August    |    Cooling

Staying Comfortable in Hot Months

The first cup moistens my lips and throat. The second cup breaks my loneliness. The third cup searches my barren entrails but to find therein some thousand volumes of odd ideographs. The fourth cup raises a slight perspiration — all the wrongs of life pass out through my pores. At the fifth cup I am purified. The sixth cup calls me to the realms of the immortals. The seventh cup — Ah! but I could take no more! I only feel the breath of the cool wind that raises in my sleeves…Let me ride on this sweet breeze and waft away thither. ~Lo T'ung (a Chinese literary hero)

Hot is my favorite weather, cold least. Still there are sweltering times when nothing comforts like coolness. A splash of water, a glimmering pool, a plunge into ocean waves, a long drink, watermelon… 

Energetics

Ethnobotanist and Herbalist, David Winston…”throughout the great systems of herbal medicine, energetics is universal. Whether talking about Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, Unani-tibb, Campo from Japan, or Native American traditions, there is a system of energetics that matches the herb to the person instead of trying to treat a disease…”

I spent four years studying with David Winston; his knowledge of herbal medicine traditions is amazing. He teaches through the system of energetics. He explains that some herbs are cooling, some are warming, some are drying, some are moistening, some are sedating and some are stimulating. Matching the herb to the person, a warm herb to someone who is cold, a moistening herb to someone who complains of dryness, is using energetics. The concept differs from labeling herbs as good for specific conditions, a headache, depression, or menopause for example. Energetics involves sitting with a person, learning about them then applying the properties of a plant, its taste and actions, expressly to help with their individual condition or concern.

Energetics is a way that plants speak: I will heat things up. I will moisten. I have a bitter bite. I will chill things down. In order to get to know a plant better, listen to their energetics, listen to what they are telling you and allow it to help best determine their use.

Cooling Energetics

Ray Bradbury…the best scientist is open to experience and romance – the idea that anything is possible.

Cooling body temperature involves more than just hot and cold, dry and damp matter. Where I live in the Northeastern US, intense humidity compounds the heat of summer days. Moisture and dampness in the air feel stifling; humidity makes it feel hotter than the thermometer reads. In humidity we sweat less. Because the moisture in the air prevents evaporation, the sweat cooling mechanism gets blocked. In contrast, desert climates of western states and places like the Middle East, Turkey, and Southeast Asia contend with dry hot. Traditionally people cooled off drinking hot tea. Hot beverages raise the internal body temperature, which produces sweat. When the sweat evaporates from the skin hot energy is released into the air. Being in dry heat causes sweating, drinking hot tea increases that sweating resulting in a cooling sensation.

Plant constituents and their properties help explain how herbs work. Diaphoretics and aromatic volatile oils induce sweating, the body’s natural way of cooling off. Bitter tasting herbs are cooling in nature and clear heat through elimination of toxins. Many heat-clearing herbs are also antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, reduce fever, protect the liver and heart, as well as lower blood pressure. It is hard to imagine that ancient cultures knew about cooling plant properties, but their practices indicate they did. Energetics seems esoteric but the ability to determine a plant’s chemical constituents helps substantiation of theoretical concepts.

How Heat Affects Us

17th century English poet, Robert Herrick…a spark neglected makes a mighty fire.

Traditional systems of medicine like Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or Ayurveda treat excessive heat accumulation in the body seriously. Heat progression from mild warmth to extreme fire creates internal imbalances and depending on severity can cause injury to body organs and systems. Herbs categorized as energetically heat-clearing are cold, bitter or sweet, and drying, all strong characteristics.

Signs that indicate over hot include intense thirst and desire for cold drinks, mental restlessness and irritability, lethargy, red face, dry stools, scanty dark urine, feeling your pulse pounding, red tongue. Internal heat looks and feels like pain that burns, raised red skin eruptions, burning in the stomach or bitter taste. Heat can be from external sources, like summer heat, but can happen in winter, too. That painful sore throat or fever is heat that would benefit from cooling therapy, such as herbal teas. Heat can also build internally from food we eat, too much alcohol, spicy or greasy foods. Or emotional problems, pent up anger, hot tempers and stress. Irregular work schedules and lack of sleep create an environment of heat. And hormones especially changes at the time of menopause cause heat signs like hot flashes and night sweating. Cooling herbs help the body release heat, either generally or in one particular organ, so the internal heat will not create chaos.

Traditional Cooling Mode

Japanese Scholar and author of The Book of Tea, Okakura Kakuzo…tea began as a medicine and grew into a beverage.

