Beat the Heat with Cooling Herbal Beverages Submitted by Karen Cottingham

Anyone interested in herbs would by now be already thinking about which herbs might make classic lemonade sparkle in unexpected ways. With just a quick trip through the internet, you’ll have enough inspiration to make a different lemonade very day for the next ten years! Here are just a few ideas from https://drinks.seriouseats.com/2012/06/12-easy-lemonade-variations-homemade-lemonade-flavors-slideshow.html#show-250093 to get you started:

  • Spicy Strawberry Jalapeño Lemonade
  • Raspberry Limeade
  • Fizzy Ginger Lemonade
  • Cucumber-Basil Lemonade with Lemongrass
  • Blackberry-Sage Lemonade
  • Honey-Basil Lemonade
  • Peach-Thyme Lemonade
  • Lychee-Thai Chili Lemonade
  • Blueberry Lavender Lemonade

What variations on the the lemonade theme can you compose?

If you want to get really fancy, try this Layered Blackberry and Turmeric Lemonade (recipe available at http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/layered-blackberry-and-turmeric-lemonade)


I’m including the following recipe from https://theherbalacademy.com/turmeric-lemonade/ (adapted from an original recipe by Wellness Mama) in its entirety because it is so unique:

Iced Turmeric Lemonade
2 cups water

2 cups ice

2 tablespoons fresh mint or basil, muddled 

3 freshly squeezed lemons

2 teaspoons turmeric powder

1 teaspoon maple syrup (or more to taste)

One or two grinds fresh cracked pepper.


Muddle mint/basil using a mortar and pestle. Otherwise rough chop it to the point that the aroma of the mint/basil is released. Place it in the bottom of your pitcher.


Blend the remainder of the ingredients in a blender.  Pour the fresh juice into your pitcher. Pour into cups over ice and garnish with a fresh sprig of mint and a lemon wedge. Enjoy with your family on a hot day.


And for other tart, thirst quenching beverages, don’t forget Hibiscus sabdariffa, also called roselle along with many other common names. In Mexico, it’s called flor de Jamaica, but Jamaicans (and other English-speaking Caribbean people) call it sorrel. It’s known as karkade in North Africa, Italy, and Russia, and orhul in India. In Senegal, jus du bissap is hibiscus tea with plenty of ginger and sugar, and sometimes orange, pineapple or lemon juice as well.

Hibiscus is a beautiful subtropical shrub with rather simple flowers but dramatic dark red sepals comprising the calyx, the outermost whorl of the flower. The luscious, fleshy red sepals are harvested and used fresh or dried.

Here’s one last recipe (See https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/pineapple-hibiscus-tequila-cocktail) to showcase the beautiful Hibiscus sabdariffa:

Pineapple-Hibiscus Cocktail
1- 1/4 cups sugar
1 pineapple, peeled, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
6 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1/4 cup dried hibiscus flowers
1 jalapeño, thinly sliced into rounds
5 sprigs mint
1 lime, thinly sliced into wheels
2 cups tequila
1 cup fresh lime juice

Bring sugar and 1 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan and cook, stirring, until sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Add pineapple, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit 30 minutes to infuse syrup with pineapple flavor. Strain into a small bowl; stir in vinegar. Cover and chill shrub until cold, about 30 minutes. Cover and chill pineapple pieces until ready to use.


Meanwhile, place hibiscus in a small bowl and pour 1 1/4 cups boiling water over. Cover and let steep 10 minutes. Strain tea into an airtight container; discard flowers. Cover tea and chill until cold, about 30 minutes.

Set aside 8 slices jalapeño and 8 pieces pineapple for serving. Stir mint, lime wheels, tequila, lime juice, remaining jalapeño and pineapple, 1 cup shrub, and 1 cup tea in a large pitcher and chill at least 1 hour.


Serve in ice-filled rocks glasses garnished with reserved jalapeño slices and pineapple pieces.


Cocktail can be mixed 6 hours ahead. Keep chilled.


Does it surprise you to see a jalapeño pepper in the ingredient list for a cooling beverage? Aren’t the hottest peppers for those who can stand the most heat? While it sounds counterintuitive, let’s go to the science and find out how hot peppers help you cool off.

Stay cool, chill out, and enjoy your exploration of Herbal Beverages that Beat the Heat.

Like menthol, the carbon dioxide present in carbonated beverages such as mineral waters, seltzer, sodas, and beer seems to activate the cold receptors in the mouth. Messages incorrectly sent to the brain signal that relief from heat is occurring, leading to quenching of the thirst and the “sensation” of cooling. More importantly, though, as carbon dioxide passes directly into the tissues of the mouth, it forms carbonic acid, which is perceived as “biting” or mildly irritating by pain receptors. This sensation of pain is actually the body’s main response to carbonation. It hints at something dangerous, even though there is no actual tissue damage occurring. Scientists don’t fully understand why so many people seek out carbonated beverages, but they think that this “danger signal” gives us a non-threatening little thrill - the same reason why many people enjoy spicy food. Also, drinking carbonated water with all its pops and bubbles is a much more stimulating and pleasurable experience than drinking plain water could ever be.

