As summer comes around again, many of us are looking for ways to keep cool while enjoying the sun. A sweltering day may have us longing for ice cream and cold drinks, but these treats provide only temporary relief.
Looking for a way to cool down from the inside out? Cue herbs.
You may not have considered medicinal herbs as an option for cooling down on a hot day, but there are plenty of plant companions that may help you kick the heat.
Most herbal traditions classify herbs as either heating, cooling, or neutral. So, if the heat’s got you down, focus on herbs that are known for their cooling properties.
According to Benjamin Zappin, LAc, herbalist, and co-founder of Five Flavors Herbs, cooling herbs may fall into one or both of the following categories: refrigerants and diaphoretics.
Refrigerants work by lowering your body’s temperature and cooling its tissues. They include:
- lemon balm
Diaphoretics encourage perspiration, or sweating. They include:
- lemon balm
It may feel counterintuitive to use an herb that encourages sweating. But Zappin notes that many cultures in hot climates throughout the world use chili products to work up a sweat, since sweating is basically your body’s version of air conditioning.
Still, don’t worry about dripping with sweat after using herbs. The effect of diaphoretics is much more subtle.
According to classical Ayurvedic physician and director of Shubham Ayurveda Clinic, Yashashree (Yash) Mannur, BAMS, Ayurveda classifies foods and herbs according to six “tastes.” These are:
Similarly, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) classifies five tastes for foods and herbs. They are:
The tastes of an herb or food determine what kind of action they’ll have in your body. According to Mannur, sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes all have cooling actions.
“The most heating taste is salty, then sour, then pungent,” she says.
Chilies, for example, are considered both pungent and astringent in Ayurveda, says Mannur. This means that though they taste hot and are heating to the tissues, they do have some cooling qualities.
While sweet taste is also cooling, it’s important to choose foods that are mildly sweet, like melon, peeled almonds, or milk if you’re able to digest it. This ensures that you’re not offsetting the benefit of the cooling quality with too much sugar.
The ‘action’ of herbs
Mannur emphasizes that there’s a big difference between something that’s cool to the touch or taste buds and something that actually cools your body down.
The latter refers to the “action” the herb has on the body, known as “vīrya” in Ayurveda.
“Most of us are deceived by all the ways that we try to achieve cooling,” Mannur says. “We try to achieve cooling by cool temperature, which only remains cool for a while. Once it interacts with the body temperature and the digestive fire acts on it, that cooling temperature is gone.”
And while the sensation of cold foods, like ice cream, may provide temporary psychological relief, it doesn’t actually do anything to lower your overall body temperature.
“The effect of that cooling temperature remains only while it’s in the mouth. The body doesn’t receive any cooling, but it keeps on asking, keeps on asking,” says Mannur. “So no matter how much ice cream you eat, you’re not going to feel a cooling effect in the body.”
On the other hand, cooling herbs act on your body’s tissues, not just your taste buds.
Herbal traditions say heat goes deeper than just the weather. According to Zappin, external expressions of heat can be physical as well as mental or emotional.
They may include:
- racing thoughts
“Our modern life and emphasis on productivity, rapid mentation, and technology inherently draws people from a state of quietude to a heated state of consciousness,” says Zappin.
In addition, some people may benefit from heat while others don’t.
“The body may have different metabolic needs in response to heat. Some respond well and need it to feel more alive and experience more vitality. For some people, it’s oppressive,” Zappin says.
Because herbal systems like Ayurveda and TCM approach healing from a whole-person perspective, the cooling herbs below can help bring balance to heat-induced issues that run deeper than just a day spent in the sun.
Try the herbs below to bring the temperature down.
Coriander, or cilantro in Spanish, is considered a cooling herb. One
How to use it: Coriander makes a great addition to soups, sauces, and salads. It’s a popular staple in guacamole.
Mint is well-known for its cooling sensation, and it’s often used in lip balms, cough syrups, and even alcoholic drinks (mojito, anyone?). Just a few varieties of mint include spearmint, peppermint, and pennyroyal.
Peppermint oil is used widely in herbal medicine for gastrointestinal issues.
According to a
It also has antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and nerve-calming effects.
How to use it: Drink it as a tea, take it in capsules, or make a spritzer to spray on your body for instant relief (recipe below).