Before there was air conditioning, before ceiling fans, before ice machines and refrigeration, nature was cool reliance. People who live in humid and hot regions know intuitively what to do, traditions passed down since ancient times. In China the remedy is Liáng chá, translation “cooling tea” originating from the Southern region of China, a tropical climate, lots of heat and damp humidity. The recipe for Liáng chá is elusive and different secret formulas are difficult to define. In China this beverage out sells soda, by far, so much so that retail Liáng chá houses exist everywhere. Their competitive sales market parallels the Coke/Pepsi wars in the United States. Two rival Liáng chá companies exist, one that makes it in a red can and one in a green box. Not only are they fighting for popularity, they are fighting for use of the name, ingredients, and advertising space. Marketing of Liáng chá in China emphasize health benefits in addition to cooling ability of herbal teas challenging choice over “gassy, artificially sweetened drinks” aka soda. The common main ingredients are mint, chrysanthemum, longan fruit and honeysuckle, all well known for their cooling ability, no tea leaves just herbs, all with traditional uses. The red can is called Wang Lo Kat or Wanglaoji. It is available on Amazon.

The Drinks of Chill

Author, Jane Austen…what dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance.

Lemonade the American refresher, actually originated in Egypt as a peasant’s wine, lemon juice mixed with dates or honey. An ice-cold drink, whatever it may be, is what we do here in the US. In other hot climates of the world, people go with other options. Icy beverages are hard on the body; they make it work hard and may cause digestion problems. Have you ever felt bloated after a milkshake or other frozen drink? Still hydration is important. Herbal teas work with the body to cool it down. Peppermint, spearmint, sage, all energetically cooling prepared as tea and added to lemonade, smoothies, mixed with seltzer for herbal soda, or coconut milk are options. Below are some other global examples.

India

In Northern provinces, the area where the Taj Mahal resides, Sattu is the cooling summer drink – made with sattu flour, a roasted gram flour, the Western garbanzo bean or chickpea flour, Bob’s Red Mill makes a version. Known for its nutritive benefits, gram flour is gluten free, high in protein, fiber, and minerals. Ayurveda classifies sattu as energetically cooling and cleansing. It is a staple ingredient for many Indian classic foods. Two versions exist, sweet and savory. Gram flour is mixed with water to which lemon juice, crushed mint leaves, black pepper, cumin powder, and salt are added for the savory version. It is served chilled over ice. The sweet sattu is gram flour mixed with milk and jaggary, a rich brown sugar, almost molasses like.

Lassi – also from Northern India, is a blended yogurt drink made with fruit or spices such as cardamom and saffron. Usually the yogurt is a homemade curd, blended with water and sugar and served chilled.

Middle East/Turkey/Southeastern Asia

Hot Tea – yes hot tea, any kind. Counterintuitive perhaps, but hot tea causes sweating under conditions like the hot, dry desert climates of this area of the world ultimately creating a cooling effect.

Sharbat - a sparkling relative of lemonade, with herbal, floral, and fruity varieties. The base is a syrup infused with herbs: rose, willow, mint, basil or fruits like orange, lemon, lime, pomegranate, mango really any would do. Water and ice finish it off.

Latin America

Aqua de Jamaica – flor de Jamaica, otherwise known as hibiscus flowers are well known for their cooling properties. To prepare, combine 1 quart water with an 1/8 inch piece of ginger, finely grated in a saucepan and bring to a boil, then remove from heat and add ½ cup dried hibiscus flowers and ½ cup sugar, cover and steep for 10 minutes, strain, stir in one or two teaspoons of lime juice and serve chilled or over ice.

Horchata (don’t pronounce the “H”) – this blend of rice milk, ground almonds, cinnamon, and sugar has cooling properties of its own, but is often a beverage accompaniment to spicy foods. The highly chili seasoned foods of Latin America serve the same sweating purpose as drinking hot tea. Drinking the cooling milkshake-like horchata cools the palate and balances tastes.

Cooling Foods

  • Cucumber
  • Watermelon
  • Asparagus
  • Leafy greens
  • Salads
  • Tofu
  • Rice
  • Corn
  • Berries
  • Mango
  • Pineapple

Cooling Herbs

  • Wintergreen
  • Peppermint
  • Spearmint
  • Borage
  • Hibiscus
  • Elderflower
  • Sage
  • Coriander
  • Dill
  • Mulberry
  • Longan fruit
  • Lemon balm
  • Lemongrass
  • Bacopa
  • Shatavari
  • Dandelion
  • Bitter Melon
  • Goldenseal

Warming Spices (that can also cool)

These are warming and sweet not pungent. Pungent herbs would increase heat. Sweet and warm herbs stimulate perspiration for a cooling effect.

  • Cardamom
  • Fennel
  • Saffron
  • Cumin

References

Maciocia, G. The Foundations of Chinese Medicine. New York: Churchill Livingstone, 2004, p691-698.

Wood, M. The Book of Herbal Wisdom. Berkley California: North Atlantic Books, 1997.

Pitchford, P. Healing with Whole Foods. Berkley California: North Atlantic Books, 2002.

Chen, J.K. and Chen, T.T.: Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology. City of Industry California: Art of Medicine Press, Inc.; 2012.

Wang, J., et al. Phlegm-dampness constitution: genomics, susceptibility, adjustment, and treatment with Traditional Chinese Medicine. Am J Chin Med. 2013;41(2):253-62.