In the heat of summer, you can reach for an ice cream to help you cool off temporarily, but the beauty of plants is that they go beyond the gastrointestinal tract and work deep inside the body – on the tissue and cellular levels.
The cycles of seasons can bestow many effects upon the body. Though it seems obvious, sometimes we may not always realize how much our external environment is being reflected within.
This time of year, as the heat of summer has built up outside, so too, can it cultivate within our bodies if not properly kept in balance and in check. Heat related issues can show up in many forms – both physically and emotionally – such as skin disorders, rashes, hives, sunburn, hay fever, canker sores, heat stroke, headaches, heartburn, acid reflux, loose stool, excess sweating, ulcers, irritability, anger, frustration, and restless sleep.
However, rest assured knowing that the botanical kingdom is here to help keep your body cool, calm and in balance with the hot temperatures. In this article, you’ll learn about the cooling nature of some herbs, how to utilize them, and which specific plants can help you keep cool this summer.
Understanding Cooling Plants
Ayurveda, an ancient Indian science, observes the world through qualities, and explains that every substance has an action or effect.
Many herbal traditions consider plants to be heating, cooling, or neutral. In Ayurveda, the action of a plant is referred to as “virya,” and classifies a substance to either be heating or cooling. “Virya” describes the effect a certain herb has on the body.
Taste can help indicate whether a plant will have a heating or cooling effect. Generally speaking, sweet, bitter and astringent tastes can mean a plant is cooling in action. While things that are cold in temperature can help temporarily cool down the body, like ice cream or an icy drink, cooling herbs can have a deeper and long-lasting effect on the body.
Cooling herbs work in several ways: as refrigerants, diaphoretics, and astringents. Refrigerants help lower your body's temperature by way of cooling the tissues, an example of this could be Lemon Balm or Hibiscus. Refrigerants can also have a sedative effect. Plants which are diaphoretic help release heat from the body through inducing sweating and opening the pores. An example of a cooling diaphoretic plant could be Peppermint or Chamomile. Some astringent plants will also support your body’s internal thermostat through helping with circulation. Rose, Yarrow and Blackberry leaf could be considered astringents. Astringents can draw excess water from the tissues and increase urination, helping to reduce bodily heat.
Ways to Use Cooling Plants
There are a wide range of ways to enjoy the cooling nature of a plant.
Drinking tea is a great way to utilize plants to receive their benefits. This summer, you could prepare a large portion of tea, add sweetener if you wish, and store it in the fridge to enjoy over the course of a few days.
It is also refreshing to use cooling herbs topically, like a topical essential oil spray or hydrosol, and topical oils, lotions and creams. Making a DIY lotion, cream or oil is a great way to restore your skin after spending time in the sun. If you are interested, visit our recent blog post to learn about different herbal preparations.
If you are seeking a less complex approach, plants such as Aloe Vera can be used on the skin without having to prepare anything. You could buy Aloe Vera gel, or simply scrape the gel directly from an Aloe leaf and apply it to your body. Plants with cooling properties, such as Aloe Vera, can be great to relieve skin irritation, sun burns, or dry skin.
Let’s take a look at the cooling potential of six different plants, as well as how they can be utilized.
Cooling Herbs For Summer
There are many different species of Mint, which can be both pungent or cooling in nature. Spearmint and Peppermint are most popularly used for their cooling properties, and make for a valuable addition to your apothecary.
The Mint family is often used to help aid stomach upset, indigestion, sore throats, headaches, fevers, and flu symptoms. As tea, Mint has also traditionally been used to calm the mind and nervous system. Ayurveda considers Mint to have clarifying and expanding effects, which can help to ease mental tension .
When applied to the skin as an herbal infused oil, salve or cream, Peppermint creates a stimulating and cooling sensation due to menthol, one of the terpenes found inside the plant. For that reason, it can be effective in easing muscle and joint pain, or tension due to stress, when applied topically.
Consider making a fresh Mint iced tea to drink throughout the day to help keep cool during hot spells.
Coriander is a seed from the Cilantro plant that is commonly used in Ayurveda to treat heat-related issues in the body. It has an affinity for the digestive, urinary and respiratory systems, as well as the blood and plasma .
Coriander has a bitter taste and a cooling quality. The seeds and fresh leaves of Cilantro are typically used medicinally and can help improve digestion and intestinal absorption. Coriander has often traditionally been paired with Cumin and Fennel, both as a tea and in cooking.
Fresh Cilantro juice is said to be a great remedy for allergies, inflammation, urinary tract infections, sore throat, and skin related issues when taken internally. For rashes, itchy skin, or burns, you could grind fresh leaves into a paste and apply it directly to the skin for cooling, calming relief. The simplest way to enjoy Cilantro is to add the fresh leaves to the top of your meals as a garnish. You can also add Coriander powder or whole seeds to your meals.
Rose has been one of my favorite cooling herbs to reach for this summer. It is such a diverse plant to have around. Rose petals are wonderful to use topically when prepared as a serum, oil, lotion or cream. Rose has a calming effect on the skin, and can help to reduce redness, rashes or other irritations. It is also known to be effective in easing symptoms related to arthritis and inflammation in the joints .
You can purchase Rose infused oil to use topically, or you can make your own oil infusion by diluting Rose essential oil into a carrier oil. Sunflower, Jojoba, Coconut or Grapeseed would make good carrier oils for this, as they don’t have a prominent scent. Depending on its intended use, make sure to use a proper dilution ratio by following our dilution guide. You can also buy Rose water (hydrosol) or make your own, and spray it generously onto your skin on hot days to help stay cool and refreshed. Keep it in the fridge for added coolness!