Though technically not an herb, rose is a popular and versatile plant in traditional herbal medicine, with anti-inflammatory properties.
- ease pain
- soothe burns
- reduce depression
- calm anxiety
- improve sexual dysfunction
Still, most of these studies were conducted on animals. More conclusive results with larger sample sizes are needed to confirm the benefits in humans.
- migraine headaches
Dill is a culinary herb that’s been shown in traditional medicine to have antioxidant, antiprotozoal, antibacterial, and anticancer properties. A
How to use it: Use dill to add flavor to soups, stews, sauces, dressings, and dips. It makes a great garnish for potatoes, goes well in omelets, and is commonly used to flavor pickles.
Pro tip: Because they’re fermented and sour, pickles are typically considered a heating food, so you might want to avoid eating them when you’re trying to cool down.
Chamomile tea is well known traditionally for its ability to soothe digestion, calm the nerves, and encourage sound sleep. This gentle herb packs a surprising punch.
According to a 2017 review, it may offer relief for an extensive number of maladies, including:
- wounds, skin irritations, eczema, bruises, burns, and rashes
- nerve conditions like neuralgia and sciatica
- rheumatic pain and gout
- ulcers, canker sores, and hemorrhoids
- headache and migraine
- mastitis and cracked nipples
- eye infections, blocked tear ducts, and conjunctivitis
Still, it’s important to note that there is a need for more human studies to confirm these findings.
How to use it: In addition to drinking tea, you can use chamomile oil topically to ease rashes, eczema, arthritis, and back pain.
Lemon verbena, or Aloysia citrodora, has been shown to have a number of beneficial characteristics, according to 2018 research.
- anxiolytic or anxiety-reducing
- sedative effects
It’s also been used traditionally for diarrhea, flatulence, insomnia, and rheumatism. Still, it’s important to note that lemon verbena hasn’t been fully assessed for safety and efficacy in humans.
How to use it: Because of its lemony flavor, lemon verbena makes a great addition to jellies, sauces, and seasonings. Use it to make a pesto or vinaigrette, or steep it as a tea.
Another herb with a variety of uses, a 2020 review noted that chickweed has been used in traditional medicine for:
- skin infections
- gastric ulcers
- stomach cramps
Many scientific studies have been conducted on mice, and more research is needed to determine the effects of chickweed in humans.
How to use it: Chickweed can be applied topically, infused in oil, made into tea, or eaten raw or cooked.
Cardamom is a flavorful culinary spice often used in traditional Indian cooking.
Cardamom intake was shown in a 2020 review to significantly reduced triglyceride levels in humans. This indicates that cardamom could play an indirect role in improving symptoms of metabolic disorders.
How to use it: Cardamom is frequently used in cooking or baking, especially in curries and stews or gingerbread cookies, as well as in chai tea.
Elderberries are high in vitamin C, dietary fiber, and antioxidants.
Both the berries and the flowers of the elderberry plant contain beneficial nutrients.
Hibiscus trees produce beautiful ornamental flowers that can be used to make a variety of remedies.
According to a 2020 study, the positive phytonutrient profile in hibiscus tea may have benefits for:
- cardiovascular well-being
- oxidative stress
- insulin resistance
Still, longer and larger human trials are needed.
How to use it: Hibiscus flowers make a lovely red-colored tea and can also be used in relishes, jams, or salads.
Lemongrass is another powerhouse herb that makes a cooling treat. A
How to use it: A common addition in Thai and other Southeast Asian cuisine, lemongrass has a bright, citrusy scent and distinct flavor. Add it to soups, curries, and sauces; use it in aromatherapy; or make it into a tea.
- digestive disorders
- skin and eye ailments
How to use it: Goldenseal is used in lotions, drops, sprays, eyewashes, and feminine hygiene products. You can take it as a tea, tincture, extract, or powder — but be sure to speak with a qualified herbal practitioner for proper dosage.
Oregon grape is used in TCM for heat-related conditions like:
How to use it: Many people prefer to take Oregon grape as a tincture because of its bitter flavor. You can eat the tart berries of the plant or turn them into a tea.
This cooling herb isn’t just for cats. Catnip has been used in traditional herbal medicine to calm nervousness, ease rheumatic pain, and reduce high blood pressure. It’s also sometimes used to treat colic in infants.
