August always makes me long for September. The summer seems to peak into a mixture of insanely unbearable heat and humidity that reminds me of when I was on vacation as a kid and my mom would make me go sit in the sauna because she said it was good for me. I obediently complied but felt myself begin to melt as my temperature went up and the sweat began to pour out of my body. I began to feel limp and every ounce of energy seemed to evaporate out of me. I complained that I couldn’t stand it anymore and left the sweltering heat of that intolerable room. And that is exactly how I feel as August lags on! The older I get, the less tolerance I have for the summer’s intense heat and humidity. Don’t get me wrong, my mouth waters just thinking of biting into buttery fresh corn on the cob and the taste of juicy red watermelon is a summer addiction I have never been able to break. Diving into the cold water at the pool in the summer always feels like being liberated from the heat. But recently even the water feels tepid and stifling.
This is when reach for cooling foods – watermelon, cucumbers, tomato salad and lots of cooling fruits. However, in August when I just can’t take the heat anymore I really feel the need for my herbal allies to help me out. Cooling herbs refresh us on a hot summer day. These herbs also help those who might have what we herbalists would call an “excess” or a predominance of “heat” in their system. This may manifest as sharp pain and inflammation or hyperactivity in any body system. Let me share some of my favorites with you.
Lemon Balm – This is a gentle, calming herb in the mint family that grows so easily in just about any garden. In fact, once you plant it you will have a hard time getting rid of it as it will continually pop up in new spots and you will be pulling it out of the ground to keep in under control. Its aroma is an intensely lemony. Lemon balm is especially calming to people who tend to get overly excited. Michigan herbalist Jim McDonald says lemon balm is good “those who tend to ride on the inertia of their own energy” and I have found this to be true. It helpsyou to slow down a bit to just enjoy the moment. Lemon balm is also very helpful for those who have trouble focusing and also for those experiencing insomnia. Lemon balm not only calms anxiety but also lifts the spirit at the same time.
Hawthorn – The berries of this tree are a deep and decadent red color which indicates their high antioxidant content. Hawthorn is one of the best heart tonics we have in the herbal world. Taken on a regular basis, studies have confirmed that it strengthens the heart muscle and the blood vessels and improves oxygen uptake by the heart. It has been used to lower blood pressure and enhance cardiac output. Hawthorn also helps reduce stress and improves digestion. Hawthorn is high in flavonoids and vitamin C. It helps to build healthy collagen tissue which is why is it great promoting strong blood vessels as well as improving the strength of the tendons and ligaments. I love its sour taste and astringency. Hawthorn is cooling and moistening and is indicated when the tip of the tongue is red (an indication of too much heat (or overactivity) in the mind. Hawthorn combines well with so many different taste profiles. It tastes great with almost any other herb.
Rose – I was always drawn to the wild roses I often saw on the long walks I took as a child on the Iowa prairies. They are gentle, soft and comforting. Their use for love and affection is no mere coincidence as they are a remedy to “open the heart” and bring comfort in times of distress. I often use them in formulas to help those who experience grief and sadness. Rose is very beneficial for chronic situational depression and PTSD. Roses are calming and uplifting. They are a nice finishing touch to a summer tea as they are both cooling and astringent. Roses have a great affinity to the skin. They will down a sunburn when infused in a vinegar preparation, reduce capillary redness and help heal skin abrasions. Their astringency also lends to tightening and toning of the skin when we are losing toomuch moisture through our pores. As we astringe the skin, we are able to retain the moisture which helps cool us in the summer
Hibiscus – A super fruity and sour herb that comes from the beautiful, large tropical flower we all like to grow on our porches in the summer. This herb can be beneficial in helping to lower mild cases of high blood pressure. Hibiscus is high in vitamin C. It is another cooling and moistening summer herb. My mouth puckers just thinking of it.
Lemongrass – I love its gentle lemoniness! Lemongrass is cooling and anti-inflammatory. We often see it in thai foods that contain a lot of heat such as hot peppers. This is because is balances this heat with its cooling properties. Combine lemongrass with hibiscus for a great summer tea. This is a favorite with everyone!
One of my favorite teas is Lemongrass Cooler.
3 parts lemongrass
1 part hibiscus
1 part rose petals
A pinch of cinnamon
Combine the herbs and use one heaping teaspoon
of tea blend per cup of water. I typically use a teaspoon
of dried herbs for a cup of tea. You can sit the tea in the
sun for a couple of hours or pour boiling water over the
tea blend and then let it cool. Add a bit of honey and
and ice and enjoy with a spring of mint!