How Can We Cope With Forest Fire Smoke?

Forest fires throughout the BC interior have exposed us all to health risks from breathing smoky air and many people are concerned about the potential harm to their health.

Humans have been dealing with smoke from fire for eons. As a result, there is a wealth of indigenous information as well as modern science from which to draw advice.

A recent study done on sheep showed that smoke inhalation can deplete Vitamin E.  Another study showed that the amino acid L-Arginine had a protective effect on the lungs after inhaling smoke. We know that Vitamin C has a protective effect on the lungs.   Vitamin A and zinc are two other well known agents of tissue repair.

To maintain the integrity of the alveoli in your lungs, think of them as little soap bubbles that remain flexible, strong and elastic if they have enough surfactant., which is a lipid or fat.  The best fats for building healthy alveoli are the saturated fats found in animal foods, (butter, lard, etc.) and in tropical oils such as coconut and palm oil, and in olive oil.  One should avoid the trans fats found in partially hydrogenated oils such as margarine, shortening, (often in commercial baked goods), and deep fried fast foods.  Trans fats compromise the integrity of the alveoli.

What are some best foods for supplying important nutrients for your respiratory health?

Beets help to digest good fats and supply lots of minerals and vitamins needed for repair. Betaine is a very useful enzyme found in beets and is also in most dark leafy greens. Perfect timing for the home gardener.

Some good sources of L-arginine are turkey and other meats, seafoods, walnuts and peanuts.

Almonds, spinach avocado, squash, yams, olive oil, sunflower seeds, citrus fruits, and carrots are great sources of Vitamin E, C and A. Cilantro helps support the body’s removal of toxic environmental compounds.  In other words, our gardens are full of helpful healthy foods for this environmental crisis.

For centuries, indigenous herbalists have been employing a variety of herbs for smoke inhalation.  Some of the more well-known herbs include Echinacea, holy basil, andrographis, mulberry, and plantain to name just a few. Homeopaths may choose euphrasia (eyebright), arsenicum and silica depending on your specific symptoms and sensitivities.  A word of caution.   I think it is always best to seek an experienced practitioner of herbology and homeopathy just as you would your medical practitioner, rather than buying remedies randomly or experimentally as there are specific preparations, blends and doses for optimal individualized use.

There are also many well known essential oil inhalants that are helpful to lung health such as eucalyptus, frankincense, peppermint and bergamot.

For sinus blockages, a neti pot using warm saline can be helpful.  If your eyes are irritated, look for herbal eyewashes at your local health food store or research how to make your own.  Yellow flowered plants like goldenseal, chamomile or calendula (marigold) support eye health.

As always, if you are on medications please check with your doctor or pharmacist, and if you have chronic sinus or respiratory illness it is assumed you are following your medic’s advice and taking it easy, perhaps using a mask and staying mostly indoors during this time.

Tonight, why not treat yourself to a large bowl of kale and spinach salad sprinkled with lots of grated carrots and beets, maybe some dried cranberries, slivered almonds or sunflower seeds doused in olive oil and balsamic or apple cider vinegar and sprinkled with a little sea salt? Add some turkey or seafood if you wish.  Then invite a friend over and brew a pot of Echinacea or chamomile tea.  Put your feet up, relax and take the time to feel gratitude for the abundance of nature and your body’s resilience.   

“What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.” Charles Bukowski     

Cathy Lidster, GCFP, ACNRT, ABF, is a local and international health practitioner/educator. She can be reached by email at, website or  call 250-819-9041


  1. Thx for this great article Cathy! Always full of helpful and practical advice!

  2. I love these practical tips that nourish and heal the body through food.

    • Thank You Carol
      I am glad you enjoy them. And I apologize for not replying sooner. 🙂 Hope your summer was fun in spite of the smoke .