Natural Remedies for Sunburn Relief and Summer Heat
Summertime is upon us, and with it comes longer hours spent outdoors. Now is the time to stay well hydrated with refreshing drinks and, if you’ve gotten too much sun, to soothe your skin and body. We asked seven herbalists to share their strategies for keeping cool and their favorite remedies for sunburn relief. Read on for some real gems, including their go-to herbs and simple recipes!
Kami McBride, herbalist, author of The Herbal Kitchen
Rose Petal Sunburn Spray
My favorite herb for sunburn relief is rose petals. Rose petals cool the skin and have an overall calming effect on the mind and body. You can put them in your bath water to help with a sunburn, but my favorite sunburn remedy is a rose petal spray that we have made and used over the past 20 years to help with the effects of summer fun that just got away from us.
What you’ll need…
- 1 cup fresh or dried rose petals
- 1/2 cup fresh or dried chamomile
- 1/2 cup marshmallow leaf
- 1/4 cup fresh or dried lavender
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup Aloe vera juice
- 1 cup witch hazel
- Put all the ingredients in a quart jar. Cover with non-reactive (plastic) lid.
- Let steep for one month and strain.
- Store in glass spray bottle (not metal). Store in refrigerator to keep cool.
Note that summer’s heat doesn’t always show up in a sunburn. The thing about heat is that it accumulates and rises in the body just like it does in a house. If you’re feeling a little “hot-headed,” that is also a sign of heat aggravation. Headaches, irritation, agitation or redness in the face – those are some of the symptoms that can manifest when it’s hot. You always want to be on the lookout for heat symptoms and how to balance them in your body.
Our favorite strategy for summer’s heat is to prevent dehydration. Dehydration stimulates adrenal hormones that are hot and make you even hotter! Instead of running around all day and then getting your fluids in when you sit down to a meal (which disrupts your digestion), hydrate throughout the day!
Our kitchen has a “hydration station” that everyone can grab a drink from as they come and go throughout the day. There is always a pitcher of cooling herbs and cucumber water. Cooling herbs that we like to put in our hydration water are lemon balm, rose petals, marshmallow leaves, peppermint, or lemongrass.
See more from Kami at kamimcbride.com
Mandana Boushee, Iranian-American herbalist, educator, writer, gardener
Growing up in a traditional Iranian house, my mother’s go-to plant ally for any hot and irritated state was our beloved rose. Whether it was cranky teething babies, long sun-filled days in the garden, or fiery backgammon games between my uncles, my mother could be found dowsing figurative fires out by lacing our drinks and food with the cooling and calming rose. So it isn’t surprising that my go-to herbal remedy for sunburn is the rose! Rose is cooling, astringent, and anti-inflammatory in nature, making it a perfect remedy for sunburn.
What I like most about using rose for sun care is its accessibility. Rose, being a perennial and relatively easy plant to grow and take care of, can thrive in many different climates and regions. Where I live in the mountains of New York, we have quite a few wild and abundant species of rose to harvest from (Rosa multiflora, R. palustris, R. canina), which makes it a sustainable and effective remedy to use for our sun care needs.
Ways to Use Rose
I prepare and use rose for sunburn in many forms, both internally and topically.
Internally, you can take rose as either/or in combination: tincture, syrup, glycerite, shrub, and tea. In the summer months, I love to make refreshing mocktails using a combination of the sweet and aromatic rose syrup, tart rose shrub, and fizzy water, for times I know I’ve had way too much sun.
Topically, you can make a poultice with rose petals, apply an oil or lotion infused with rose, and spray rosewater or apple cider vinegar infused with rose directly on burned skin for immediate relief. Every summer I infuse rose petals in honey to indulge in throughout the year, but this same decadent honey can be used topically for bad burns. Honey helps soothe irritated and sunburned skin and is truly a first aid powerhouse, as it is antimicrobial and antiseptic, supporting our bodies by reducing the risk of an infection from sun induced boils and wounds.