Rose hips, the fruit of the Rose plant, are sour and astringent in taste, but are also considered cooling and drying. They are said to be high in vitamin C and antioxidants. Rose petals and hips have traditionally been consumed as tea to aid problems of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract such as diarrhea, dysentery, colitis, constipation, and inflammatory conditions . Rose has a mystical way of mending matters related to the heart, and is also historically indicated for bodily weakness, cold and flu symptoms and regulating menstruation .
The qualities of Hibiscus are astringent, sweet and cooling, making it a perfect herb to cool you off in the summer heat. Traditionally, many cultures have used the flowers of Hibiscus as incense and tea for medicinal purposes. Today, Hibiscus tea is popularly known for its potential to lower blood pressure. Although enjoying Hibiscus tea may be a delicious and healthy way to help lower blood pressure, always talk to your doctor before taking an herb regularly.
Hibiscus has also been used historically by cultures around the world as an emmenagogue, meaning to induce menstruation, as well as soothe menstrual cramping. Due to its cooling properties, it is also said to be effective in healing and stopping the growth of ulcers .
The sweet, floral aroma of Hibiscus flowers make for a great incense, and can help to clear a busy mind. Due to Hibiscus having antioxidant qualities, the essential oil is widely used topically to support healthy skin and hair.
Ayurveda considers Sandalwood to be bitter, sweet and astringent in taste . Due to these qualities, it is said to have a calming, cooling and awakening effect on the body and mind.
For thousands of years, Sandalwood has been used medicinally to aid inflammation and heat-related issues in the body. It can help relieve headaches, stress, emotions of anger and frustration, and insomnia. It acts on the nervous system, and when utilized as an essential oil or incense, it can relax the mind in the case of anxiety, tension or stress.
Though expensive, Sandalwood essential oil can be added to a carrier oil (such as Grapeseed) and used to help with inflammation, acne, rashes, dryness, irritation, psoriasis, and other skin conditions due to its cooling, soothing nature.
In Ayurvedic medicine, Sandalwood oil is also commonly used in marma therapy, a traditional Ayurvedic massage method, and applied to different energetic points on the body to have a cooling effect. For example, if you are experiencing heat related issues in the GI tract, Ayurveda notes that in certain cases, putting a little bit of diluted Sandalwood oil in your belly button before bed can be helpful.
The spot behind the belly button, in the “grahani” or small intestine, is known as the main site of “pitta dosha” which is the principle of heat and transformation. Putting a cooling oil on this nerve plexus is said to clear excess heat from the grahani. Sandalwood oil could also be used on any marma point on the body to ease tension and stress.
As Sandalwood is struggling in some regions, be sure that your source for Sandalwood is sustainable by making sure it is not wild-harvested from India. Plantation-grown Sandalwood is safe and important to support as it ensures continued growth and awareness around the species. See our sustainably cultivated Australian Sandalwood powder here.
Lemon Balm is a dynamic plant with a wonderful, citrusy aroma. It is a part of the Mint family, and is often used for soothing digestive issues such as abdominal pain, nausea, indigestion, gas and bloating. Lemon Balm has cooling, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, antiviral, anti-depressive effects and is known to target the respiratory, nervous and digestive systems, and is helpful for skin conditions when used topically.
Traditionally, a Lemon Balm herbal poultice is directly applied to the skin for conditions like cold sores and shingles. Diluted essential oil of Lemon Balm has been commonly used for soothing toothaches, and tea or tincture has traditionally been used for migraines, stress, tension, pain relief and menstrual cramps.
To read more on the magic of Lemon Balm and learn how to make carmelite water, check out our recent blog post.
Other Cooling Botanicals
The list of herbs with a cooling effect runs far longer than what has been mentioned above. Plants such as Lavender, Chamomile, Lemongrass, Hawthorn, Elder, Cardamom, Catnip, and Passionflower are a few more examples of cooling plants which could be great to have on hand.
Lastly, don’t forget about all of the wonderful berries that you may have access to in your region. Fresh berries make for a tasty treat, and in general are known to have a cooling and cleansing effect on the body.
Cooling Summer Drink Recipe
Enjoy this herbal iced tea on a hot day this summer. This simple recipe is to ensure you feel refreshed on a sunny afternoon!
1/2 tbsp fresh or dried Lemon Balm leaves
1/2 tbsp Rose petals (or Rose Hips)
1/2 tbsp Hibiscus
½ tbsp Lavender
6 cups of water
¼ cup honey (or stevia, Elderberry syrup, or any sweetener you desire)
A slice or two of fresh Lemon or Lime
Please feel free to add any other herb you think would be tasty to include.
- Pour 6 cups of water in a pot and bring to a boil, then turn the stove off and remove the pot from heat.
- Add your herbal blend of Hibiscus, Lemon Balm, Lavender and Rose (other herbs optional) to the hot water and cover. Allow it to steep for 15-20 minutes, then strain out the plant material.
- Stir in the honey or any other sweetener you choose.
- Give the tea a taste, and see if you may need to add more water or sweetener.
- Add a slice of Lemon or Lime, if you want, some decorative fresh Lavender.
- Serve chilled with lots of ice and enjoy!
Store your iced tea in the fridge and consume it within two or three days.
Article Written By Dawn Gibson
- Lad, V. & Frawley D. (1986). The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine.
- V.M. Jadhav, R.M. Thorat , V.J. Kadam & N. S. Sathe. (2009). Traditional medicinal uses of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis.
- Wood, M. (2004). The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism.
© 2022 The Northwest School of Aromatic Medicine. All rights reserved.
*The statements above have not been evaluated by the FDA, and are for educational purposes only. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This article should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult your physician before you use this information for health purposes.