There are 5 categories of taste sensation in humans: sour, sweet, umami, bitter, and salty. Each sensation is recognized by specialized cells in the mouth. Sour flavors arise from a variety of acids present in foods, including citric, tannic, and ascorbic (vitamin C) acids. Acids, of course, are potentially dangerous to human tissue and function, especially in high concentrations. When these food acids are dissolved in the mouth, the hydrogen ions released interact with the “sour taste receptors” and signal possible danger to the nervous system. This results in an immediate “all hands on deck” production and release of saliva into the mouth. In a nutshell, the response of the human body to sour food is to produce more saliva, which dilutes the acid and averts the danger. In the process, the increased saliva wets the dry mouth of dehydration and quenches the thirst. Citrus fruits like lemons and limes contain a large amount of acid, even when fully ripe, and thus strongly stimulate salivation. Other readily available sour foods and herbs include tamarind, rose hips, sour plum, vinegar, apple, blackberry, grape, mango, raspberry, tangerine, raspberry, blueberries, blackberries, huckleberry, sumac berries, and roselle.

It is essential that our bodies stay within a very narrow range of temperatures for proper function and even life itself. To help accomplish this, we are equipped with vast numbers of temperature receptors - mainly on our skin, but in other organs as well. Cold receptors have the important job of notifying our brain when there has been a drop in temperature. Strangely, the particular chemical structure of menthol also causes activation of these cold receptors. Think of the cool sensation we experience when peppermint or spearmint is eaten, inhaled as an essential oil, or applied to the skin in a cream. Our temperature does not actually drop, but of the illusion of cooling is convincing and refreshing. The highest concentrations of menthol are found in the mints, but significant amounts are also present in rose geranium, tarragon, catnip, basil, juniper berries, and the petals of sunflowers.

In view of the astonishing financial success of the carbonated beverages industry, it seems certain that “seltzer scientists” will continue to look for insights into the connection between carbonation and human psychology!


If you want to experiment with other bubbly beverages, try a splash of kombucha and add some healthy probiotics along with the thrill of the fizz! If you have never made the fermented pineapple drink called tepache, this is a great time to try, especially if you are trying to practice “no-waste” cooking. See https://www.thespruceeats.com/pineapple-tepache-recipe-4078751 for the easy instructions.


I can imagine tepache paired with pungent herbs with a bit of heat such as chili peppers or ginger, although cinnamon is the traditional tepache flavoring.


In addition to these fairly simple herbal and fruit infusions, many people like to use sweetened, concentrated herbal syrups for summertime coolers. These simple herbal syrups can be used in any variety of beverages that benefit from sweetening, including many of the trendiest cocktails, teas, and cooling summer drinks. Only a splash is needed for a vibrant burst of herbal flavor.


Since this technique involves heating, it is ideal for woody or fibrous herbs such as rosemary, ginger, scented geranium, lavender, ginger, and lemongrass that require exposure to very hot water to release their oils and nutrients. And since sugar is a good preservative, a simple syrup can be stored for at least a few weeks in the refrigerator.


See How to Make Herb Infused Simple Syrups at https://toriavey.com/toris-kitchen/infused-simple-syrups/ for complete instructions. This would also be the best technique to use if you have blackberries, elderberries, or currents and want to make a vibrant anti-oxidant rich syrup.


You might want to compare the flavors of mint, lemon balm, and tulsi waters prepared by the cold method versus the hot infusion technique, and see which method you prefer. There is no one “right” way.


Herbal honeys would be another great way to introduce a bit of herbal sweetness into summer drinks, and are easy to prepare. See https://theherbalacademy.com/herbal-honey-recipes-for-kids.

Other liquids to consider are green or black teas, especially fruit-flavored blends, coconut water, your favorite herbal tea (chamomile in particular seems to keep the mouth moisturized), aloe vera juice, or that quintessential summertime thirst-quencher - lemonade.


Lemonade…it conjures up images of lazy summer afternoons in the porch swing, farmers soothing their dusty throats at harvest time, and children serving customers at their lemonade stands. Despite its simplicity, consisting of but three ingredients - water, lemon juice, and sugar - lemonade is universally satisfying. Have you ever wondered why? It’s time for a little more science.

What are your tricks for keeping cool and hydrated in hot and humid Houston? Flavored waters and brightly colored sports drinks from the grocery store? Or healthy, homemade, herbal beverages full of flavor, nutrition, and anti-oxidants?

Just like menthol and carbon dioxide activate cold receptors and send a message of cooling to the brain, the capsaicin in spicy foods and herbs triggers nerve receptors on your tongue which register heat. When these nerves are activated, they send messages of emergency overheating. Your internal thermostat, the hypothalamus in your brain, responds by sending signals which activate your sweat glands. Sweating is the body's best cooling mechanism. As sweat reaches your skin and evaporates, heat is removed from the body.


