Field Notes: Herbs for Beating Summer Heat

Summer can be a brutal time of year for your body, especially if you’re not a fan of the heat.

Here is a list of some of my favorite herbs to help me get through to hottest months of the year.

  1. Aloe vera (Aloe vera)
    For soothing sunburns.
    If you’re like me one of your favorite things about warmer weather is basking in the sunshine – in a park, by the beach, or out of town for a weekend by a river or lake. Even if you are vigilant about wearing sunscreen, there may still be some days where you enjoy a little too much sunshine and wind up with a sunburn!
    A bad sunburn can be so uncomfortable it can make simply things like wearing clothes or laying down uncomfortable. If this is the case, aloe is your best friend. Not only does applying the plant’s gel to your skin provide relief from pain by cooling down the burn, but it also has antibacterial properties which will protect the burn from becoming infected. As a bonus, the gel can speed up the healing process by improving circulation to the affected area!
    You can buy aloe in bottles at your local grocery store, or harvest the gel straight from the plant itself. Apply it liberally to affected areas as needed until the burn heals.

  2. Peppermint & Basil  (Mentha piperita & Ocimum basilicum)
    Make refreshing drinks.
    Staying hydrated is important year round but in the summer when we lose so much moisture through our skin it becomes a necessity. Water is necessary for the body to function optimally year-round but in the summer heat dehydration can lead to dizziness, heatstroke, or worse.
    Sometimes it’s not easy to remember to keep sipping, but when fresh leaves of cooling herbs like peppermint and basil are added to water it makes it refreshing and delicious, and you may find yourself sipping from your cup or water bottle a little more regularly.
    In addition to tasting refreshing as flavoring in water or a garnish for summer cocktails, these two herbs also have a plethora of medicinal properties. Basil is good for settling stomach issues as well as promoting mental alertness, while peppermint can help to reduce inflammation and provide a soothing effect.
    The fresh herbs provide flavor when left to soak in water for half an hour or so, and can act as a garnish for other beverages. For a medicinal effect, the dried herbs can be prepared as a tea in larger quantities in advance, and then left to chill for several hours in a refrigerator so they can be sipped cold.

  3. White willow  (Salix alba)
    Dismiss dehydration headaches.
    As previously discussed, it is extremely easy to become dehydrated during the summer months. As you may already know, the majority of headaches are caused by dehydration. Once the body is lacking in fluid, it can take some time to recover and many may reach for aspirin to rid themselves of that pesky headache. However, an ingredient similar to the active ingredient in aspirin can also be found in willow bark. It can not only help you sooth your headaches but works for other aches and pains such as menstrual cramps or that ankle you sprained rock-climbing in the summer sun.
    Willow bark can be taken as a tea or a tincture, and is a effective natural alternative to over the counter headache or pain relief. However, it is quite a powerful herb, so be sure to determine proper dosage before proceeding.

  4. Fennel & Cilantro (Foeniculum vulgare & Coriandrum sativum)
    Cooling culinary herbs.
    Summer brings a bounty of all kinds of fruits and vegetables, making cooking with delicious local ingredients a breeze. When cooking, the warmer weather can be also be taken into consideration when choosing spices. While in the winter may call for warming herbs, the summer is more appropriate for cool, refreshing ones.
    Many people think of herbs as something to be consumed alone in a tea, tincture, or salve. However, a commonly overlooked but equally valuable method of consumption is to incorporate herbs into your cooking.
    While the western world largely ignores this, the the Ayurvedic tradition has long taught that food can be medicinal. According to this ancient school of medicine, Fennel and Cilantro are considered to be powerful cooling herbs when used in cooking. Fennel is purported to be good for digestion and contains fiber and other nutrients, while cilantro is high in a variety of vitamins and minerals and is delicious in both warm and cold dishes.
    In my personal culinary opinion, whether you subscribe to Ayurveda or not these plants as spices are refreshing and simply best suited to cooking in warmer weather.

  5. Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
    Heat induced stress reduction.
    When the sun is shining at it’s brightest and the air is so humid you feel like you could swim through it is when people are most irritable. Heat can cause tempers to flare, and put stress on the body and mind. If you’re looking to literally and figuratively keep your cool in hot weather there are a variety of calming herbal teas that can be prepared to help, Lemon balm being one of my personal favorites.
    This is herb is what’s called a nervine – or a plant medicine that specifically works to calm stress and anxiety. It can have a calming, and in some cases slightly sedative affect on those who drink it. Catnip, skullcap, and chamomile are other gentle calming herbs, so you can see which works best for you. I find lemon balm’s natural lemon texture makes it especially refreshing when cold.
    Lemon balm can be prepared as a strong infusion, and with a little bit of added honey, is a relaxing and delicious alternative to iced tea.

Summer is a season that comes with it’s own set of weather induced ailments and discomforts, but hopefully something on this list has given you an insight into how herbs may be useful in combating them.

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