Summer is a season of growth, heat, sun, beauty and maturation. The warmth and sun bring out the abundance of leaves, flowers, fruit, and seeds.
Because of the long days and warm nights, there is much to appreciate during the summer months—dinner on the patio, swimming, exploring the trails, and sleeping under the stars. There is also the unpleasant side–the excess heat of summer can cause lethargy, irritability, and discomfort.
There are many ways to keep our cool during summer through foods, herbs, and beverages. The seasonal abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables enables lighter fare such as green salads, fruit salads, a variety of vegetable dishes, and cold soups.
Fresh rasberries. Courtesy photo
In herbal medicine, many foods are considered medicine, and impart certain properties such as heating and cooling. In summer, we can choose cooling foods, such as cucumbers, raspberry, and watermelon. For an ethnic twist, lotus seed, lily bulb and longan fruit are cooling herbs available in some health food stores or Asian markets.
Foods and herbs with a bitter flavor are considered cooling, such as greens like endive, escarole, watercress, nettles, and dandelion. Pungent or spicy foods and seasonings such as cayenne, curry, salsa, and green chile, can cause perspiration, and thus contribute to cooling by the opening of pores and cooling of the damp skin.
By enhancing the flavor of food with lemon juice, parsley, basil, cilantro and other fresh herbs, we receive a cooling benefit, and our palate reaps the benefit of the abundant flavors and scents.
Many edible flowers can also enhance the beauty and flavor of summer dishes. The petals of fresh borage, marigold, roses, honeysuckle, New Mexico locust, lavender, sunflower and nasturtium delight with flavor and spark culinary creativity.
Nettles. Courtesy photo
Staying hydrated during the summer is especially important to maintaining our daily health and comfort. Beverages can be enhanced with a variety of herbs, essential oils, and herbal ice cubes. A squeeze of lemon or lime in pure water can help quench thirst and flush the liver. Herbal iced teas provide an abundance of trace minerals, help to clear internal heat, and are cooling and nourishing. My favorite summer iced-tea herbs include nettles, hawthorn, lemon balm, honeysuckle, red clover spearmint, peppermint, raspberry leaf, and strawberry leaf
- Hawthorn leaf and flower (Crataegus species) strengthens the heart and vascular system and aids digestion.
- Yellow chrysanthemum(Chrysanthemum morifolium) clears internal heat, relieves fever and chills.
- Lemon balm(Melissa officinalis) clears heat from the body by gently opening the pores; is antimicrobial, and helps to relieve fever.
- Red clover(Trifolium pratense) clears heat from the body and improves circulation.
- Spearmint(Mentha spicata) and peppermint (Mentha piperita) help lower body temperature by opening the pores; both are considered antimicrobial.
- Raspberry leaf(Rubus idaeus) and strawberry leaf (Fragaria vesca) are rich in minerals. Raspberry leaf is well known as a uterine tonic, and is especially helpful during the last trimester of pregnancy.
Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) clears heat, is an immune stimulant, an expectorant, antispasmodic, is strongly antiviral and antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, is considered a uterine stimulant, a relaxant nervine, astringent, and lymphatic.
Herbal Blending. Courtesy photo
Make a sun tea by placing four heaping teaspoons of any of these herbs, or in combination, in a quart glass jar filled with water, and place in a sunny location for three hours. Strain, flavor with honey or lemon if desired. Herbal ice cubes can be made by making mint tea or lemon balm tea, and freezing in ice-cube trays. One herbal leaf or flower petal per cube can be added for visual interest and flavor.
Another fun way to take advantage of fresh summer fruits and herbs is to make your own sparkling drinks by adding a few spoonfuls of fresh, crushed fruits such as raspberry, peach, apricot, or strawberry, some fresh-squeezed lemon, crushed or muddled lemon balm leaves, mint leaves, and fresh flower petals, and filling the glass with natural sparkling water.
Topically, essential oils can be used to make cooling spritzers that will uplift your energy, soothe your nerves, and decrease stress. Make a spritzer by filling an 8-ounce spray bottle with spring water, 10 drops of lavender, 10 drops of peppermint, and 10 drops of lemon essential oils. A couple of drops of vanilla extract can be added to the blend, or as a teaspoon of witch hazel, which are both used as carriers. With eyes and mouth closed gently spray head, face and neck to cool off and soothe your senses. Another great way to cool off is to soak in a lukewarm bathtub with added peppermint, lemon, and lavender essential oils.
Finally, take advantage of the cool hours in summer by waking early to enjoy the morning air, especially for more strenuous activities such as hiking, running, or biking. Upon waking, go outside and enjoy the fresh morning light. Drink your morning coffee or tea on the deck, patio, or in the garden. Eat dinner outside, and go for a walk at dusk to enjoy the falling evening temperature.
While our American lifestyle doesn’t typically include napping, many other cultures, especially in hot areas, utilize the afternoon siesta as an effective way to avoid the mid-day heat, regain energy, and to simply slow down for part of the day. Whenever possible, take advantage of the benefits of napping for overall health maintenance.
Enjoy the beauty of summer!
Kristi Beguin is a clinical herbalist, birth doula, and ecologist. She specializes in women’s and family wellness, and offers a variety of wellness classes, personal development programs, and health consultations. Visit www.kristibeguin.com to learn more about her individual and group programs and services.