How to Beat the Summer Heat with these Herbal Tips & Tricks

Jul 12 / Alberto Carbo
Although the summer heat may be something we crave all winter long, once the sun reaches its full height in the summer sky, the heat can certainly be overwhelming, uncomfortable, and outright dangerous if one is not careful.

Thankfully there are plenty of ways to lower our body temperature, and nobody knows how to keep cool better than the plants themselves. For millions of years, plants have been withstanding the scorching sun, creating shade and shelter for the mobile, yet more vulnerable creatures while simultaneously pulling water up from the depths of the earth and releasing it in an almost invisible mist into the atmosphere.

Like magical alchemists, these green beings not only tolerate the heat but also use the fiery energy of the sun in combination with carbon dioxide to propagate the very element which sustains and energizes every single cell in our bodies. Over millennia they perfected the art of working with the elements and are largely responsible for the green and luscious landscapes we inhabit today.

To learn the plants’ secrets to staying cool, we went to those who are closest to the plants to ask for advice. We enquired with the Matthew Wood Institute of Herbalism Faculty to gain some insight into the best ways to beat the summer heat.

Hydration seems to be the most prominent recommendation. This makes sense, as we all know what happens to plants when they do not get enough water. This can serve as a visual reminder of what happens to our bodies when we fail to stay hydrated. It is important to note, as it can often go unnoticed - until it is too late.

Seán Pádraig O’Donoghue’s
 favorite cooling summer herb is Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis. By simply putting fresh leaves in a water bottle or adding it to salads, it can help to dial back bodily temperature. He has even used it in cases where people are profoundly overheated, recounting his work in first aid at festivals in western Maine. People who partied all night, into the cool early morning hours would bundle up before settling in their tents, only to wake up to scorching summer sun and a sauna-like tent. A dropperful of Lemon Balm tincture, and some water would be enough to quickly bring a disoriented and belligerent camper to a calmer and clearer state. With a friendly reminder to hydrate, they would soon be on their way. 

Seán Pádraig O’Donoghue co-teaches: Holistic Pharmacology for HerbalistsPsychological Herbal Assessment, and Herbal Tonics.  

Chris McPadden
 primarily uses two plant allies to keep cool during the summer heat: 1 herb – Sweet Leaf/Bee Balm, Monarda fistulosa, and 1 tree – Basswood/Linden flowers, Tilia spp.

Chris McPadden co-teaches: History, Philosophy, and Science of Herbalism and Animal Medicine

Judy Lieblein
 shared some insightful recipes that we can implement to help keep us hydrated. As she so wisely reminds us, staying hydrated is the best way to keep the body functioning optimally, by helping to regulate the bowels and digestion, supporting lymphatic flow, and decreasing dryness in the skin/eyes and joints. Hydration also helps to reduce irritation in the mind and body, easing allergy symptoms, and facilitating thermoregulation.

She also shares some useful tips for staying hydrated. Did you know that drinking room temperature water, or warm water will hydrate us much more efficiently than drinking cold water? She also recommends drinking at least one cup of water before and in between any coffee we may have.

Here are her wonderful, practical recipes:
  • 1 handful of fresh Chickweed, Stellaria media, with 2 cups of pineapple juice. Blend and enjoy!
  • 1 cup chilled Hibiscus tea, Hibiscus sabdariffa, mixed with one cup of lemonade. You can add fresh spearmint for a wonderful variation
  • 1 cup Aloe juice, Aloe barbadensis, blended with 2 cups of fresh watermelon. (Pickle the leftover watermelon rinds for a treat to accompany your BBQ fare.)
  • 1 cup coconut water blended with your favorite fruit. Judy likes mango or pineapple for a tropical twist.
  • Water with sliced cucumbers, or water with frozen strawberries and a sprig of mint, Mentha spicata.

Judy also likes to spray rose, Rosa spp. hydrosol on the back of her neck and face, creating a cooling, soothing and relaxing effect. She also suggests peppermint, Mentha piperita, hydrosol for a ‘cooling pick-me-up’.

Finally, Judy recommends Elderflower essence, Sambucus spp. for sun aversion, which some consider a type of sun allergy.

Judy Lieblein joins us in Herbs A-Z.  

Francis Bonaldo, LAc
 also mentions the ‘sun allergies’ that people seem to be dealing with these days, resulting in big hive-like rashes, that can last anywhere from several minutes to several hours, covering large areas of the body. Although one would instinctively think that the body is in need of ‘cooling’ remedies Francis’ experience has shown him otherwise, as almost everyone with this condition has a very pale tongue! This means warming remedies are what the body is asking for.

