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Herbal Remedies with Jeanine Endsley
Herbs to Cool and Calm in the Midst of a Fiery Summer:
Four soothing herbs & Easy Recipes to try at home
In the hotter months of the year, cooling and calming herbs are incredibly beneficial for the restoration of our bodies from the sweltering heat and long, energy-consuming days. If we don’t take proper measures to care for our bodies in the most active phase of the year, we will eventually feel tired, sore and fatigued.
Summer is an opportune time to align with the Earth around us by tending to our inner and outer gardens, and gathering and enjoying the medicinal plants growing vibrantly around us. Nature is continuously giving to us, and especially in the summer months medicine can be found everywhere.
There are many plants—herbs, fruits and vegetables whose gifts to humanity come with cooling, calming and hydrating properties. This article focuses on three herbs and one fruit that are great medicinal summer allies in their abilities to restore bodily balance.
A few of the herbs I’ve chosen are in the mint family, and below I’ve included a little excerpt to give you insight into just how big and vast the mint family (Lamiaceae) actually is, before we dive in to my herbal picks for cooling in the midst of the wild and warm dog days.
“I walk in my gardens on a July evening, admiring the lush green that abounds in midsummer. The bee balm is chest high and near blooming, the lavender, catnip, and oregano are in full flower; the sage, rosemary, thyme, and basil are growing tender new leaves almost daily; and the peppermint and lemon balm are spreading prodigiously. I check the progress of the bee balm buds… stick my nose in the lavender… pick a few sprigs of catnip for kitty… pinch off some basil leaves for pesto… These plants are all beloved and widely used for culinary, aromatherapy, and medicinal purposes, and they have another important unifying trait—they are all in the mint family, Lamiaceae, which has over 200 genera and 7000 species!” The Herbal Academy (1)
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Lemon Balm is native to the Mediterranean and various regions of N. Africa, Asia and Europe, and has a sharp lemony aroma. This fragrant and temperate-climate perennial “…contains within it the virtues of a dozen other plants.” These were the words of St. Hildegard of Bingen, a nun and herbalist born in 1098 in Germany.
It’s been used since ancient times to soothe the nervous system and calm the body. Some herbalists classify Lemon Balm as a trophorestorative that serves the nervous system. “Trophorestoratives have traditionally been used to nourish, strengthen, and feed a specific system—in Lemon Balm’s case, that would be the nervous system. Lemon Balm’s mildly sedative properties have historically been used for stress, anxiety, insomnia and exhaustion, stress-induced headaches, heart palpitations and high blood pressure.” (2)
Because of its ability to calm the nervous system, Lemon Balm also supports the tummy in times of indigestion due to chronic stress or anxiety. It is a good remedy for stress related spasms, cramps, and/or gassiness in the digestive tract. Since our nervous system is considered to be “the great orchestrator” of our bodies, this central system of communication directly affects all other parts of our being.
Lemon Balm is also widely known for its powerful antiviral properties. The essential oil of the plant, Melissa, is a great and widely used topical treatment for healing cold sores, shingles outbreaks and chicken pox, among other viral infections. It is a great ally to those who are prone to Herpes outbreaks, and the benefits go beyond antiviral support by directly treating the frayed nerves that lead to recurring outbreaks in the first place.
Lemon Balm is a truly nourishing and miraculous plant whose vast array of benefits extend far beyond what I’ve shared with you here. Its lemony flavor revives the spirit and refreshes one’s being, and it brightens any dish it’s added to and is a wonderful medicinal addition to your next stir fry or homemade lemonade.
It is even a safe and tasty choice for irritable, hyper, agitated or overwhelmed children. It is truly a plant for people of all ages! This herb can be enjoyed and worked with year-round, although it’s especially helpful during the summer heat.
Lemon Balm is easily grown in the garden and is also readily available at your local apothecary or herbal store. I recommend buying this herb locally or growing Lemon Balm if possible—the advantage of consuming local medicine is that it allows your body to digest and assimilate the unique constituents and qualities of the bioregional plant variety.
Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus)
“Though native to the African Kalahari desert, where the watermelon gourd was often used as a canteen, the cultivation of watermelon spread quickly, and other cultures adopted it as a beneficial, healing food. Ancient Egyptians used watermelon to treat reproductive problems such as erectile dysfunction and prostate inflammation.
“The peoples of Russia and Central Asia used watermelon as a diuretic and to cleanse the blood. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, watermelon is considered cooling and moistening, producing a diuretic effect, and commonly is used to treat thirst, edema, and inflammation of the kidney and urinary tracts. Because watermelon is 92% water, many traditional uses of watermelon overlap with current uses, including hydration, cleansing, and eliminating impurities.” (3)
The history of watermelon is truly fascinating. This plump, pink melon is one of my personal favorites to enjoy during summer, and the benefits of eating locally grown fruits and vegetables are indisputable. Fresh fruit has a shorter travel time and often arrives to you ripe or close to ripe, when it is most loaded with nutrients. Ripe fruits have higher nutrition content, and generally as soon as a fruit is picked it starts to lose nutritional value. (4)
Watermelon cools the body for a few reasons, the first being that it’s loaded with water. Having a high water content allows the digestion process to slow down, thus taking less energy from the body. Being full of lycopene and citrulline, watermelon and its compounds have been known to prevent cancer and oxidative stress.
