by Sheyna Haisman-Holmes
Cilantro is a powerful herb that is one of our strongest allies in dealing with the heat of the summertime. Cilantro is the leaf of the Coriandrum sativum plant, and the seeds are the spice we know as Coriander. Cilantro is cold, dry, easy, light, astringent, bitter and pungent. Coriander is clear, dry, light, bitter, pungent and slightly warming. Coriander pacifies pitta and kapha dosha, while cilantro pacifies all three doshas. These herbs and spices are used throughout the world in all types of dishes and have highly medicinal effects.
Cilantro is a blood purifier and detoxifier that pacifies all three doshas, especially pitta. The cleansing and cooling of the blood is important in the summertime when heat exhaustion is more likely. Cilantro can be eaten as a garnish, chopped into a salad, made as a chutney, cooked into rice added to juice, taken as a tincture, or consumed as a juice by itself. In many cultures, it is used as a garnish to counterbalance the heat of spicy dishes. Taken internally, cilantro works on the urinary tract, kidneys, bladder, gallbladder, liver and spleen. It may remove heavy metals, improve eyesight, reduce gas and reduce bacteria. It can be blended to make a topical poultice that’s used as an antihistamine to calm down skin inflammation. This can be used on rashes, hives, sunburn and dermatitis.
Coriander seeds are used as a digestive herb, but can also be a powerful herb to cool down the blood and body. This happens through the bitter taste that reduces pitta dosha and the pungent taste that stimulates digestion. These seeds are called Dhanyaka and are popularly used with fennel and cumin as a digestive stimulant tea. The seeds can be used in a cold infusion, called a hima or a sheeta kashayam. A coriander hima is one of the best remedies for high pitta conditions such as urinary tract infections. Cold infusions are made with a dried herb and cool water overnight. The cool water slowly draws out constituents and the coolness of the moon rays saturates the infusion throughout the night.
Blend one bunch of cilantro in a blender or crush with a mortar and pestle. Strain the juice from the pulp and set aside to drink. Apply the pulp to the area of irritated skin and let it cool and soothe. Drinking the juice will work on the skin irritation from the inside out.
There are many different ratios for cold infusions depending on the desired strength and taste. For one dose, add 1 tablespoon of crushed coriander seeds to a cup and a half of cool water. Let this sit overnight and strain it in the morning. It’s best to have on an empty stomach first thing in the morning to decrease excess heat.
Refrigerant herbs and foods have properties that cool down the body and keep it cool. Here is a list of some other cooling foods to work with during times of intense heat: acai, blueberry, melon, cassava, coconut, jicama, lime, cucumber, cabbage, pomegranate, lettuce, rose, watermelon, hibiscus flowers, jasmine flowers, mint.
Because summer is pitta season and the fire element is strong, we may think that our digestive fires are super strong. Because the body is in a balancing act with itself and the environment, the digestive fire can actually be weaker in the summer as to not overheat the body. When we eat locally grown foods that are full of the summer sun, we therefore eat the sunshine and heat! Many seasonal foods are also cooling, such as cucumber and melons. The cooling herbs and foods are to keep our bodies cool so our digestive fire doesn’t have to shut down.
It may go against intuition to eat hot peppers in the heat, but the diaphoretic properties that cause sweating can actually cool the body down. People, who live in places like Mexico and India where there is major heat, eat peppers to increase digestive fire, sweat and cool down all at the same time. This is where the concept of satmya/asatmya (suitable/unsuitable) comes in. This way of eating is suitable for some people, but not for everyone. Many recipes also incorporate cooling and warming ingredients to stimulate the digestive fire without overheating the body. We each know our own bodies the best and can continue to pay attention to how herbs & foods effects our bodies.
May we all stay cool and nourished in this summertime sun! :)