It has been a hot summer here in Canada so far, and it is important to find ways to cool down and stay properly hydrated. Listening to your body’s cues to drink fluids is crucial in protecting yourself and staying healthy. Of course, clean water is paramount in keeping hydration optimal, but sometimes we have cravings for other refreshing beverages or need more than water.
Unfortunately, many of the drinks we crave in the heat, or drinks advertised as hydrating, are not always the healthiest for us. Although there is nothing like a nice cool beer on a hot day, it is a good idea to limit this to one or two, as alcohol is ultimately dehydrating.
Drinks filled with sugar may quench thirst for the moment, but sugar is inflammatory and essentially “heating” to our body (though calorie intake is important too - it is all about balance). Even cold water, though important and hydrating, may only provide temporary relief from the heat.
So what cool drink can be poured into our goblets to refresh and satisfy our body’s needs? I am a big fan of herbal iced teas. They are not only delicious and refreshing, but certain herbs can cause a cooling effect in the body, as well as having medicinal benefits.
In the holistic herbal medicine and nutrition world, the words “cooling” and “warming” or “heating” sometimes have meaning beyond the literal definitions. For example, a spicy dish or drink can be consumed cool, but still has a heating effect in the body (in modern western culture, we use the word “hot” to imply spice, so the language is not too foreign).
Cooling herbs may also have a scientific cooling action: they may be considered “refrigerant”, meaning lowering the body’s temperature and cooling to the tissues.
Sometimes “diaphoretic” herbs, meaning inducing perspiration, may also ultimately be cooling. It may seem counter-intuitive to encourage sweating, but we sweat to cool the body down (and I’m not talking about consuming hot peppers here).
So what are some herbs you may want to use in your refreshing herbal iced tea? Choose one or two or three from this list to reap the benefits of nature’s internal air conditioners (note it is recommended to contact a health professional prior to consuming new herbs or food, especially if on medications, pregnant or experiencing an ailment).
Lemongrass - A light and delicious, lemon-like flavoured herb that helps heal internal tissues and provides a cooling sensation.
Lavender - A relaxing herb with a lovely floral flavour, known to reduce high blood pressure, relieve anxiety, and encourage rest. Calming herbs are often “cooling” herbs, as slowing down usually leads to cooling (whereas given energy can be heating).
Spearmint or Peppermint - Mint herbs are a more obvious category of coolant herbs that offer cooling refreshment from the moment it hits your mouth. Mint helps cool, tone tissues, and relieve bloating and digestion.
Lemon Balm - A member of the mint family, Lemon Balm is cooling and subtly supports the body in perspiration. I prefer using the fresh leaves of this plant in a tea for an automatic delicious refreshment, though dried leaves will work too.
Chamomile - Gentle yet powerful, Chamomile is a heat-reducing anti-inflammatory herb. It is calming, pain-relieving, aids in sleep, supports headache relief, and promotes skin healing.
Rose - Rose is cooling and calming, but astringent (drying), so only use in small amounts and best paired with water infused with more hydrating foods like cucumber. Rose offers a fresh floral flavour to your cooling tea.
Hibiscus - A wonderful refrigerant herb. It is delicious and tart, and will turn your tea a pretty pink. It pairs well with fruits! Also, beneficial in menopausal hot flashes.
Sage - Sage is anti-sudorific, which means anti-sweating. Though, as we discussed earlier, sweating is a normal and important function of the body’s cooling-down process, sometimes Sage can be valuable when we just cannot stop sweating. It is also useful in night sweats! (and makes a refreshing spray!)
To make your Herbal Iced Tea:
Infuse the herbs in freshly boiled water, as one typically would to make a hot tea.
Allow steeping, covered to contain the aromatics, for about 10 minutes.
Then let cool (or if you wish to consume sooner, pour over a pitcher full of ice).
Add additional fruit or herbs of choice (small amount of honey, rosemary sprig, cucumber, frozen berries, basil, lemon).
Refrigerate and save for up to 3 days. Enjoy as needed. Make ahead and keep a pitcher or two in the fridge.
Lauren Truscott Waddell, RHT, CHHC