Cooling Teas of Summer: Peppermint and Centella Asiatica (Brahmi, Gotu Kola, Pennywort)
There are lots of ways to hydrate and cool off in summer, without damaging the Agni/digestive fire/Spleen Qi which is actually weaker in the hot weather than in the cold weather. In cold weather the Agni fires up in the core to keep us warm, but in the hot weather it is dispersed to the surface as we sweat. That is why we can eat heavier food in the winter than in the summer.
So it is important to be careful about too much cooling food in summer, especially late summer as we begin the descent into the winds of Autumn. Too much cooling heavy food like ice cream or iced beverages creates a toxic damp condition (called Ama in Ayurveda and Spleen Damp in Chinese Medicine) in the center of the body and weakens our immunity.
Of course it is necessary to hydrate well as we sweat, and we know from science that we drink more fluid if it has a flavor to it. That is why I like to make refreshing cooling beverages like fresh limeade with rosewater, orangeade with lemongrass, hyssop and holy basil tea, and peppermint/pennywort (Centella Asiatica, Gotu Kola) tea.
Serve tea cool or cold, if you like to, but don’t put ice in it if its already in the fridge. That would be just too cold and will dampen your Agni/digestive fire. Then you will be more prone to colds and flu in the winter if you do.
Peppermint is considered cooling in Chinese Medicine, while Spearmint is a little bit warming. Peppermint’s use in tea is versatile. It is great solo, excellent with Gunpowder type green tea, as they do in Morocco. Stuff your glass with fresh mint of either type, a little sweetener, and add piping hot green tea. It is also very nice with Lemon grass. When steeping fresh mint from the garden, don’t make it too concentrated, or it will become bitter.
Gotu Kola is the Sinhalese (one of the two languages of the natives of Sri Lanka, the other being Tamil) name for the food/herb called Centella Asiatica in Latin, and, along with Bacopa Monieri, Brahmi in Sanskrit. (Probably Bacopa is the original Brahmi, but it may be a moot point as they share medical characteristics)
Gotu Kola is really easy to grow, in the shade, in any Mediterranean climate, and I imagine you could grow it in more northern climes in the summer. My favorite source for buying herbs thru the mail is http://www.crimson-sage.com/ayurvedic-medicinal-plants.html
Fresh, it is great in salads, or in a Sinhalese dish called Mallung, in which it is sauteed in coconut oil w/shallot, fresh grated coconut, cumin, green chili (i use black pepper instead)and and lime juice.They also make a wonderful porridge out of it, cooking it with red rice, coconut milk, and jaggery/raw palm sugar.
At Vietnamese restaurants and markets you can get it juiced; they call it Rau Ma, and Pennywort drink in English. I order it with water, instead of ice, and no sugar, as they tend to make it sweeter than I like. You can get it here in California at Vietnamese groceries.
You can also get dried Gotu Kola for tea from any good online herb company. I like to use In Harmony Herbs, which is here in San Diego. http://www.inharmonyherbs.com/ Jodi, the owner, has very high standards.
Gotu Kola/Brahmi/Centella Asiatica is used widely in Ayurvedic medicine for its rejuvenating and calming qualities.
In Thailand they use it as an afternoon pick-me-up, but then it is also used for insomnia and anxiety. It is in all the cereberal tonic formulas for scholars and others doing lots of mental work. It is in formulas for insomnia and nervous upset.
So I think Gotu Kola is an excellent herb in Summer when the Qi passes thru the Fire element corresponding to the heart (think of how young people fall in love in the summer….), and when we are very active and perspire and need a little rejuvenating from the heat.
Use mint and gotu kola at a 2:1 ratio, meaning 2 teaspoons mint to 1 teaspoon gotu kola.
Place 4 teaspoons fresh mint and 2 teaspoons dried gotukola in 1 liter just boiled water. Drink hot, or allow to cool and refrigerate. Sweeten if you need to with a mild sweetener.
Copyright Eyton J. Shalom, M.S., L.Ac. San Diego, CA June 2012 All Rights Reserved, Use With Permission Ayurveda, Acupuncture, and Chinese Medicine in San Diego http://new.bodymindwellnesscenter.com