4 Simple Ways to Protect Your Health From Climate Change… Naturally
by Stacy Thomas | August 6, 2020, updated about 1 month ago
Unless you’re a climate change denier, you know that climate change is a thing. If you’ve read even slightly beyond the headlines, you know it’s a really serious thing. Climate change has huge ramifications for the environment, the economy, and the health of ourselves and our loved ones. How do we stop it?
Honestly, if you can answer that question, we’ve got to get you some more media coverage, but as it applies to our health and wellness, there are a few things we can do to keep up with the ever increasing devastation visited upon the earth, and therefore our bodies.
Our bodies are like sponges, and all the changes in our air and water are not occurring in a vacuum. These changes cause a ripple effect that moves through the entire ecosystem that we happen to be a part of.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that climate change is affecting all of the very factors that most affect our health: the air, the water and the quality of our food and shelter. Can we mitigate these effects?
More Heat and Gross Air
Ground-level ozone is a key factor in the formation of smog in many cities and industrialized areas around the world. Increases in this gas is already an indicator in human health problems like worsening asthma, diminished lung function, and premature death. As our air warms up, ozone in the atmosphere increases, certain chemicals reach higher concentrations in the air, and methane emissions go up.
Rising temperatures also contribute to longer seasons of pollination, which affects those folks who suffer from hay fever, other allergies and allergen-induced respiratory problems.
Particulates in the air caused by wildfires can affect the health of our gut biomes, which in turn affects the health of our entire bodies. Researchers are currently studying the link between air pollution and conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease, and are finding that both of these conditions are more prevalent in areas with higher levels of air pollutants.
91 percent of the people in the world are currently living in cities that don’t comply with the WHOs air quality standards. If you’re one of them, you’re being affected by a wide range of pollutants, like urban dust which can carry up to 224 toxic chemicals. Since our skin hasn’t evolved to be able to deal with these toxins yet skin can overcompensate when trying to neutralize this invasion which can result in anything from irritation to premature aging to aggravated eczema to cancer.
Protect Yourself, Naturally
As with so many things, we can look to the plants around us to help us heal, and to protect ourselves from environmental changes. I spoke with clinical herbalist Gina Badger about some natural remedies that can be used to shore up the body’s systems to protect against pollutants and other health hazards.
Queen of Hungary’s Water
The origins of this ancient recipe are lost to history, but it’s mainly believed that it originated in the 1300s and was formulated for the Queen of Hungary (which queen is unknown) to help soothe her headaches. It is also believed that it was created as a response to the Black Plague which was devastating Europe at the time. Regardless, over the hundreds of years it has been in formulation, it has remained a faithful and popular tonic for skin replenishment, and is even thought to reverse the effects of aging on the skin.
It is amazingly simple and beautiful to make. You can easily create it from ingredients in your garden if you are lucky enough to have one. If not, you can source dried organic flowers and herbs to use in your own recipe.
There are many, and often more formal recipes online, but this is the method that Badger recommends. Use fresh and local ingredients when possible.
Step 1 – Fill a mason jar about two-thirds full with fresh rosemary and flower blooms such as rose, lavender, chamomile, clary sage and calendula. Many recipes call for mint, lemon balm or comfrey leaves as well. Fill the jar the rest of the way with raw organic apple cider vinegar. The vinegar will corrode metal lids, so use a plastic lid or insert a square of wax paper between the lid and the jar.
Step 2 – Leave it steep for two weeks, agitating once a day.
Step 3 – Add fresh flowers to the mix as they bloom naturally.
Step 4 – Separate the liquid from the solids using a strainer. You can add distilled rose water or a hydrosol (other flower waters) to your Queen of Hungary Water to help it do double duty as a toner for clarifying and hydrating.
Use Queen of Hungary Water as a toner, a refreshing mist, or dab it on your face with a cotton pad after cleansing.
