When the summer heat is at its peak, we’re all looking for ways to keep cool. The solution to besting high temperatures might just be in your herb cabinet. People in hot climates have long sought specific herbal allies to provide relief on summer’s hottest days. If you’ve ever craved a cold glass of iced tea on a steamy afternoon or a scoop of mint ice cream on a warm night, you already know how refreshing and revitalizing herbs can be.
Among the herbs particularly prized for their cooling qualities are mint, hibiscus, lemongrass, lemon balm, and chamomile. These cooling herbs not only combat the heat, but also calm inflammation.
Mint (Mentha spp.) has an unmistakable aroma. When you taste it, its delicate sweetness is followed by a distinct cooling sensation that comes from menthol, a key botanical compound found in all mints. Mint also contains several antioxidants and similar compounds that help fight inflammation. Traditionally, the herb is used to ease an upset stomach, relax the nerves, and relieve tension.
Look for fresh mint at your local farmers market or grocery store. The leaves should be fragrant and bright green, with its stems plump and straight. While it’s commonly used in herbal teas, you might also take advantage of mint’s cooling properties by adding chopped fresh leaves to salads or smoothies.
After it blooms, the Hibiscus sabdariffa plant forms a thick, juicy pod called a calyx. In herbal traditions, the blood-red calyx is prized for its high vitamin content and its ability to cool the body on hot summer days. The herb makes an appearance in several traditional herbal infusions designed to provide cool refreshment in hot weather. It’s the key ingredient in Mexico’s Agua de Jamaica, Egypt’s Karkade, and Iran’s Chay-e Torsh.
Hibiscus tastes tart with astringent undertones, and this combination can be deeply refreshing and revitalizing, especially in the summer months. In addition, the herb’s deep red color signals its high antioxidant content, and it’s a rich source of various compounds that help cool inflammation.
You can find dried hibiscus in well-stocked herb shops and online. Look for a deep, dark red color, as the strength of the color corresponds to the antioxidant content. Brew hibiscus tea, let it cool, and serve it over ice, or swirl in a spoonful of honey and pour it into popsicle molds for an easy summer treat.
The flavor of lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is bright with a penetrating quality that explodes with notes of citrus and flowers. Native to India, the herb plays a vital role in Ayurvedic medicine, where it’s traditionally used to support digestion, ease nausea, and lift one’s mood. As with many cooling herbs, it’s also anti-inflammatory, thanks to its plentiful antioxidants.
You can find fresh lemongrass in the herb section of most grocery stores, as well as in markets that specialize in Indian and Southeast Asian cuisine. Dried lemongrass is a popular addition to herbal teas, and you can find it in any well-stocked herb shop as well as online.
Like lemongrass, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) has a pleasant citrusy aroma. It brings a zip of lemony tartness to iced herbal teas and has a cooling energy that helps you feel refreshed. In European herbal traditions, lemon balm is used to calm the nerves, ease stress, and support restful sleep.
You can occasionally find fresh lemon balm at farmers markets. However, you’re more likely to find it dried in herb shops or online. The fresh herb is delicious when added to fruit salads and compotes, while the dried herb works well in herbal teas and infusions.
Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) resembles a tiny daisy with its small white flowers. The herb has a sweet, powdery scent and a slightly bitter flavor with notes of apple and pear. It’s among the most well-loved herbs, especially for its ability to relax the nerves and support sound sleep. In addition to these traditional uses, chamomile is strongly anti-inflammatory. It also stimulates digestion, making it an excellent after-dinner tea.
Grow your own chamomile for the freshest flowers, or buy it dried from online retailers or in the bulk bin at your local herb shop or natural foods market.
While a hot mug of chamomile tea is a common remedy for sleeplessness or tense nerves, you can also serve the tea cold over ice. You can also use it to flavor summer cocktails and fruit compotes. Its bittersweet flavor and apple-like aroma make it a delicious partner to the fruits of late summer and early autumn, such as blueberries, grapes, and figs.
Jenny McGruther, NTP, is a nutritional therapy practitioner, herbalist, and the author of three cookbooks, including “Vibrant Botanicals.” She’s also the creator of NourishedKitchen.com, a website that celebrates traditional foodways, herbal remedies, and fermentation. She teaches workshops on natural foods and herbalism, and currently lives in the Pacific Northwest.