Ah. August. For most of us, this is the hottest month. For me, it’s the longest month. February? I’ll take two, please. You can keep your August. I'm not a huge fan of the heat – can you tell? I’m more of a damp and dreary girl (I mean weather-wise, of course).
But never fear! There are herbs (of course there are herbs) to help you get through the long, sticky days of August with your cool head intact.
1. Sage (Salvia officinalis):
Sage is a mint family member. That may sound surprising, but actually most of our herbs are, in some way, connected to this very large and very welcoming family. Here’s the crazy thing about sage: as a hot tea, it induces sweating. As a cold tea, though, it eases sweating. Try both hot and cold and see what your body likes.
Sage is also good for the nervous system when it’s been aggravated by heat — you know, all those hot tempers that flare up in August? Other heat conditions can arise, of course, aside from summer heat. Menopause is one good example. Sage is really wonderful for this transition, easing the heat and dryness in the body. Try a cool tea laced with honey (which, as a demulcent, draws moisture to the body) to ease any discomfort.
2. Elder (Sambucus nigra, Sambucus canadensis):
You may be familiar with the elderberry’s use as a cold/flu/cough remedy, but the flowers are also used herbally, especially when trying to reduce heat. Elder is a cooling, drying herb, especially when it’s the dried flowers used in an infusion or tincture.
The reason elder is so good with colds, the flu, and heat in general can be attributed to its diaphoretic effect, which means the herb allows fluid to move easily in the body, opening pores and cleaning everything out. Elder flower infusion or tincture made from dried flowers is especially effective if you suffer from habitually dry, irritated, or flushed skin. Elder improves circulation throughout the body, opening the lungs, blood vessels, capillaries, kidneys, skin — anything that moves fluid along.
There are no dangers or contraindications associated with elder flowers, so brew away. Overconsumption of elderberries can potentially cause digestive upset, but this usually isn’t much of a danger if they are dried or cooked first. But never take the bark internally, or any raw berries or leaves.
3. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium):
Yarrow is one of my absolute favorite herbs, perhaps because it's one of the true traditional medicinals of the New World and has a long, well-documented history. It grows almost everywhere, which makes it a truly local food.
Herbalist Matthew Wood calls yarrow the “master of the blood” and the “master of fever;” it’s an absolutely apt description. Yarrow regulates the fluids in the body, cooling or heating as needed by moving blood toward, or away, from the skin’s surface. Those herbs (and the body) are pretty smart, aren’t they?
To take yarrow, brew up a warm cup of tea to open the pores of the skin and to release heat; a cold brew will stimulate digestion and the kidneys, relieving fluid retention. You can also use yarrow topically on wounds and bruises — another common summer occurrence.
NOTE: It’s best to avoid yarrow while pregnant. Also, it is possible to have a yarrow allergy, so if you suffer from a ragweed allergy, start with small doses and see how you feel. It's best to avoid this herb if you’re on anticoagulants or suffer from bradycardia .
No matter how you choose to beat the heat this summer, herbs are a fantastic addition to your summer wellness routine. Not a fan of iced tea? Brew up and cool a sage infusion (tea) and mix it with some lemonade. Trust me: it’s fantastic. Any of these herbs can be seamlessly combined in any number of summer drinks, smoothies, or sodas. And remember, when you’re using herbs as remedies, it's best to let them steep 5-10 minutes, 2-3tsp per 8 ounces of water (although you can adjust either of these recommendations to your personal taste).
Enjoy the rest of your summer with ease, clarity, and a cool head.