Some Practical Solutions for Living in a Sunburnt Country
I love a sunburnt country
A land of sweeping plains
Of rugged mountain ranges
Of droughts and flooding rains…
Here begins Dorothea Mackellar’s iconic poem about Australia, My Country. Many years and thousands of kilometres traversing this vast land after reading this poem in primary school, I now have a deep appreciation for Ms Mackellar’s sentiments. I love this sunburnt country. I love its contrasts, the everchanging landscape a familiar companion and a constant fascination on my travels. And we are such a land of contrasts. Last week, we saw half of Queensland ravaged by searing heat and wildfires that are still blazing (I hear there are some cyclones on the way now as well), we had two months-worth of rain here in New South Wales within a matter of 36 hours, and it snowed in parts of Victoria. For the course of 2018 the whole of NSW has been gripped by drought (Have we ever had a time without drought somewhere in this country?). Each year, the States seem to rotate these patterns. A few years ago, most of QLD was underwater, while NSW and Victoria were on fire, and South Australia was windswept off the map.
We believe in giving everyone a ‘fair go’.
The current narrative says that this is due to Climate Change, but the climate has always been changing and often in a big way – especially here. Climate as far as I know isn’t really a static thing. It responds to that turning of the great wheel of the heavens like we all do. Maybe now with all those satellites weaving in and out of that wheel, we just have better media coverage, and whoever owns the biggest satellite wins the narrative.
Nevertheless, the wheel turns once more, and we find ourselves in the season of the big Hot Dry, the big Hot Windy, or the big Hot Wet, depending on where in the country you live. If you live in Victoria, you might get a bit of Cold Wet blown on you as well, but I guess that’s because you’re the Progressive State and why not.
The ‘climate’ of our bodies also changes according the seasons. In the folk wisdom of the Southern states of the USA, (referred to as Southern Folk Medicine) this change was recognised in the quality of the blood.
“The blood types described by Phyllis [Light]…tend to be constitutional, or innate to the person, or perhaps acquired after a major shift in health. They can temporarily change with the seasons, aging, a bad day or a good day, and other influences, but Southern folk medicine has a second group of blood types that are associated directly with the seasons and with aging. I call this group the “seasons of the blood”.
….It is said that just as the sap rises in the trees in summer, and falls to the roots in winter, so too does the blood rise and fall. But there is more to it than that: The sap of summer is higher, thinner, faster flowing, cleaner, and warmer, while the sap in the winter is lower, thicker, slower, dirtier, and cooler.
…There is an additional reason why it is appropriate to refer to this group under “seasons of the blood’. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when white settlers were moving into the interior of North America, dispossessing the Indian people and bringing enslaved Afro-Americans with them, the doctrine of “seasoning” was well established. This was the idea that it was too hard on most constitutions to move rapidly from North to South, or hot to cold. ….Phyllis points out that even the Federal Army, during the Civil War, had policies on seasoning….And even today troops are exercised in Texas or dry areas before being deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan.
This idea survives in several old expressions. We speak of “seasoned troops.” Also, a person will say, “I have thin blood,” meaning they can take hot weather. The blood actually is thinner – the prostaglandins shift the viscosity of the blood – in people acclimatized to hot weather.”
(Matthew Wood. Ch.7/Southern Folk Medicine. Seasons of the Blood. Wood, M; Bonaldo, F; Light, Phyllis D. Traditional Western Herbalism and Pulse Evaluation: A Conversation.)
In Ayurveda – developed and practiced over thousands of years, it is recognized that the body responds to the changing seasons. In that tradition, short cleanses are recommended around the time of the equinox and solstice to help the body to adjust and acclimatize to the new season.
We can also ‘season” ourselves by matching the energetics of the season with the energetics of our lifestyle, our food, and our herbal allies.