Doogh with Mint and Rose
My favorite internal remedy for recovering from summer heat is doogh. Doogh is an Iranian yogurt-based beverage that is very popular through the Middle East. Doogh is simple to make using only a few ingredients. Served over ice, it is both a refreshing and cooling drink and a must have for most Iranians come the hotter months. Here is how I make it
What you’ll need…
- 1 1/2 cups yogurt (sheep preferred but cow is fine)
- 2 cups soda water
- 1 cup still water
- Salt to taste
- 1 tablespoon dried mint
- 1 tablespoon dried rose petals
- Sprig of fresh mint to garnish
- Add yogurt directly into your pitcher or vessel.
- Slowly, begin to add your water, whisking and stirring as you go (you can use an electric mixer, wooden spoon, or whisk for this step.)
- Once fully mixed, add your salt, dried mint, and dried rose petals.
- Serve doogh over ice and garnish with fresh mint.
See more from Mandana at mandanaboushee.com and wildgather.com
Tiffany Johnson-Robbins, clinical herbalist
My favorite herb for sunburn relief would be rose, with Aloe vera coming in as a close second. I love making an herbal spritz of rose-infused Aloe vera diluted with a bit of apple cider vinegar. Keep it in the refrigerator in a spray bottle for a cool, soothing relief.
Switchel with Ginger and Hibiscus
For internal heat relief, I would have to say a switchel. It is a thirst quencher and also a source of potassium. Potassium is an electrolyte. So a switchel is hydrating and replenishing. I’m notorious for not measuring and this recipe is very forgiving.
What you’ll need…
- Ginger, fresh or dried
- Hibiscus flowers
- Raw apple cider vinegar
- Make a strong ginger tea, using either fresh or dried ginger.
- While the tea is hot, throw a handful of hibiscus flowers (also known as sorrel or bishap) in to the ginger tea to infuse. Also add your sweetener of choice (mine is jaggery; other options are honey, molasses, maple syrup, coconut sugar, or stevia) at this time, with a teaspoon of allspice.
- Wait for the infusion to cool before adding raw apple cider vinegar. You want to make sure to keep all those beneficial organisms alive in the ACV. Heat destroys them. Now this is the tricky part, finding how much ACV to add. I happen to like the tangy flavor of ACV, my children not so much. So, start off with the ACV portion being about 1/10 of the ratio of ACV to the hibiscus ginger infusion. You can always add more ACV to your liking.
- It is ready to drink immediately.
This is a very refreshing drink and I like to make a big batch for those hot summer days. Some other options would be to add some sparkling water or even do a second ferment to add some carbonation. Enjoy, stay cool and hydrated!
Dina Falconi, herbalist, author of Foraging & Feasting and Earthly Bodies & Heavenly Hair
For sunburn relief, I love fresh raw Aloe gel; right from leaf to skin. It’s cooling and moistening and helps to calm down the heat of the burn while healing the skin. I also like virgin coconut oil for its cooling (for an oil) and lubricating action that prevents the skin from drying out and speeds the recovery process. Then there is St. John’s wort infused olive oil, which is so helpful for skin inflammations and burns. All of these can be applied directly to the skin, to be left on, and reapplied often.
Herbal Essence Waters Master Recipe
One of my favorite cooling drinks is Herbal Essence Waters (made with various mints). This recipe is excerpted from Foraging & Feasting.
Herbal Essence Waters are subtle, refreshing drinks made with fresh aromatic herbs such as mint, lemon balm, and anise hyssop. No boiling or cooking is required — just time to let pure water absorb the essential oils from the plants. To produce the strongest flavor, harvest the herbs during the sunniest part of the day, between 10 am and 2 pm, when their essential-oil content is at its peak. Makes about 3 cups.
What you’ll need…
- A quart vessel, preferably a glass jar with a tight- fitting lid
- 2 handfuls freshly harvested aromatic herb of choice
- About 3 3/4 cups water, enough to cover the herbs and fill the jar
- Place herb in quart jar, pour in water, cap jar, and let steep at room temperature for two to eight hours (any longer than eight hours and the herbs may begin to rot, detected by a funky odor.) You may also solar-infuse the liquid by placing the jar in the sun while steeping.
