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Cooling off with mints

Mentha longifolia
Mentha longifoliaPhoto by Lori Osterloh-Hagaman

The weather here in the Great Lakes states has become the muggy, hot and humidity filled days typical of late June and early July. During these times of heat exhaustion and sweaty over exertion, it is good to know there are herbs out there to better help us cope with the heat.

Plants that aid the body in dealing with the hot, humid days are called refrigerants. I know it seems rather ridiculous to not know the action of a refrigerant herb, but these herbs can help balance the body’s fluid levels and promote a cooling sensation.

Examples of a cooling refrigerant herb are peppermint and spearmint. I truly love the mint family. The plants in this family are very versatile and fit a variety of needs. I recently was searching for some different varieties of mint to grow at my home. A friend cautioned, “Those will grow like weeds and get way out of hand.” This is not necessarily a bad thing. I am planning on utilizing the bountiful leaves in many ways including custom teas, cooking, medicinal, and infused waters.

Mints contain menthol, among other chemical constituents. Menthol acts as a cold magnet. It opens the pores of the skin to create a cooling sensation. This is one reason it is included in many topical muscle relaxation applications. In some massage techniques, like Raindrop ™, it is used first in order to allow the other oils to really penetrate the skin. Be aware, peppermint can magnify heat, too. Using topical applications of peppermint and then taking hot showers and/or baths are never a good idea and can result in burns at lower than normal water temperatures.

Internally, mint leaves are used in formulas to reduce gas. They have a relaxing effect on smooth muscle, which results in less cramping. Caution should be used when considering its use for small children or infants. Also, do not use if you are experiencing or have been medically diagnosed with acid reflux.

Water infused with spearmint or peppermint is a great way to help beat the heat. Simply adding some sprigs of your choice of mints to clean water and leaving to soak in the refrigerator overnight can allow the menthols and other beneficial oils from the plant leaves to “seep” into the water. There’s nothing quite like a refreshing sip of cool mint infused water on a sticky hot day in Ohio. It cools the digestive system and makes the heat a bit easier to handle.