Cooling Summer Herbal Beverages

Iced coffee
Iced coffee (photo care of Baltimore Sun)

When summer comes around I turn to the cooling bitter or astringent drinks, served slightly below room temperature or at most refrigerated.   I don’t really like to use ice because it can ruin your digestion but cold feels awfully good.  The bitter flavor is also cooling.  Sour or astringent flavors help reduce water loss, so I like an infused vinegar in water at times as well as lemon or lime water.

And while warm beverages don’t often come to mind, hot tea is often consumed all day long in China or the Mideast.  Think of it as homeopathy- like cures like.  Or just as a way of reducing the difference between your body and the environment so adjustment isn’t such a shock.

One word about caffeinated beverages.  You aren’t eating dry leaves or beans, you are drinking a water-based beverage flavored with the leaves or beans.  The research shows you don’t lose more water than you take in, but you do lose it sooner, so tissues don’t hydrate as well.  Rule of thumb:  you lose 25% of the fluid value from coffee compared to water, and 10% for tea.

Climate plays a role in which beverages work best.  I live on the humid East coast, so tend to retain water in the summer, a condition the Chinese refer to as  Summerheat damp.  When I lived in California where Summer is the dry season, something more hydrating might well be better, such as hibiscus tea.   Someone in the desert might need a little fat to keep fluids from evaporating- milk or coconut milk based beverages could be added to the mix.  Constitution also plays a part:  someone who runs cold should probably avoid peppermint and someone who doesn’t sweat might need something spicy and sudorific.  If you sweat a lot you may need an electrolyte-rich beverage (or accompanying food) that is a bit mineral-salty (pickle juice, nettles, oatstraw, dandelion) and a little sweet (juice, honey or cane sugar rather than stevia.)  And coconut water also works for this.

So this is what I like to drink:

1.  Iced coffee:  I have written extensively on the benefits of coffee which is anti-inflammatory, full of flavanoids and does not net dehydrate you because it is an aqueous solution with a lot more than caffeine in it.  When taken cold (preferably with minimal ice), the bitterness is cooling.  I like to add 30% chicory to the coffee to mellow it out and a bit of vanilla bean.  It isn’t for everyone but it is the first thing that comes to my mind in the summer.

Green Tea Leaves Steeping
Green Tea Leaves Steeping

2.  Black tea with rose petals and vanilla, also served cold with milk.  The astringency of black tea helps me deal with the damp heat of an East coast summer.  The roses lift my spirits as does the vanilla.

3.  Forsythia buds and green tea is cooling and high in flavanoids.  Don’t take this one with milk or you lose the catechins.  It is somewhat sudorific, especiallyserved warm.

4.  Unsweetened or slightly sweet lemonade.  I like the sourness when the heat hits.  But lemonade mixed with watermelon (a Chinese herb for summerheat) with no other sweetener is also good.  Or make it with limes instead of lemons.  Or add mint or anise hyssop to the lemonade.

5.  Lemon balm lemonade.  Take a cup of dried melissa or two cups fresh and infuse with boiling water.  Let cool and strain.  Sweeten if you like.  You can also use lemon verbena.

Melissa officinalis1
Lemon Balm    Image via Wikipedia

6.  Anise hyssop leaves and prunella spikes made into tea and cooled.  Slightly bitter and very aromatic, using two herbs traditionally used for summerheat damp conditions.

7.  Peppermint tea.  I even like this warm.  Or mixed with chocolate.  It opens the pores and lets the heat out.

8.  Overnight infusion of nettle leaves, made with an ounce of herb to a quart of water.  It replaces those electrolytes and is slightly astringent.  I prefer it room temperature.

9.  Dandelion tea.  I use the fresh leaves and flowers.  The potassium in the leaves helps preserve your electrolytes while encouraging you to pee if you are retaining water.

10.  Water.  Plain or with whatever leaves are growing in my garden stuck in the water bottle.  You can’t beat water for hydrating.

Summer is a time where we need to preserve our fluids and electrolytes.  So drink often.  Sip your drinks instead of gulping them if you want to hydrate your tissues because gulping triggers your urinary reflex.  But if you are retaining water, as often happens in summer, gulp away.

See Also:

Coffee herbs


Health Myths About Hydration

The Importance of Fluids and Electrolyte Balance

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