The heat and high humidity of summer can tax your body and make you feel sluggish. You may find it hard to concentrate or get anything done, unless you retreat to an air-conditioned hermitage. No worries! Chinese medicine has you covered.

China is a huge country that covers a large variety of climates, ranging from the Himalayas in Tibet to the coasts, from the high deserts to rich tropical forests in the south, and nowadays also some of the largest megalopolises in the world. Consequently, the peoples of this part of the world had to find ways over the centuries to adapt and stay healthy. They realized that food and herbal medicine can be useful tools to improve wellbeing, and even alleviate discomforts brought on by high temperatures and cloying humidity.

Families in China traditionally had extensive knowledge of these herbs and foods, and passed it along from generation to generation. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer people nowadays remember this hard-won, useful information.

Understanding Summerheat

If you are interested in using food and herbal medicine to be comfortable in the summertime, it’s important to understand some of the underlying principles. In Chinese medicine, we always consider the root and branch of a problem. In this case, we contemplate your constitution and tendencies, and we take into consideration what you’re experiencing in the present moment. Summerheat, as this imbalance is called in Chinese medicine, is a specific mixture of Heat and Dampness, two distinct pathologies. Summerheat results from the environmental factors present in the hot, humid weather of summer combining with a weakness of the Spleen, the system according to Chinese medicine involved in digestion, metabolism and fluid management.

If you develop Summerheat, you want to both relieve branch symptoms of Dampness (e.g. sluggishness, swelling, diarrhea, foggy-headedness) and Heat (e.g. fever, thirst, redness, rashes) and support the root of Spleen function (your body’s ability to digest, assimilate and eliminate).

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you can start with simple foods and drinks that cool heat and alleviate the stagnation of fluids resulting from Dampness.

Which foods can relieve Summerheat

One of my favorites is fresh cucumber soup with mint leaves, a sprinkle of Himalayan pink salt and fresh garlic. Cucumber and mint are both cooling, mint is also aromatic and opens up your senses. Salt helps restore electrolytes lost through sweating, and garlic, also aromatic, has too many benefits to list, but is a great way to keep yeast and unfriendly microbes in your gut at bay.

Watermelon (Xi Gua/citrullus) is prized, not only in China, for its ability to cool, moisten and facilitate urination. You can use it as a snack, to make gazpacho, or in smoothies.

Instead of eating grains or potatoes as a side dish, try mung beans (Lu Dou/phaseolus), which also have medicinal abilities to clear Summerheat, alleviate thirst, and resolve toxicity. Another option is hyacinth beans (Bai Bian Dou/dolichos), which also strengthen the Spleen.

Using herbs in cooling teas

For beverages, you can experiment with various types of mint teas (e.g. Bo He/menthe). In Chinese medicine, we also reach for lotus leaf (He Ye/nelumbo) to resolve Summerheat and raise clear Yang.

Once you get to know these foods and herbs and experience their effects on your health, you can branch out and start thinking about similar fruits, vegetables and herbs to create more variety.

Beware of sugar

One word of caution: Be mindful about the amount of sugar, even if natural, that many fruits—especially tropical kinds—contain. Sugar is cloying and taxes your insulin production. It is probably THE most powerful contributor to many chronic diseases affecting people in the West. Favor vegetables over fruits, and choose fruits according to their sugar content, glycemic index and glycemic load. Enjoy in moderation.

Let me know if you are familiar with similar foods and herbs used to relieve Summerheat in other traditions around the world.

© 2020 Christiane Siebert