Perhaps the most important thing we can do when preparing for the heat (either dry or wet or windy, it will still drain you) ahead is to ensure that we are adequately hydrated. I’ve written about the importance of hydration in my soon-coming book Luminous Immunity: An Elemental Paradigm. So because I’m feeling lazy yet generous, here’s another tantalizing excerpt;
“You’ve probably heard it said that we are made up of around 60 – 75% water. Water itself is such a critical element to our body and to our mind. We can survive for 4-6 weeks without food, but only a few days without water, unless we have supernatural help. It forms the basis of our inner ocean, comprising around 10% of our bodyweight in interstitial fluid (the Extra-Cellular Matrix) that surrounds the cells and includes the lymph, the cerebrospinal fluid, and our cartilage. 4% of our bodyweight is found in the blood plasma. The fluid within the cells (intracellular fluid) makes up around 33% of our body weight. And then there is more water found throughout the body in our various tissues. The balance of all is this fluid is critical and the amount of fluid lost (through our elimination processes) should ideally equal the amount of fluid taken into the body. When any water is lost, the electrolyte balance is disturbed and the body needs to recalibrate through various endocrine mechanisms, and once again we can see how even though water in the body is perhaps the main vehicle of life, it’s quantity and quality can also be adversely affected by any disturbances to the other systems, which are in turn affected by the state of the water in the body. Can we see that our bodies don’t work in isolated compartments?
Let’s take a brief look at the function of water in the body;
* the water-based platform of the extracellular matrix and the fluid inside the cell is where most cellular activities take place.
* nutrient and waste material are carried through this medium.
* minerals and many vitamins (such as the B vitamins and vitamin C) are soluble in, and therefore easily absorbed via water.
* the various secretions, their enzymes and co-factors require water as their base.
* fluid balance regulates body temperature.
* provides shape to the body and a more youthful appearance.
* purification of wastes occurs in a water medium and allows it to be effectively eliminated from the water via urine, sweat, tears, and stools.
* gives volume to the blood and plasma and allows it to move throughout the entire body.
* it also helps lubricate the body via various secretions.
Dehydration is pretty serious, and it is said that by the time you actually feel thirsty then dehydration is already occurring. Dehydration puts stress on the body. The blood becomes thick and sticky and blood pressure increases, lymph becomes congested, and as a result the organs of elimination slow down, and we may experience constipation, dark and scanty urine, an inability to sweat, and dry eyes. Mucous becomes more sticky, and congested. Our skin dries out and we develop fine lines and wrinkles, our hair becomes brittle and thins, our nails weak and breaking. We feel lethargic, drowsy, weak, and unmotivated, our thinking is dull and foggy. We may experience burning sensations and faintness.
Many people confuse thirst and hunger and eat when they should be drinking. And many people suffer chronic dehydration and aren’t aware of it. In his book ‘ Your Body’s Many Cries For Water’, Dr Batmanghelidj, M.D outlines how chronic dehydration is one of, if not the leading cause of chronic disease in the world, simply because it is so vital to all processes of life.13 Ironically, your body holds on to water the more dehydrated it becomes in order to dilute the waste material that really isn’t going anywhere. We can also add oedema and water retention to the list of things that not getting enough water can result in.
So how much water do we need, where do we get it, and when should we drink it? According to Dr Batmanghelidj, you need to drink half your bodyweight in fluid ounces as the baseline for what your body needs. if you exercise or the weather is hot, then you’ll need more to compensate for the loss in sweat. For example, if I weigh 65kg (which is 143.3 lbs), then I’d need to drink 71.65 ounces or 2218 mls (2.1 litres) per day as my baseline. If I eat a lot of juicy fruit, which contains pure water, and I drink herbal teas or cook my veggies or rice in water and consume that water as well, then this would meet some of this requirement. Beverages such as coffee, tea, and alcohol are all diuretics, meaning they make you urinate more. Therefore, for each cup consumed, you’d need to drink a cup of water to make up for the loss.