Cleavers (Galium Aparine)
Cleavers are extremely effective at moving surface lymph fluids and improving the health of our skin, Badger says—
“Cleavers help to support your lymph circulation, which is an important part of how our bodies remove waste products […] this cooling, nutritive tonic helps take the load off our skin, and it’s especially helpful with hot, irritated conditions like psoriasis and eczema. It’s super easy to grow. Or if you find it growing in an area where you know the soil is clean, you can harvest it.”
She does not, however, encourage wild harvesting from areas you don’t know well, or for non-Indigenous people, without the permission of Indigenous land stewards.
Luckily, cleavers can be planted in almost any type of soil and can tolerate full shade to full sun, so it’s a simple and useful plant to try in your garden. Cleavers are annual, but it self-seeds, so if you give it a bit of space you will see it year after year.
The best way to process your cleavers is to make a fresh juice out of them. If you don’t have a juicer, throw it in a blender and strain out the liquid. Then you can freeze the juice into ice cubes or add high proof alcohol to make a liquid extract. You can also turn it into a vinegar or cook with it.
“For allergic reactions, especially seasonal allergies, a great way to start is looking at nutrition, and one really nice thing you can add is local honey,” Badger says.
Raw, as local as possible, and organic honey is best, she explains, because ingesting it will help your body become familiar with the types of pollens that are produced in your area.
“A lot of people find that adding local honey to their diet, especially ensuring that they’re consuming it a few months in advance of when their seasonal allergies start to show up, can be really helpful in reducing the severity of their symptoms.”
Fermented and Bitter Foods to Improve Your Gut Health
A way to strengthen your immune system and to reduce the severity of allergic reactions is to support your gut microbiome by consuming lacto-fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut and some pickles. Taking this approach to supporting gut health will support your immune system, so the body will be less likely to have severe allergic reactions.
“Our gut microbiome is a very cool complex ecology that works alongside our immune systems to help our bodies recognize who’s friendly and who’s a threat when it comes to things like respiratory pathogens, pollen, and other substances that enter our bodies.”
Badger emphasizes that you should eat fermented foods that make sense for your body, “Look for ferments that are ancestral foods for you, and that you enjoy eating.” For instance, if you have German heritage sauerkraut is likely a good option for you. If you have Korean heritage, kimchi is likely a good option for you—however, both are delicious, and fermented, and made of cabbage, so eat away either way.
If you have the capacity, give home fermentation a go, but if you’re not up to it, you can likely find a producer of fermented foods reasonably locally.
Bitters support your digestive health as well, because they have a stimulating effect on the digestive system that supports the mucous membranes in your digestive tract. The effect starts with salivary production in your mouth, and then stimulates all your other organs all the way down to your colon and rectum.
“Just tasting the flavour bitter creates a cascade of signals that fire up your digestive system, that let your body know that food is coming, and are going to help you to get the most nutrition possible out of the food you’re eating. I really recommend that people work on developing a taste for the flavour bitter.”
If you like, you can grow bitter greens such as dandelion, endive or radicchio, and make them into salads with light lemon dressing—anything that won’t mask the bitter flavour.
Another great bitter plant that can be grown at home is Calendula officinalis. Brew it into a gut-healing tea, or make a bitter calendula tincture that you can add to your fizzy water or cocktails. You can also make it into a lovely lymph and skin supporting cream or oil.
Climate change is no longer up for debate, and with our atmosphere and weather changing all the time, it’s important to start thinking about ways to support your health and that of your families in the face of increasing pollutants.
When embarking on a natural healing journey and experimenting with plants and home remedies, it is best to consult with a knowledgeable person. The remedies above are known to be safe for most people, but unpredictable reactions, including allergic reactions, can occur.
Stacy Thomas was born and raised among the orchards of the Okanagan Valley. She studied journalism in Vancouver, B.C., and has worked as a reporter in places such as Germany, Ukraine, Northern B.C. and rural Alberta. Passionate about nature, she now lives in Squamish with her partner Nicki and her rescue dog Harley. She is currently a student of creative writing at the University of British Columbia, where she draws comics and writes poetry.