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June 13, 2022

The Kitchen Herbalist: Food to Beat the Summer Heat

While we anticipate this to be the hottest summer on record due to the planet’s imbalanced climate, Chinese medicine offers some dietary advice that can help us keep cool and prevent heat illness, protect the Heart and support the Shen or spirit. It’s intuitive to many Americans to reach for iced drinks when the temperature climbs, but it turns out that this can make the body overheat as your system struggles to warm up the fluid to body temperature. Instead, choose room temperature water, perhaps with a squeeze of citrus juice or a few cucumber slices added, as well as cooling teas such as peppermint, chrysanthemum, nettle and hibiscus.

Enjoy a trip to the seasonally abundant farmers’ market to seek out cooling summer produce with a high water content like cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, corn, summer squash and berries. This time of year, we can tolerate the largest proportion of raw foods in the diet, and these are best consumed at midday when our systems are the most yang (energetic and warm). Maximum nutrition comes with maximum enjoyment, so take the time to savor your meals, chew thoroughly and give thanks for the abundance of the summer harvest.

Here’s a recipe for a cooling side dish for summer so you can enjoy the fruits of the season!

Bright green slices of cucumber sit against a white background

Cooling Cucumber Salad

A few quick tricks for preparation make this one extra digestible, clearing heat without damaging your precious digestive fire. We’ll be using all the parts of the vegetables for maximum fiber and benefit to the microbiome.

  • 2 large cucumbers, scrubbed to remove any wax on the peels
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 3 scallions
  • 1 bunch mint, basil, parsley, cilantro or a combination
  • 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon rice or white wine vinegar
  • 1-2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds (optional)
  • red pepper flakes to taste
  1. Slice the cucumbers lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Slice thinly on the diagonal and toss with the salt. Place into a colander resting over large bowl and allow to drain for 30 minutes or more while you prepare the other ingredients.
  2. Slide the scallions thinly on the diagonal including both the white and green parts. Place in a bowl and cover with water, adding a handful of ice to get it really cold, and allow to soak at least 15 minutes.
  3. Pull the herb leaves off the stems and chop the tender parts of the stems finely.
  4. When you are ready to assemble the salad, press the cucumbers lightly to squeeze out the extra water and place in a serving bowl.
  5. Drain the scallions and dry by wrapping in a tea towel and squeezing gently and add these to the cucumbers.
  6. Add the herb leaves and their minced stems, the vinegar and a dash of pepper flakes, then toss together and start tasting for a balance of tart, bitter, salty, herbaceous and heat. Correct the seasoning and finally finish with olive oil and seeds if using.
  7. Enjoy al fresco and with gratitude!

    About the Author

    woman at pulpit smiling during graduationNishanga Bliss is a holistic doctor and educator who believes that personal and planetary health are interdependent. She is a professor of East Asian Medicine here at AIMC Berkeley and practices in our Professional Clinic. A former chef, Nishanga loves kitchen medicine and practicing the ancient healing art of fermentation. Her book, Real Food All Year dives deeply into the practice of eating with the seasons, weaving the ancient wisdom of Chinese medical nutrition together with nutrition science and real world culinary know-how. Her book is available for purchase the Front Desk– ask about it at your next appointment!

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