We’re headed into the height of summertime heat, and here in SoCal temps are certainly starting to rise. At the same time, most of us are still navigating the uncertainty of a global pandemic as well as picking up on the stress and anxiety that comes from social unrest related to recent protests against police brutality. Even if you’re not highly sensitive, like me, you’re probably feeling a sense of uneasiness that’s taking its toll on your nervous system. The good news is there are a variety of herbal allies we can turn to for support. For centuries, cultures all over the world have used plants to help address a variety of concerns and ailments such as feeling stressed or overheated.
Some of my favorite herbs for summertime support are:
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)
With the fragrance of lemon but a slightly milder, sweeter taste, lemongrass blends well with a variety of spices making it a popular and versatile culinary herb in Asian cuisines. Also known as “fever grass” for its ability to reduce fever, lemongrass has antispasmodic, anti-microbial, and anti-inflammatory properties with a cooling energy which helps to soothe a variety of ailments such as poor or sluggish digestion, muscle fatigue, skin infections, and menstrual cramps. It can be prepared as a tea, used to season food, or infused into oil for massage.
Lemon Balm/Melissa (Melissa officinalis)
Though officially a member of the mint family, lemon balm is another herb that brings the fresh scent of lemons to your garden. Its pleasing flavor makes it a great herbal tea but it also tastes great infused into honey, sprinkled on salads, or to season meat, fish, or vegetables. In addition to being cooling, lemon balm is also a relaxing nervine, meaning it soothes and supports the nervous system, making it the perfect balm for frayed nerves. Lemon Balm is considered safe for most people, but is contraindicated for people with hypothyroidism.
Marshmallow Root (Althaea officinalis)
Known throughout ancient cultures, marshmallow has been used to soothe and moisten the respiratory, digestive, and urinary tracts for centuries. It was traditionally consumed in beverages, desserts, candies, and “was the ‘root’ of the original marshmallow confectionary.”  Its mild flavor makes both the roots and leaves an easy addition to almost any herbal tea.
Oatstraw (Avena Sativa)
Traditionally thought of as the source of the popular cereal grain, the oat plant is also replenishing and nutritive medicine. Rich in minerals such as calcium, magnesium, chromium, niacin, and silicon, oatstraw (dried stalk of the oat plant) can soothe the nervous system and promote healthy hair, bones, teeth, and nails. Adding oatstraw to your herbal tea blend is an easy way to both nourish the body and soothe your nerves.  Milky oats tincture (alcohol extract of the immature oat seed heads) is another way of using the oat plant to restore a burnt out nervous system (see here for more info).
Hibiscus (Hibiscus spp.)
Ah, tart and tangy hibiscus! The cooling and moistening qualities of hibiscus make it the perfect herb for summer. Its bright pink red color is indicative of its many beneficial nutrients including antioxidant flavonoids and heart-healthy anthocyanins. Hibiscus is also high in vitamin C, beta-carotene, calcium, and iron and has traditionally been used to support healthy iron levels. Because a little goes a long way for this tart and colorful herb, it can easily be mixed with any of the above herbs to enhance the nutritive and cooling effects and balance the flavor of your herbal tea.
If you’re not familiar with using herbs regularly, fear not! Incorporating these plant allies into your regular summer routine doesn’t have to be complicated. The following recipes are ones I use every summer to help keep myself and my family feeling cool.
Lemon Balm Water
This refreshing herbal water helps to cool down both your temperature and your nerves.
½ cup fresh lemon balm leaves, coarsely chopped or lightly bruised
½ fresh lemon, sliced
Place ingredients in quart jar and cover with water; chill in refrigerator overnight. Some prefer to strain before drinking but it is not necessary.
Lemongrass-Hibiscus Syrup & Soda
This is an easy-to-make herbal syrup that you can add to sparkling water for a refreshing summer treat. The honey/sugar acts as both sweetener and preservative to lengthen shelf-life of the infusion.
1 cup fresh lemongrass, finely chopped
2 tbsp dried hibiscus
approximately 2-3 cups honey or organic sugar
Place herbs in a quart jar and fill with just-boiled water; cover and let steep for 6-8 hours or at least until room temperature. Strain herbs and add honey or sugar; stir to fully combine.
Store covered in the refrigerator for up to a month. Take 1-3 tsp at a time, or mix 2 tbsp in 8 oz of sparkling water for a refreshing herbal soda.
¼ cup fresh lemongrass, finely chopped
2 tbsp dried oatstraw
1 tbsp dried marshmallow root (or ¼ cup fresh marshmallow leaves)
prepared lemonade (homemade or store-bought)
Place herbs in a quart jar and fill with just-boiled water; cover and let steep for 6-8 hours or at least until room temperature. Strain herbs; take resulting 3-3½ cups herbal tea and mix with equal amount of prepared lemonade. Serve chilled. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Note: Statements about the qualities and benefits of all herbs included here have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. For educational purposes only.
 Ayurvedic Talk: Lemongrass – Multifaceted health benefits of the ancient herb; 2014; www.ayurvedictalk.com/lemongrass-multifaceted-health-benefits-of-the-ancient-herb/2527.
 Herbs with Rosalee: The Lemon Balm Plant; www.herbalremediesadvice.org/lemon-balm-plant.html.
 Mountain Rose Herbs: Marshmallow Root Profile; www.mountainroseherbs.com/products/marshmallow-root/profile
 Herbs with Rosalee: Health Benefits of Oats; www.herbalremediesadvice.org/health-benefits-of-oats.html
 Herbs with Rosalee: Benefits of Hibiscus; www.herbalremediesadvice.org/benefits-of-hibiscus.html