The same receptor that senses heat also senses pain. As capsaicin arouses the nerve receptors in your mouth it not only confuses the nervous system into thinking you are feeling very hot, it also causes the nervous system to believe you are experiencing pain.


So in other words, eating spicy foods essentially tricks the brain to cool down the body, but the price we pay is sometimes painful indeed.

Here is some basic information about refreshing herbs and other ingredients that make a beverage particularly cooling.


Look for the colored boxes for a quick explanation of the science - even if you think you don’t like science! The more you understand, the more you will appreciate the versatility of herbs.


Included are a few recipes to give you some basic techniques and suggested combinations for combining fruits and herbs. Don’t stop there, though. Get creative! Compose original beverages according to your own taste, your own herb garden and pantry, and your own imagination.


Let’s start with the simplest herbal beverage, an herbal essence water. Select your herbs and, if possible, harvest them between 10 am and 2 pm, when their essential-oil content is at its peak. Place about two handfuls of your herb (or herbs) in a quart jar and fill with warm water. You can solar-infuse it for about four hours, steep it a bit longer at room temperature, or infuse the liquid overnight in the refrigerator. Strain it if you wish, or decant the flavored water directly from the bottle.

Almost any aromatic herb will make a delicious infused water. Mint is probably the favorite, but other herbs to consider include tulsi, fennel, lemon balm, leaf celery, parsley, anise hyssop, pineapple sage, lemon verbena, rosemary, and Mexican mint marigold. You can even throw in a few leaves from a citrus tree. And don’t limit yourself to what you have in your herb garden - Why not try an infusion of pine needles or fig leaves for something different?


Since the herbal infusion is not heated, this method is ideal for fragile herbs such as chervil and the delicate flowers of rose, borage, or butterfly pea flower. I’m looking forward to foraging goldenrod and sumac in the fall to make jewel-like golden and crimson infusions. Next spring, I’m going to experiment with redbud flowers, which are said to be tart and full of Vitamin C.


But mint is the universal favorite, starring in the summer beverages of hot climates all over the world. The mint julep, for example, is the signature Bourbon drink for sultry southern afternoons on the veranda. This classic cocktail was created in the southern United States during the 18th century and is still a Kentucky Derby favorite. The traditional Iranian cooler, sekanjabin, is a vinegar and mint syrup enjoyed in beverages since the tenth century. See https://www.emilyhan.com/mint-sekanjabin/ for instructions if you would like to make your own sekanjbin.


What is it about mint that makes it so popular for cooling drinks? Why do we experience it as so “refreshing”? It actually has to do with its high concentration of menthol and a strange chemical interaction between menthol and our nervous system.

Creating healthy summer beverages is a perfect opportunity to showcase the bounty of summer fruits. Fruits not only contribute flavor, aroma, and color, but add valuable nutrients and a wide spectrum of anti-oxidants. And for those watching their sugar intake, a combination of herbal water and fruit gives the satisfaction of fruit juice without all of the sugar.

Simply add your desired fruit, either gently muddled or sliced or cubed, along with your herbs at the beginning of the infusion. Or if time is limited, you can always make an aqua fresca by combining fruit, water, and flavorings in a blender. See https://www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/how-to-make-agua-fresca-article and http://www.botanicalartspress.com/blog/2015/6/25/agua-frescas-refreshing-beverages-of-the-season for easy-to-follow instructions.


There are so many flavorful combinations to try, but here are just a few:

  • Cucumber, orange scented thyme and tangerines (yes, botanically speaking, cucumber is a fruit!)
  • Blueberries and lemon verbena or with ginger, mint and orange slices
  • Peaches and lemon balm
  • Blackberries and sage
  • Papaya and pineapple sage
  • Watermelon and cayenne pepper (more on that later)
  • Pineapple and vanilla
  • Pomegranate, ginger, and lime
  • Black cherry and lemon thyme
  • Nectarine and basil (try tulsi, if you have it) or fennel
  • Apple, ginger and lemon grass
  • Any fruit with a splash of rose water or orange blossom water


This tempting recipe from Green Kitchen Stories should get your tastebuds spinning:


Passion Fruit Summer Drink
1/2 cup mint leaves

2 limes, cut into 1 cm pieces

10 cm fresh ginger (cut into thin sticks)

8 passion fruits

4 oranges, juiced

1 cup sparkling soda


Muddle mint leaves, the lime pieces and half of the ginger sticks in a bowl, then pour it into a pitcher. Be careful not to over-muddle the mint or its flavor will get bitter and harsh. A few light bashes with a wooden spoon should do. Cut the passion fruit in half and scoop out the flesh into the pitcher. Add juice from the oranges and ice cubes and stir around. Top it with sparkling soda, a couple of ginger sticks and a mint leaf and serve.


It’s time for a bit more science! Notice that the recipe specifies “sparkling” soda rather than still, or non-carbonated water. What is it about carbonated beverages that make them so popular? How is it possible that the sale of carbonated drinks generates a mind-boggling $350 billion annual revenue just in the United States? What's all the fuss about fizz?