Two words: Heat. Dome.
As I'm sure many of you already know, the high temperatures throughout the northern hemisphere this summer are absolutely unprecedented. Where I live, in the shady mountains of the Northeast, virtually no one has an air conditioner because, well...we've just never needed them. That seems to be changing, and fast. Heat waves have become much more frequent, and the high temperatures are, well, higher.
Especially for those of us who are unused to such heat, it's very important that we stay in touch with how we're feeling and take extra care to stay cool and hydrated. I speak from experience when I say that heat injury and illness can sneak up on you very quickly.
And even before we reach the point of actually getting sick from the heat, we can experience a range of unpleasant feelings: irritability, headache, tiredness, and the special misery of your legs sticking to every. chair. you. sit. on (which, I would venture, also contributes to the whole irritability thing).
Lucky for us, there are herbs that can support us through the hottest days and keep us feeling cool, calm and hydrated. And the best part is, some of them are probably growing right outside in your yard or garden.
Let's talk about what I mean when I say an herb is "cooling."
In herbalism, we often describe plants based on what we call their energetics - is a herb cooling, drying, moistening, warming? Knowing this about a plant helps us to decide which one of them can help us in different situations.
How can we determine these energetics? Well, it's pretty simple; by taste.
Have you ever chewed a peppermint leaf and felt that zippy rush of menthol? Or felt refreshed and cool after sipping tart lemon water? What you were feeling is the energetic action of the plant on the body.
Sweet or sour plants are often nourishing, moistening and cooling, while spicy and pungent plants are often warming and drying. Pretty intuitive, right?
So, when we have excess heat, and presumed loss of nutrients through excess sweat, what do we need? Sweet and/or sour herbs to replenish nutrients and dial down our internal heat.
Let's take a look at some especially tasty cooling plants, and then I'll share a few recipes to help keep you feeling chill!
Peppermint (Mentha X piperita) or Spearmint (Mentha spicata)
Peppermint and spearmint are both classic cooling plants with a sweet/slightly sour taste and the extra cooling effect of menthol, which helps to bring down the body's temperature. They can also calm tension headaches and upset stomachs - frequent complaints after being out in the heat.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Lemon balm has a bright, citrusy, sour taste. It has antiviral properties, and can help to calm a hot head - both literally and figuratively! It can be a wonderful ally for anxiety and irritability in general, too.
Rose (Rosa spp.)
Roses have a lovely, cooling effect and support the cardiovascular system. They can help to open the heart and to make you feel more relaxed. They also add a really lovely floral, just-a-little-tart quality to summer tea blends. Just make sure that the rose petals you harvest or purchase are non-irradiated and were grown without pesticides! I like to work with the small white multiflora rose, a wild variety that's very abundant where I live. It's a bit less cooling than the pink and red varieties, I've found, but still lovely.
Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
Some people think of lavender as more of a warming herb, and in some circumstances it is, but I believe it's worth mentioning here. Sometimes, counterintuitively, warming plants that help us sweat can bring down our core temperatures and ultimately make us more comfortable - this is why spicy food is popular is warmer climates! The buds of lavender help to gently drive internal heat to the surface and out of the skin. It also helps to calm irritability and promote relaxation - something we all need after a tense day in the heat. And, of course, I think it adds a little whimsy and luxury to your iced tea blends!
Hibsicus (Hibiscus spp.)
With it's tart, sour taste, hibiscus is a naturally cooling, tasty plant. Because it has a slightly demulcent property, it's wonderful when infused in cool water and helps to soothe a parched, dry throat. It also pairs well with the other herbs I'm mentioning here, so it's wonderful to toss into summer blends.
Tulsi basil (Ocimum sanctum)
Holy basil has an indescribably wonderful scent and taste...but I'll try anyway; it's almost like a cross between traditional basil and a stick of bubblegum. It's sweet with a hint of spicy edge, but has an overall cooling, calming effect. And, it's an adaptogen - meaning it can help you adapt to stress.
Cucumbers, lemons, limes and berries
Ok, so, they are not traditionally thought of as 'herbs,' but melons, berries and citrus all have a cooling, nourishing effect (sweet and tart taste!) and can play a big role in helping to keep us cool, refreshed, and hydrated.
I love to add berries or slices of cucumber and melon to my water and herbal tea blends in the summer - so delicious, and it makes you feel like you're at a beautiful spa in the Alps (or at least, that's what you get at spas in the Alps in my imagination...).
Herbal Recipes to Keep Cool
Herbal Refresher Tea
This is sort of a base recipe I use throughout the summer when I want to make a batch of tea. It tends to change a bit based on what's blooming outside, but it always come out great. I highly recommend playing around with different combinations and ratios of the herbs I talked about above! The salt is optional - include it if you want a little extra electrolyte boost. We lose a lot of salt when we sweat, and this is a nice way to replenish it just a little. If you'd like something sweet, honey is a nice addition.
Here is an example blend to get you started:
- 2 Tbsp tulsi
- 3 Tbsp peppermint
- 2 Tbsp rose petals
- 1 Tbsp dried hibiscus
- 1/2 tsp lavender buds*
- 1 pinch salt (optional)
Give all of your herbs a rough chop, add them (and salt if using) to a 1 quart mason jar, cover with hot water, and steep 10-15 minutes. Strain and let cool before serving over ice.
*If using dried herbs, reduce these amounts by 3/4.
Lemon Balm Lemonlimeade
Not the most elegant name but...it is descriptive! I've been making this for the past few summers when I want a little something special.
- A big handful of fresh lemon balm
- 4 cups water
- 1/4 cup sugar. Honey would probably be all right, too.
- 1/2 cup lime juice
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
Give your lemon balm a chop, toss it in a big mason jar (or pitcher), add your sugar, and cover with just-boiled water. Give it a good stir until the sugar is dissolved, then let steep for about 10 minutes before straining out the herbs. Set the brew aside to cool for a little while until it's at room temperature. Mix in the lemon and lime juice and pour over ice into your - garnish with a slice of lime too, if you want to be extra fancy!
Herb and Cucumber Infused Water
This is the summer of fancy water for me, and I'm not sorry about it.
I was inspired by herbalist Kami McBride (look her up if you don't know her, she's fantastic!), when she posted on Instagram about the wonderful herb and citrus infused water she keeps at hand in her kitchen.
Since then I've regularly been making a big beautiful pitcher for myself every few days. Here's what I do:
Add a sliced lemon, a handful of cucumber slices, a small handful of lemon balm, peppermint, and rose petals (and any other cooling herbs you want!) to your favorite pitcher, fill with cold water, and let infuse for a few hours before enjoying.
You can strain out the herbs when taste reaches a strength you like, or if your pitcher has a strainer like mine, just leave them in.
Herbal Ice Cubes
I love how herbal ice cubes dress up a summer drink - they just look so...whimsical. Plus, they slowly release a light, refreshing herbal flavor as they melt.
The melting will, of course, release the plant parts, too, so if you mind chewing on the peppermint leaf or rose petal floating around in your drink, this might not be for you!
To make them, all you have to do is give your fresh herbs a nice chop, add a sprinkle to your ice cube tray, and fill with water. I like to add a mix of peppermint, lemon balm, rose, and hibiscus to mine. Lavender or holy basil would be nice to add in, too!
Stay cool out there friends!