The type of water we drink is also important. Most municipal tap water has had chlorine, chloramines, and fluoride added to it during treatment, as well as other chemicals depending on whether the water is ‘soft’ or ‘hard’. These chemicals may clean the water to some extent, but they don’t neutralise or filter out trace pharmaceuticals, certain toxic chemicals like persistent organic pollutants (POPs), E.coli, giardia, and other bacterium and viruses, microplastics, and trihalomethanes14 . The chlorines increase the risk of respiratory conditions such as asthma, and their by-product creates trihalomethanes which have been found to be carcinogenic.
Although the body needs fluoride for healthy teeth and bones, it is in trace amounts and a completely different form, usually coupled with calcium. The fluoride added to tap water is an industrial by-product and is not useable by the body. Instead it is accumulative in the tissues. It competes with iodine and blocks it’s uptake by the thyroid, and thus also contributes to brittle bones and osteoporosis, arthritis, brittle and discoloured teeth, cancer, heart disease, and lower IQ and learning difficulties.
This is obviously not the ideal water to drink. Bottled water is often dubiously sourced, overpriced, and is sold in plastic single-use bottles which leach xenoestrogens and other hormone disruptors. Perhaps the best water is that collected in a glass vessel from a fresh, pristine mountain spring.15 The next best source would be rainwater you’ve collected yourself and then filtered, assuming you don’t live under a flight path or in the middle of the city. Some people use reverse osmosis filtration systems, others use UV or ozone filtration. Others distil their water in order to purify it. Most of these systems require electricity, or more water input for what you get out of it.
After much research, I found the most economical filter system for drinking water is a gravity fed Berkey Water Filter16. It consists of two stainless steel chambers which contain two-four carbon filters and then two fluoride filters underneath (if needed). It comes in a range of sizes depending on your requirements. No electricity is required, and if you fill it with 12 litres of water, then 12 litres will come out, minus a few grams of impurities.
According to Ayurveda, there are some simple yet profound guidelines on how to drink water, because how we drink also impacts our health. The ancients recommended that water should be drunk at room temperature or warm. On rising in the morning, drinking a glass of warm water with a squeeze of lemon before doing anything else encourages the lymphatic channels in the gut to open and begin to move and flush out waste material, and in doing so, regulates the bowels. It is also suggested to sip rather than take great gulps of water throughout the day. Sipping warm or hot water while eating is also said to aid digestion, clean the mouth and the palate, and enhance taste.18 “
Ironically, people who are constitutionally dry find it difficult to rehydrate simply by drinking more water. It’s like a downpour of rain on land that is impoverished and has been parched for a very long time. The water doesn’t seep into friable soil, instead it turns the deadpan clay on the surface to mud and simply runs off to pool somewhere and evaporate when the rain ceases. With the chronically dry person, the most effective way to rehydrate that I have found is to re-mineralise the body along with drinking water at room temperature (as described above) and using herbs and foods that also have moistening qualities. This three-pronged approach allows the water to be absorbed and to be utilised effectively.
Most people, whether chronically dry or not, are depleted in minerals due to our impoverished soils destroyed by monocropping (devoting vast swathes of land to just producing one type of crop – also known as the fastest way to create a desert.) The food we eat is therefore also devoid of these essential minerals, and the food most people eat is also often highly-processed and high in sodium. This means that we retain water, particularly if we are dry, but the water we retain is largely unusable. At best, it helps us to continue functioning but at sub-optimal levels, just like agricultural inputs of Nitrogen, Phosphate, and Potassium. It allows the land to produce a crop, but it’s end-product nutrition is sub-optimal.
My main recommendations to help people re-mineralise are colloidal trace minerals rich in humic and fulvic acids (which also create friable, fertile soil), and sea vegetables such as kelp, nori, wakame, and dulse. These provide a full complement of the 92+ trace minerals and electrolytes that our body needs to function at optimal levels. This remineralisation also creates the electrical charge within the watery medium needed to absorb and use water effectively, and so we become adequately hydrated ready for our blood and the rest of our body to adapt to the changing climate. Replacing minerals is also essential in the heat as we lose a lot through our sweat and normal processes of elimination.