- When ready, serve the Herbal Essence Water right from the jar by pouring off the water. Or you can strain it, making sure to squeeze out all the water from the plant material. Serve chilled if desired.
- Store covered in the refrigerator and use within a couple of days.
- Mint Essence Water: Invigorating mint water is an herb class favorite. Use 2 handfuls total of spearmint, peppermint, apple mint, mountain mint, or any other aromatic mint in the Mentha or Pycnanthemum genus and follow preceding Master Recipe.
- Lemon Balm Water: Lemon balm, an uplifting and soothing herb, makes a subtle, lemon-like flavored drink. Use 2 handfuls of lemon balm and follow preceding Master Recipe.
- Anise Hyssop Water: Sweet, with an anise flavor, anise hyssop is as enjoyable to drink as it is to view in the landscape. Use 2 handfuls of anise hyssop and follow preceding Master Recipe.
See more from Dina at botanicalartspress.com
Sade Musa, folk herbalist
My favorite herb for sunburn relief is rooibos. Rooibos is used traditionally in South Africa for skin ailments, including sunburn. Possessing anti-inflammatory properties, rooibos soothes any redness I may get from a day spent outdoors. Promising studies report that it may even protect against skin cancer development.
I prefer to soak a towel in the cooled rooibos tea and apply to affected areas, but you can also administer via a spray bottle. Combine with cold Aloe juice for extra hydration and repair.
See more from Sade at @rootsofresistance
Colleen Codekas, author of Healing Herbal Infusions, blogger at Grow Forage Cook Ferment
Herb-Infused Aloe Vera
While Aloe vera is a favorite soothing and cooling plant that most people know about, I also really love using chickweed, Calendula, and lavender on sunburns. Calendula flowers help to speed healing and fresh chickweed is mucilaginous, which means it provides soothing and cooling properties as well. Lavender is also great for burns as it is pain relieving and antibacterial.
My favorite way to use these herbs for sunburn is to infuse them in pure Aloe vera gel. Simply put the fresh chickweed, Calendula, and lavender in a jar and cover the herbs with Aloe vera gel. Cover the jar and let it infuse for a few weeks in the refrigerator, then strain out the herbs before using. This infusion is best stored in the refrigerator, which also makes it even more cooling, and will keep for two to three months. Apply as often as needed to soothe and help heal a sunburn.
See more from Colleen at Grow Forage Cook Ferment
Emma Merritt, writer, educator, clinical herbalist
Tulsi or Holy Basil
A few years ago, after learning about tulsi or holy basil’s ability to reverse abnormal cell growth caused by radiation, I began experimenting with using tulsi extract topically on sunburn. The first time I tried it, I had been out too long on a particularly sunny day in May. I wasn’t yet thinking about sun hats and staying indoors from 10am-4pm, and my nose had paid the price after a day of cycling. I pulled my tulsi tincture off the apothecary shelf and rubbed a little bit into my burn. Sure enough, the next day the redness and pain were gone. I’ve since learned that applying tulsi extract once, followed by healing lotion (to keep the skin hydrated) is an excellent remedy for sunburn.
For very severe or widespread sunburn, a strong infusion of tulsi, green tea, and Calendula may be more appropriate, since the alcohol in most tinctures can be drying to the skin. I recommend green tea here because it has been shown to both prevent sunburn when used topically and to repair UVB-induced damage. This infusion can be applied directly to the skin, or added to a room temperature bath for soaking. As with the tincture, allow the skin to air-dry and apply healing lotion afterwards.
Get Emma’s After-Sun Infusion recipe and full article on “Herbal Protection Against UV Damage” at HerbMentor
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All these herbs are wonderful, and I use them a lot. For Burns however, from mild to severe enough to push instant blisters from the oven for example, I have found simple, cheap yellow Mustard most effective. It is made from Mustard seed, Turmeric and Vinegar and is easily available just about anywhere. Apply until the pain stops (keep moist with damp towel on a sunburn as well as reapply), and then you can forget about it. In sever cases (the instant blisters or charred spots from oven or grill), I combine it with Cinquefoil or Agrimony (thanks Matthew Woods).
Of course, Rose smells far better then being wrapped in Mustard.