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Herbs, The Original Medicine: Treating Summer Heat
by Michel Czehatowski, L.Ac.



Overheating in the summer is something we all have to be cautious of. Excessive heat due to overexposure to the sun or being in a hot room without adequate ventilation can cause problems such as heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and/or heat stroke.

If you are working outdoors the best way to prevent these situations from occurring includes: proper scheduling of working hours, having a shady and cool place for rest breaks and lunch, and wearing light colored clothing and a hat. If you are indoors, use a fan or an air-conditioner to circulate the air. Heat cramps are due largely to loss of salt from the body in sweating or inadequate intake of salt. If you perspire a lot remember to drink adequate amounts of healthy fluids to replace your body fluids and salt loss. You can also take electrolyte powders or tablets that are found in health food stores.

Western herbal medicine does not have specific herbs to treat problems due to Summer Heat. Ancient Chinese herbalists not only recognized the health problems associated with excessive temperatures in the summer but found specific herbs to treat them. These herbs are categorized as Summer Heat Clearing Herbs. One of these herbs is known by all of us though we don't generally think of it as an herb. The herb? Watermelon. Watermelon (Chinese: Xi Gua) is a Summer Heat Clearing Herb in Chinese medicine and is described as having a cool nature and a sweet taste. While it doesn't take a master herbalist to figure that out, you probably don't know that it enters the Heart, Stomach, Lung, and Kidney channels. Watermelon's action is to relieve thirst and act as a diuretic. It is mainly used to treat Heat problems in the summer such as oliguria (diminished amount of urine formation), thirst, and irritability. The diuretic action of the white part (that closest to the rind) is the strongest. While almost all herbs have a common dosage, watermelon doesn't. You can eat all you want.

Another herb which we know better as a food is the Mung Bean (phaseolus mungo). This small green bean is commonly used for sprouts. Its main action is to Clear Heat and Detoxify. Detoxify refers to its use for skin infections, boils, carbuncles, and furuncles. It also could treat eye irritation, thirst, and oliguria. Once again there is no special common dosage. In China a summertime drink is made with the Mung bean. It is apparently good for keeping you cool and is said to be a tonic. Here are some general directions on how to make it. Take the Mung beans and boil them for one to one and a half hours or until the beans are soft. Strain the beans out, add a sweetner such as honey, and drink. You can eat the beans if you want since they are cooked. Keep the leftover tea in the refrigerator so it doesn't spoil. You may need to experiment a little to get the right taste for you.

A third Summer Heat Clearing Herb is a little harder to get. This herb, Nelumbo Nucifera, is more commonly known as the Lotus. The flower is used and is collected in the summer. It has three traditional actions. They are: 
1).  Clear Summer Heat. It treats cold symptoms with sore throat in the summer. It is often used for this purpose with bamboo leaves and the white part of the watermelon. 
2).  Harmonizes the Stomach. It treats nausea and vomiting. 
3). Circulate Blood and Relieve Bleeding. It is good for coughing up blood and nosebleed. It could also treat uterine bleeding. 
The common dose is from 15 to 30 grams.

These three herbs: Watermelon, Mung bean , and Lotus flower comprise the most important herbs of the Summer Heat Clearing Herb category. Of the three it is my guess that everyone will be getting a good dose of watermelon this summer. Enjoy it!



*This article was written in June 1985
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