How to use it: Catnip can be taken as a tincture or brewed as a tea. It can technically be smoked, but that’s not a great way to reap its benefits. Of course, you can also share it with your feline friends by sprinkling some on a toy or favorite napping spot!
Aloe is well known for its effectiveness at cooling and soothing sunburn.
According to a 2018 review, it has a similar effects when ingested. Its beneficial qualities include:
How to use it: Aloe can be used topically or added to food, smoothies, and drinks.
Not all parts of the aloe vera plant are edible. It’s generally safe to eat the gel inside the aloe vera leaf, as well as the skin. Wash the skin or gel thoroughly to remove traces of latex, which can be harmful to pregnant people, people with digestive disorders, and people on certain medications.
Try your hand at incorporating cooling herbs into your diet — or your skin care routine — with the recipes below.
Edible herbal recipes
Mint cilantro chutney
Cilantro’s the star in this cooling sweet-yet-savory dish from Saveur. If you really want to enhance the cooling effect, skip the garlic and go easy on the chilies.
Lavender lemonade is a delicious, refreshing beverage that’s sure to be a crowd pleaser for picky palates. This honey-sweetened recipe from The Small Footprint Family is a simple way to reap the benefits from a bit of fresh or dried lavender.
Agua de Jamaica
Agua de Jamaica, or hibiscus iced tea, is a popular Mexican treat. Zappin recommends this sweet-and-tart drink as a refreshing beverage on a hot day. Try the recipe from The Mexican Food Journal to make your own hibiscus concentrate.
Coconut rose beverage
Coconut rose beverage is one of Mannur’s favorites. This simple combination of organic rose syrup with coconut water is a refreshing, sweet, and floral treat.
Pomegranate syrup can work, too, Mannur says. Simply add syrup to coconut water, to taste. Try this homemade syrup recipe from Lins Food.
Lemon dill cucumber noodles
Lemon dill cucumber noodles harness the cooling power of dill plus cucumbers. Their high water content makes them great for a hot day. Try this recipe from The Kitchn.
Strawberry mint water
Strawberry mint water is another of Zappin’s favorites. This recipe from 2 Cookin Mamas is simple and straightforward. Zappin suggests muddling the strawberries to enjoy even more flavor.
Skin and body care recipes
Try these herbal recipes to cool down from the outside in. Just don’t eat them!
Herbal sunburn cubes
Herbal sunburn cubes are an ingenious way to utilize the cooling properties of aloe to soothe. This recipe from Learning Herbs includes aloe, plantain, violet, and witch hazel.
Peppermint rosemary body spray
Peppermint rosemary body spray is another of Zappin’s favorites, although he points out that rosemary is technically a heating herb.
“Rosemary is an unsung circulatory support herb,” says Zappin. “Along with turmeric and ginger, it has warming, moving, revitalizing aspects that help with inflammation and rejuvenation. So there’s some paradox to observe.”
Try this basic recipe at Key Ingredient and experiment with your preferred oils. Zappin recommends lemon verbena, lavender, rose, and cucumber as cooling additions.
Zappin and Mannur suggest a few other diet tweaks to help you keep cool:
- Eat vegetables, especially those high in water content, like cucumber, cabbage, and lettuces.
- Eat lighter meals.
- Eat liquid-based meals, like soups and stews.
- Eat fruit, especially melons.
- Try adzuki or mung beans, which are refrigerants.
- Reduce your use of ice, which can dilute digestion.
- Focus on foods that are sweet, astringent, and bitter.
Mannur emphasizes that sweet taste is considered cooling in Ayurveda. This means that lightly sweet drinks on a hot day are a great choice. Still, just be careful not to overdo it on the added sugar.
When it’s hot out, you can reach for herbs to find relief.
Whether in a tea, salad, sauce, or spritzer, these versatile herbs can help bring down the temperature in your body and your mind, all while offering a bunch of health benefits.
Crystal Hoshaw is a mother, writer, and longtime yoga practitioner. She has taught in private studios, gyms, and in one-on-one settings in Los Angeles, Thailand, and the San Francisco Bay Area. She shares mindful strategies for self-care through online courses. You can find her on Instagram.