Herbs such as Marshmallow (Althea officinalis) and Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis) are cooling and moistening. The leaves of any mallow species also exhibit these energetic qualities and can be used, but I like making a cold infusion of Marshmallow root to help cool and rehydrate during the hot and dry season. A cold infusion is prepared by simply taking a teaspoon of dried marshmallow root and adding it to a mason jar filled with 1 litre of water. Let infuse overnight, and it can be placed in the fridge and sipped on throughout the day if the weather is particularly hot or sipped at room temperature if you are chronically dry. The marshmallow has a sweet to neutral taste, meaning that it also imparts a nourishing quality to the tissues. If you don’t have marshmallow growing near you, or can’t obtain the root, other species within the same family can be used – such as the leaves of Malva neglecta or Malva sylvestris (Common mallow), or even Hollyhock leaves and flowers. Marshmallow root infusion is also particularly beneficial for soothing and moistening the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract when there are bushfires around and the air is filled with smoke, or the hot dry winds have blown in dust from across the desert. Most reputable health food shops should stock marshmallow root, which would be a good addition to the first aid kit.
I’ve noticed that Aloe vera or related species such as Candelabra Aloe are more commonly grown in Australian gardens than Marshmallow, and these are a good substitute for marshmallow and can be used to effectively rehydrate a person as well. Simply cut off a good-sized plump leaf, fillet it like some people fillet a fish, cut out the gel and infuse that in cold water, and it will help to rehydrate you (you can also leave the whole leaf intact without filleting it, but be sure to drain the bitter yellow latex out first). It is also particularly useful for sunburn, and other burns. And if planted around the house with other succulent species (such as Houseleek – Sempervivum tectorum on your roof) can protect your house in the case of bushfire. If you have the dreaded Prickly Pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) growing around you, its yellow flowers infused in cold water are also cooling and moistening and make an excellent syrupy infusion used for hot, dry, and irritated mucous membranes (including hot, dry, irritated coughs). The filleted pads themselves are cooling and moistening and can be used in much the same way as Aloe vera (just be sure to use gloves when handling and remove the spines and glochids – the small hair-like spines).
Foods such as cucumber and watermelon are also cooling and moistening and improves hydration. Cucumber makes a refreshing juice and if you juice it with the skin on, you receive the hydrating benefit of its silica content as well. Watermelon seeds and rind can also be eaten (or juiced to make it easier) to enhance remineralisation.
Speaking of foods, it’s amazing that the foods we need for our bodies to cope with the seasons will often grow and ripen in that season. For example, the stone fruits which ripen at the height of summer, are cooling and moistening. We think of juicy peaches, plums, and apricots. Peach leaf is specifically used in herbal medicine for hot, inflamed and irritated conditions as seen by a carmine red & pointed tongue. Mangoes are my favourite. They are also cooling, moistening, juicy, and nourishing. The berry fruits such as blackberries, raspberries, cherries, and blueberries are sour (or sour/sweet) and astringent. These are cooling and drying, and people in hot and wet (humid) areas may find them very refreshing. The rich colour pigments of the Hot season fruits show high anti-oxidant activity, meaning that they are beneficial for protecting our skin from sun-damage and nourishing our body’s immune system for the challenges of this season as a whole.
When approached with wisdom, the sun is vital to our health, but unfortunately, it’s inevitable that most of us will experience a bit of sunburn during the Hot season, and so methods to bring quick relief and effective healing should be known. Fresh aloe vera gel, prickly pear gel, rose petal and lavender infused apple cider vinegar are all cooling and soothing for these and other burns. The rose petal & lavender infused vinegar is also useful for the burning itch of mosquito bites and midgie bites on balmy or sultry summer evenings. To make this cooling vinegar (which is also good for calming red, hot, inflamed teenage acne), simply fill a jar with dried organic rose petals and lavender flowers and then pour raw apple cider vinegar over until the flowers are covered and the jar is full. Screw on a lid and let it infuse for 2-4 weeks before straining and using. Dab on the affected areas with a cotton ball or cloth soaked in the solution.
These are just some suggestions for helping to prepare for and adapt to the season ahead of us. I hope you find them useful.