Keeping Cool in the Summer Heat

As I sit here in the middle of another heat wave in the Northeast, my mind wanders to thinking about ways to keep cool in this hot summer weather. Besides sitting in the air conditioning or jumping in the ocean, Chinese medicine offers us some ways to cool off from the inside out.

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Before I get into the specifics, I’d like to review a quick lesson on Chinese herbal medicine and the classification of medicinal herbs. First, Traditional Chinese Medicine has a very systematic method for classifying and categorizing medicinal substances based on their effects on the body. This system is based on literally thousands of years of research and clinical experience. As a general point, we can think of food and medicinal herbs as lying on the same continuum of medicinal substances and Traditional Chinese Medicine uses the same methods of categorization and classification for medicinal herbs as it does for foods. So our food is medicine in a sense, medicine that is generally mild-acting but medicine that we consume daily over the course of our entire lives. Here is a nice post on the classification of foods in Chinese medicine.

One of the main categories of the medicinal classification system is what Chinese Medicine would call the thermal nature of medicinals. Basically this relates to the medicinal’s effect on the “temperature” of the body. This may or may not translate to the actual body temperature read on a thermometer. The thermal effects of a medicinal may also relate to a person’s subjective experience of how hot or cold they feel.

So, in order to counteract the extreme heat of summer in the Northeast, it is helpful for us to increase the overall proportion of cooling foods in our diet. This recommendation of course does not take into account any individual differences between people who may need other, specific dietary advice based on their health status (talk to your acupuncturist!). Unfortunately, this recommendation also doesn’t mean that we should eat pints of ice cream daily in order to cool off!

One way to get more cooling foods in our diets is through making refreshing herbal teas. Two of the tastiest and healthiest cooling herbs that we can use to make teas are chrysanthemum (known in Chinese as ju hua) and mint (known as bo he).

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One variety of Chrysanthemum

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Another variety of Chrysanthemum

Dried chrysanthemum flowers for tea can be a little hard to find but if you have access to an Oriental food market, you will definitely find some there (I’d be happy to sell you some too, just email the office). Chrysanthemum tea is commonly served at Chinese Dim Sum restaurants to aid digestion of the heavy foods. It also has a special affinity for the eyes and it can help soothe red, irritated eyes. You can brew chrysanthemum using a sun tea method or you can use boiling water to make the tea. For one cup I typically use a decent-sized pinch of flower buds. Experiment with different amounts based on your taste preferences. If you steep chrysanthemum in boiling water for more than 3-4 minutes, it can start to get bitter (this will be less of an issue with sun tea).

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Mint Plant

Mint is readily available in most super markets and it is also super easy to grow if you are so inclined. Take a cutting from a friend or take a stalk from some mint that you buy, strip the leaves off of the lower few inches and stick it in water for a few weeks. After you see some roots growing you can plant it in soil, either in the ground or in a pot. Mint is a perennial plant that does well in containers and grows like a weed (it can actually take over your garden if you plant it in the ground).

When it is hot and sunny out, I like to make sun tea with mint. Take a handful of  fresh leaves, rough chop them and stick them in a clear pitcher with water. Place the container in a sunny spot for 2-6 hours (more time equals stronger tea). After it has brewed, place in the fridge to cool it off then enjoy. Add a little honey if you want some sweetness.  I like to combine the mint and chrysanthemum and brew it in the sun. It is a super tasty treat! If you don’t have the patience or forethought for sun tea, you can brew the tea using boiling water. You can also use dried mint leaves instead of fresh (decrease the amount of mint substantially if using dried leaves).

Many fruits are cooling to the body as well. Watermelon is one of the coolest (and most refreshing!) options. As we get into late summer and fresh pears are available, they are another great option for cooling down and staying well hydrated.

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Dee-lish!

Of course you should always remember to drink lots of extra water when it’s super hot outside. And don’t forget to protect your skin too. Stay Cool!!


Beach, mint and watermelon photos from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Pick Your Own

It’s that time of year again, the time when we can head out into the fields to pick our own produce. Last week, our family went out to Longview Farm to pick organic strawberries and pick we did – 21 pounds in all! Some of those strawberries have already been turned into strawberry jam and others have been frozen for later use throughout the season. Freezing strawberries is very easy – wash them first, pat them dry, cut off the stems, lay them flat on a cookie sheet and place in freezer. After a few hours, take them off of the cookie sheet and place in freezer bags. They will keep for at least 6 months if not longer.

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Strawberry Picking Crew

2 One Gallon Bags of Frozen Strawberries

2 One Gallon Bags of Frozen Strawberries

Picking produce in bulk, in season and “putting it up” (preserving it in some way) is an amazing way to enjoy fresh produce year-round. Picking your own often ends up being less expensive in the long-run and it is a great way to support local farms. It is always a fun family activity too, as many of the farms have kid-friendly activities or maybe some animals to see. It can be hot out there in the fields so be sure to pack water and some sunscreen! I always try to find organic “pick your own” farms, although sometimes that can be tough. This website is a great resource for finding “pick your own” farms (the link is for Eastern Pennsylvania but you can search anywhere in the country on this site). The site also gives pretty good instructions on how to make jams, how to freeze foods and other ways to process, pickle and preserve your bounty.

I had a hard time finding an organic blueberry farm until I discovered Emery’s Berry Patch in New Egypt, NJ. The blueberries should be ready for picking very soon, possibly even this week, and they have varieties that produce fruit throughout much of the summer. We’ll definitely get to Emery’s at some point this summer and we usually do apples and pears later in the fall too.

If you’d rather not pay for your food, you can pick it for free! Falling Fruit is an urban foraging mapping project that tells you the precise locations of edibles that are growing on public land. Users can add to the map if they know the location of any food sources. I added some mulberry trees in our neighborhood that are prolific producers of fruit. If you visit the site you will see that they also map the varieties of street trees (many not edible).

Happy picking (and eating!)