DR. LEPISTO: Cooling down with these cooling herbs
Free Press Health Columnist
According to NOAA’s National Weather Service, last Friday Grand Junction hit 103 degrees F. Wow!
Looking up various sizzling spots for the same day revealed famously-fiery Death Valley at 129 degrees F. That tied the all-time U.S. record for June and is only 5 degrees cooler than its unsurpassed hottest temperature on the planet.
Considering the Grand Valley’s peak was 106 (back in 2005), we’re on track for more toasty weather again. Since keeping cool has undoubtedly been on your mind, that’s when you start by going right to your backyard herbs. Isn’t it great to have an iced mint tea when your brain hits the melting point? Starting with your garden cuttings, I want to also introduce you to the medicinal and cooling qualities of other well-known plants. Some of these will be familiar to you. You may also be delighted to learn that other medicinals in prevalent use can refresh you and help abate this present summer heat.
(Note: The following is for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice. Always check with your medical provider about herb-drug interactions before beginning any new treatments.)
• Raspberry (Rubus idaeus) — The cool medicine of raspberry is more than just the sweet bite of fresh fruit on a morning muesli. Many a pregnant mother has enjoyed the herbal support of raspberry leaf tea to build up the uterine musculature in preparation for a strong and healthy birth. According to herbal authorities Mills and Bone, Rubus can be also used to relieve the uterine spasms of monthly cycles.
• Gentian (Gentiana lutea) — Found commonly in digestive bitters (aka Swedish bitters), Gentian is traditionally used as drops in water before meals to increase hydrochloric acid and bile production. Along with another prevalent cooling bitter, dandelion, it is beneficial as a gentle but strong fever reducer.
• Skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) — Found in many sleep-aid herbal formulations, skullcap has the rare combination of being relaxing, mildly sedating and restorative to the nervous system. Although not particularly flavorful, it is fine in combination with other calming and tasty herbs like chamomile. It is used to ease emotional and mental tension and has an ability to cool the mind for meditation.
• Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) — Another classic female herb, Cimicifuga is used primarily to support the female reproductive system. It is found in many menopause systems: musculo-skeletal, respiratory, and female reproductive. One particular constituent, isoferulic acid, lowers body temperature dramatically.
• Vervain (Verbena officinalis) — The unusual affinity of this nourishing and cooling herb has given its fame as the “stiff neck remedy.” Available as a tea prepared from the flowers and roots, I greatly enjoy sipping an infusion of vervain. As a tonic herb in general, it is indicated when recovering from illness, debilitating conditions or chronic fatigue. Traditionally, this herb was thought to increase insight, deepening one’s understanding of the world, and to aid in meditation. One of my colleagues, Mary Bove, N.D., will have pregnant couples that do not get along drink the tea together.
• Chaste berry (Vitex agnus-castus)- Vitex is a plant of medicinal antiquity mentioned in the works of Hippocrates, Dioscorides and Theophrast. This herb is typically for women with menstrual difficulties, being described by Lise Alschuler, ND as “exerting a centering influence.” A person with the following characteristics will benefit from it: nervous energy, states of high stress that are manifested by “excessive” sexual drive, nervousness, palpitations, or menstrual irregularities. The sweet taste of Vitex exerts a cooling, calming and strengthening effect.
• Peppermint (Mentha piperita) — Perhaps the most famous cooling herb of all, the Greeks and Romans crowned themselves with peppermint at their feasts and adorned their tables with its sprays. A mighty flavor-enhancer, their cooks seasoned both their sauces and their wines with its essence. Because the carminative effects are soothing and calming to the entire digestive system, it went particularly well with the nettle and licorice tea a friend served up recently as an after-dinner tea. Because it grows easily (and wildly) in your garden, pot or sunny window, you can have a good supply of peppermint around for the occasional stomach upset, gas or bloating.
Last night I had a fantastic watermelon smoothie with peppermint, basil and crushed ice. Frosty and refreshing, it was also very simple to prepare. The recipe was inspired by the local yoga women at http://www.evrydaywellness.com, Sarah, Demi and Debra. They have great recipes and also offer wonderful and supportive internal cleanses several times a year. If you are looking to detoxify your system with lots of support, look them up. Thanks, ladies!
Dr. Christopher Lepisto graduated as a naturopathic doctor (ND) from Bastyr University in Seattle, Wash. He is a native of Grand Junction and opened his practice here in 2004. Previously, Lepisto lived and worked in New Zealand, where he developed a special interest in indigenous herbal medicines. For more information, visit http://www.grandjunctionnaturopath.com or call 970-250-4104.
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