On top of this, watermelon is also high in potassium and vitamins C and A. Do you mindlessly toss your watermelon seeds into the compost? Think again! The seeds also have many benefits and were historically used for a variety of purposes, from grinding and adding to cooked dishes to being eaten as a simple snack.
In terms of men’s health, watermelon seeds are wonderful for prostate imbalances and overall kidney support. This pink fruit provides the body with a mineral rich cleanse. For prostate healing, the men’s tonic below will reduce congestion in the gland and serve as an excellent cooling tonic.
How could one ever forget the flavor and smell of peppermint? It’s cooling, refreshing, invigorating and leaves a slight tingle in the mouth. Peppermint is incredible in so many ways, and this widely used plant has many benefits and applications including treating menstrual cramps, freshening the breath, clearing congestion, supporting better sleep, easing Irritable Bowel Syndrome, migraines and more.
Peppermint is a nervine herb—a plant that supports the nervous system, helps one relax, and heals the body in the wake of environmental stressors such as the intense heat of summer. This mint master relaxes tension while increasing circulation and helping to regulate our body temperature while speeding up the healing process.
It has long been used by herbalists for many ailments including even treating the flu with its ability to stimulate various systems of the body and arouse a healing response. It is a great herb for pregnant or laboring women experiencing nausea (dosage must be determined by a healthcare professional). For its cooling properties peppermint can also be a supportive herbal remedy for menopausal women looking for ways to combat hot flashes.
Peppermint is also a great digestive herb. You’ve probably been told at least once in your life to have a mint to soothe your belly, or a cup of peppermint tea to cure your cramping or bloating. Peppermint soothes indigestion because its most active compound, menthol, is anti-spasmodic and eases muscle cramping. It softens upset muscles in the body and provides calming relief when indigestion, nausea or menstrual cramps appear.
Lastly, peppermint is also great for physical aches and pains. Menthol produces a cooling sensation when applied topically, and offers almost immediate relief for sore muscles, cramping, tension and pain. The essential oil applied topically is one of my favorite remedies for headaches and nausea. A few drops on the palm, inhaled with gratitude, is also an excellent way to awaken the mind and stimulate focus!
Oats, Oatstraw, and Milky Oats (Avena sativa)
The last plant friend I’d like to share with you as we near the end of summer is common oat. The common oat contains the oats themselves, the oatstaw, and the profoundly healing milky oats. Oatstraw is the stem of the oat plant harvested during the “milky stage” when it is still green, and milky oats are the oat tops harvested specifically during this “milky stage.” The oats themselves are the protein and fiber rich carbohydrate that most of us enjoy when we make our morning oatmeal!
“The whole plant is rich in minerals and trace nutrients such as silica, magnesium, phosphorus, chromium, iron, calcium, alkaloids, protein, the vitamin B complex, and vitamins A and C.” (Holmes, 1997 and Berger, 1998)
The calcium and magnesium, supported by vitamin B, help soothe, strengthen and nourish the nerves. “Oats are considered one of the best remedies for ‘feeding’ the nervous system, especially in times of stress, in cases of nervous system weakness or exhaustion associated with depression. Oatstraw infusion helps… combat the effects of daily stress, and resolve sleeplessness.” (5)
The calcium and magnesium in oatstraw help build strong bones and healthy teeth. It is great for babies, children, and even pregnant and nursing mothers. Oat is one plant that I constantly turn to, even in my pregnancy and now in my nursing days. Drinking an oatstraw infusion daily will not only tonify and soothe the nervous system, it will calm any stress or anxiety and load your body up with bioavailable minerals and nutrients.
It is my belief that our nervous systems are continuously on overdrive in today’s day and age. From what I’ve witnessed, many people enjoy oat for its carbohydrate content but are completely unaware that the oat plant is legendary for its powerful capacities to replenish the nerves, calm the nervous system and repair the body. The next time you eat your oatmeal, say a prayer in gratitude for the calming, nutritive properties of the healing food before you.
Lemon balm, watermelon, peppermint and common oat all support us greatly in these active summer months. As we are beginning to near the end of the season, it’s important that we take a moment to pause and connect to Mama Gaia, the giver of all this herbal goodness. Summer often comes with the blessing of local medicinal plants, fruits and vegetables, and the best time to eat them is when they’re as fresh as can be.
These cooling allies go right where they are needed in our body systems (that’s the magic of plants,) and initiate balance within when the weather is hot and chaos abounds. Enjoy these medicines through the recipes provided, or experiment with new recipes using the herbs in new ways. Incorporate them into your daily life, and watch their benefits shower you with health and well-being year round!
Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, Rosemary Gladstar, Storey Books, Copyright 2008.
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Her passion for intuitive, nature-based healing also led her to study Herbalism at the Florida School of Holistic Living, and she is so excited to bring her love of herbalism, wholistic living and the Divine Feminine into the Shakti Journal and the raising of her first child.