Francis has come to find a combo that works nine out of ten times, combining equal parts of Stinging Nettles, Urtica dioica, Burdock root, Arctium lappa, and Sage leaf, Salvia officinalis. Francis has seen this formula work so effectively, that this paradoxical condition resolves, and does not even return the following year. This combination can be used as a tea or a tincture: 5-10 drops a few times per day.

Francis Bonaldo, LAc co-teaches Practical Herbalism from the Renaissance: A Voyage with Culpeper and Pulse Assessment

Matthew Wood, MS
 has also seen this condition, noting that the puffiness around the eyes is noticeable, with redness and fullness of the tissues, almost resembling a bee-sting. People who experience this tend to say “yes, I am allergic to the sun!” Matthew recommends homeopathic Apis mellifica 6x, 6c up to 30.

Another recurring ailment that Francis encounters in the clinic due to the intense summer heat and humidity is a lethargic feeling accompanied by horrible swelling in the legs and ankles. He explains that this is due to the heart struggling to deal with excessive heat and humidity. A remedy he has found to work as a ‘seasonal summer mix’ is equal parts Dandelion, Taraxacum officinalis leaf, or leaf and root, with Hawthorn berry, Crataegus spp. This combination helps people feel light, reduces the chance of heavy swelling, and keeps people cool throughout the summer.

Matthew Wood, MS
 also raves about the cooling properties of Hawthorn and the infinite combinations one could create. For example, one part Solomon’s Seal, Polygonatum biflorum, combined with seven parts Hawthorn, opens up the chest alleviating circulation and easing the breath.

To enable and encourage Hawthorn to reach the far corners of the capillaries, as well as to increase coronary circulation, Matthew recommends combining with Yarrow, Achillea millefolium.

In cases where the blood does not reach the head well, known as ‘heart blood deficiency’ producing nighttime wakefulness, or ‘heart not soring the spirit’, Matthew recommends either Hawthorn by itself, or combined with cooked Rehmannia root, Rehmannia glutinosa. People with this condition tend to fall asleep well but consistently wake up in the middle of the night. Hawthorn and Rehmannia soothe and cool, promoting undisturbed sleep.

Matthew talks about the damp, humid, hot weather that travels north from the Gulf of Mexico spreading throughout North America, which is a weather pattern also recognized in Chinese herbalism. Matthew usually uses homeopathic Gelsemium – 30x or 30c, when this weather pattern is making people feel enervated and lethargic.

For general cooling, Matthew’s favorite is cherry liquor, about ¼ shot glass a few times a week. It is good for the heart, circulation, and capillaries. Cherry can be substituted by Wild Cherry, Prunus serotina, which are both cousins of the Hawthorn. Echinacea is cooling and energizing and can be useful for driving at night – like coffee. Resembling sorrel, the sour taste of Yellow Dock, Rumex crispus, reminds us of its cooling nature.

Perhaps the most practical, yet wildly effective cooling summer beverage is cucumber water. Matthew teaches a whole class on cucumber water and Solomon’s seal in Herbs A-Z. It is simple: cut off the tips, slice the cucumber in half, and place it in water. Place in the fridge for three hours. The cucumber juice will leach into the water, resulting in a refreshing, cooling, and tasty beverage, full of electrolytes. Matthew refers to it as ‘herbal air conditioner’ and prefers it to regular cucumber. If you work outdoors this is especially handy!

Be sure to use organic cucumbers, especially if they are grown outside of the USA. They, tend to get sprayed with nematode poison that can cause ‘idiopathic kidney failure syndrome’, resulting in passing excessive amounts of sugar.

If you are new to herbalism, cooling remedies are one of the most wonderful ways to witness the incredible abilities of the plants to support homeostasis. After all, it is so easy to visualize heat manifesting in the body, and something that most people are familiar with. Try out one of the cooling remedies suggested above and experience the cooling effects of the plants for yourself!

We hope that these insightful cooling remedies will help you make the most of the beautiful summer weather, after all staying hydrated and cool will enable you to stay out there longer, communing, building, and strengthening your relationships with the plants.

As always make sure to forage for plants away from roads and pollution as much as possible. Never overharvest any plant, as they are of course not only here for our enjoyment, but also here for the insects, bees, and birds. Have fun out there!
The information provided in this digital content is not medical advice, nor should it be taken or applied as a replacement for medical advice. Matthew Wood, the Matthew Wood Institute of Herbalism, ETS Productions, and their employees, guests, and affiliates assume no liability for the application of the information discussed.