut pathogen contact going on. You could make garlic tea. That is strong stuff as a gastrointestinal disinfectant.
Yes. Not delicious, but good. You know, also you can work with your fire cider in this place. If that’s a way that you like to get those things into you, then this is a good time for that. Because all the things that we put into fire cider or that like traditionally go into fire cider, they’re all antimicrobial. So, that’s great right now.
Yeah. If you’re brand new, that’s a vinegar preparation with like garlic, horseradish, ginger, turmeric, cayenne, all of that hot fiery stuff. You infuse it into vinegar for a while. Strain it out. And now you’ve got that potent liquid. Portable, easy to take a swig of. And pass that around the cleanup crew, you know, once or twice a day. Yeah. That’ll get things moving. And it delivers some of that benefit to the respiratory tract as well. So, all around, yeah. Fire cider. Good thing to have after the flood. Hey, remember the berberine’s from when we’re talking about, you know, cuts and topical issues? They’re helpful here as well. So these compounds, when you drink them, take them internally, take tincture, make a decoction, drink them however, they’re not going to permeate your entire body. They’re not going to get out through into the bloodstream. But they are going to do a lot of work in the digestive tract. And that’s what we’re focused on right in this moment. So, they’re very helpful here.
Yeah. People often will think of goldenseal as the herbal antibiotic. And then think I’ll just take a little bit of goldenseal tincture when I am sick. And they sort of equate that to a pharmaceutical antibiotic, and that’s just not how it works. Goldenseal and the rest of the berberine’s are antimicrobial on contact, only topically, but your GI tract is topically, right? Because you can touch your GI tract with a berberine herb tincture. You know, you can’t actually touch sort of much further beyond than your mouth. But that is still the outside of you. It’s inside you, but it’s outside you. And so we can work topically in the GI tract with herbs. It’s not going to pass through the intestinal wall, but it is going to exert that antimicrobial action throughout the GI tract.
Nice. Our strong mints can come back into play here, right? So again, thyme, oregano, sage, monarda, plants like that. When we drink them, they deliver those aromatic antimicrobial compounds of theirs into the gut. That’s where you put them, right? That’s where you put them, so that’s where they’re going to hang out. Some of them are going to move through the body and then leave via the lung. But remember, if we really are targeting the lung with these strong mints, we do the steam. If we’re targeting the GI tract, we drink them. We make a good strong tea, and we take that in.
Make sure when you make that tea that you cover it. Because otherwise they’ll just evaporate, and then they won’t be left in the tea, and you won’t drink them. I mean, you’ll drink the tea, but you won’t be getting the particular phytochemical constituent that we need to do the job.
And you know I’d also put in a note here for calendula. Calendula is not the mightiest antimicrobial that we’ve discussed here today, but it is helpful for sure, especially against fungal issues that you may be encountering. But it has some other benefits that are really nice here in that it can heal wounds in the digestive tract, and also kind of tighten up your boundaries a little bit there. And it can help to circulate lymphatic fluid around the GI tract. And that’s really helpful if you have encountered some pathogen. Even if it was like your body coped with it, and you didn’t get obvious external symptoms. Just having a higher pathogen load, it puts a greater demand on the local immune system and on the local lymphatic system around the gut. And so a bit of calendula can be really helpful to keep that flowing.
Yeah. And then don’t neglect your probiotics. The probiotics want to live in your gut. And they don’t want to be kicked out by invaders like e coli or whoever else is running around. So, if you have a good, strong gut microbiome, that is not just your first line of defense, but several lines of defense against any kind of GI pathogens. And so obviously maintaining that microbiome, the health of your probiotic flora, is important all of the time. But especially during flood time, especially during any kind of time when you’re worried about contaminated water, contaminated food. And so this is really the time to break out the sauerkraut, the kimchi, the lacto-fermented foods, and eat them at every meal. You know, maybe you kind of know that, and you like have them in the fridge. But they kind of get to the back of the fridge, and maybe you don’t have them every day. But like this is where really every meal, even breakfast, you know, every single meal you have some.
As Always, Plan Ahead
Yeah. And, you know, plan ahead, right? The more you can build up a strong, healthy, resilient, complex gut microbiome now, the more you’re defended when the flood does come around, and you do get some other critters into the system there. So, that’s kind of a general kind of closing set of comments here is to plan ahead. Knowing about these herbs is the first thing. The knowledge is portable. That’s nice. But you’re going to want to have them available to you. So, you’re going to want to have some kind of an emergency kit and herbs, right? So, both the herbs themselves, but also what you need to prepare them effectively for these various kinds of problem. You’re going to want that into a kit. And you’re going to want that in waterproof containment, because we’re worried about a flood coming. So, you want to make sure that that… and not just like well, my house is uphill. So it’s going to be fine. But if you’re going to go down the hill and into the valley and help out some friends there, you need to be able to move your materials in a way that they’re not going to get ruined in transit, right?
Also, you know, we said that actually a couple of times through this episode, my house is uphill. You know, when I was a kid we had a 500 year flood in Texas. I lived in the Dallas – Fort Worth area, and we had a 500 year flood. And it was pretty epic, let me tell you. And our house was uphill slightly, so we were better off than most people. But part of that was because we didn’t have a basement. And if you live in a place with basements, even if you are uphill, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re fine. Because you know, all that water is sogging its way in through the soil. And yeah, it may end up in your basement even if you’re uphill. And then from there it may end up wherever else, you know, in your stuff. So, even if you think no. I’ll be fine. Then just say, maybe I won’t be fine. And maybe I should plan just in case I’m not fine.
Yeah. So, you know, actually that kind of planning, the logistics, the ideas around like what makes an effective go-bag or a bug out bag or something like that. And also what to do if what you’re trying to do is not just to get through, you know, a single day for yourself or for the people you live with, but to offer support to other people in the community. How could you set up a first aid station? How could you set up a community care center or response center? What if you were actually called on to do some organizing, or if it was clear that there was no outside source of support and recovery and organization. Could you step up and fill that role?
And listen, you’re probably going to have to, right? Our first responders are amazing, but there’s not enough of them. And we can’t expect to sit around and wait for them to get to us. We have to support them. We have to support one another. And that’s going to be a lot safer and a lot more effective if we train now to know what we’re doing. So, you can check out the Emergent Responder program. You’ll find it at online.commonwealthherbs.com. And this program, not only has it got like 65 hours of videos with lots and lots of information about organizing in your community, making sure that things happen even when people are panicking, getting everything that you need, but also the skills for how do we feed these people? How do we deal with elders who might need kidney dialysis and we don’t have that right now? Or how do we deal with people who need prescription meds, and we don’t have those right now? How do we deal with the psychiatric effects of this. And how do we do all of this as long-term care, because we may not get any help for a month or two months or three months. It might take that long for the governmental agencies or relief agencies to get to our town. So, the more that we can train ourselves… that course even has an emergency midwifery unit in it. So, you know, I mean babies come when they come. And sometimes floods happen when people are nine and a half months pregnant. And that’s when the flood is there, and also when the baby’s there. So, we need to have these skills because we need to be able to help each other. It’s the only way that our communities will get through these situations.
So, again, that’s the Emergent Responder program. We’ll get a link in the show notes. And it’s really worth checking out. Also remember since you’re a podcast listener, you can use the code PODCAST during checkout, and you’ll get $50 off. Cool. All right everybody. That’s it for this week. We’ll have another episode of the Holistic Herbalism podcast for you next week, talking about climate change and fires and smoke and that kind of thing.
Kind of the opposite of today’s topic.
Yeah. So that’ll be coming soon. Until then take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea.
Drink some tea.
And stay dry. Bye.
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