The Wonders of the Herbal Bath
We often forget, in the rush to get about our daily routines, what a soothing and, in fact, very healing ritual bathing can be. For many, it's the one time when we can steal away a private moment, focus only on ourselves or nothing at all, simply sooth away the daily aches and pains, and release the tensions to rise up and away on the steam...
Throughout history, it is easy to see the importance various cultures placed on the ritual of bath. As early as the third century BC, public and private bathhouses could be found across Greece and Rome as people discovered not only the sanitary necessity of bathing, but also the healing and beautifying properties as well. One source tells us that the Roman Baths of Caracalla offered more than 20 different types of baths, including mineral, oil, steam, massage, friction and of course, various herbal options.
Hippocrates, the "father of medicine", often prescribed baths as basic medicine for certain diseases, especially those related to the muscles, bones and joints, as well as certain mental disorders. In fact, the soothing effects of a warm bath were one of the first treatments for emotional and mental disturbances. Today, we find the effects of hydrotherapy are still recommended for treatment of arthritis and certain other muscular disorders.
Baths can sooth and relax, or refresh and stimulate. They can ease the body and calm the mind. The "holistic" practitioner knows the importance of bringing together mind, body and spirit in the tranquil, centered atmosphere of the bath, literally washing our physical and emotional troubles away.
If you're envisioning (with either hope or fear) sinking down in a tub strewn with handfuls of selected flowers, leaves and stems, it's a lovely picture, but not quite practical in these modern times of easily clogged drains! One of the best ways to experience an herbal bath is to prepare your own herbal tea bags. Take a square of cheesecloth, muslin or other lightweight (either natural or colorfast!) material and wrap about a ½ cup of your selected herbs - that's basically a heaping handful - in it. Tie it up to make a bundle or Bath Tea Bag. Either hang the bundle from the faucet, letting the water run over and through it, or let it float along with you in the tub, letting it "steep". With some of the more gentle herbs, you can even use the cheesecloth bag as an "herbal skin scrub" to directly treat the skin and release the fragrances.
If you can find it, one of the really large plastic tea infusers works wonderfully for this as well; or, if you're handy with a needle and thread, make yourself a few drawstring bath tea bags from attractive prints. This way, you can make them to match an herbal theme or your bathroom decor. These make great gifts as well!
A second method is to add an infusion to the bath. Pour ½ cup of boiling water over the same amount of dried herbs and let it steep for about 15-20 minutes. Strain and add the liquid to the bath water.
Consider Temperature Water temperature can have as much effect on your desired intent as the herbs you choose. Warm baths can sooth and relax, providing needed relief to aching muscles and joints. Cool water baths can be more invigorating, refreshing and revitalizing, as well as providing toning for the skin. Try to avoid hot baths as they dehydrate the body, dry out the skin and can leave one feeling more exhausted than invigorated.
Then, choose from the following lists of herbs or try some of the listed herbal combinations to make your own relaxing herbal bath therapies. Experiment with them. Experience the different sensations...explore the myriad possibilities!
NOTE: While all the herbs listed here are safe for topical or external use, if you have overly sensitive skin or tendency toward topical allergic reaction, try only a small amount of any herb you are unfamiliar with before experiencing it in larger quantities.
Herbal Bath for Stiff Muscles or Aching Joints
Agrimony, Bay, Juniper Berries, Mugwort, Oregano, Poplar Buds and Bark, Sage, Strawberry Leaves
Equal parts Sage and Strawberry Leaves; or
Equal parts Sage and Mugwort; or
Equal parts Agrimony, Chamomile, and Mugwort
The book Growing and Using Herbs recommends an infusion made from 1 oz each of Burdock root, Mugwort, Comfrey Leaf, and Sage in one quart of water. The Good Herb also recommends adding a tablespoon or two of Epsom salts to the tea bag for especially achy muscles.
Herbal Bath to Aid Circulation
Ginger, Calendula (Marigold), Bladder Wrack, Ginger
Equal parts Nettle, Marigold (Calendula), and Bladder Wrack; or
A strong infusion of Ginger, strained and added to the bath
Herbal Bath to Relieve Tension
Probably the best use for an herbal bath I know! Medicine is fast realizing the connection between high levels of stress and heart problems, circulatory problems, certain cancers and other life threatening illnesses. What a wonderful and easy preventative is the relaxing herbal bath!
Valerian, Sweet Flag, Hops, Queen of the Meadow, Violet, Catnip, Chamomile flowers, Comfrey, Elder, Evening Primrose Flowers, Hyssop, Jasmine flowers, Lemon Balm, Lime Flower, Linden Flower, Marsh Mallow Root, Melilot, Mullein, Passionflower flower, Rose petals, St. John's Wort,Tansy flowers, Vervain, Violet
1 cup oatmeal and 3 cups dried Lime flowers or Chamomile flowers
A mixture of equal parts Hops and Queen of the Meadow as a decoction (addition of herbs to cold water, brought to a boil and strained) used as an after-bath rinse is said to be especially healing and soothing.
Herbal Bath to Stimulate, Invigorate and Rejuvenate
Basil, Bay, Calendula flowers, Fennel, Horseradish, Lavender, Lemon Verbena, Lovage Root, Marjoram, Mints, Nettle, Pine Needles, Queen of the Meadow, Rosemary, Sage, Savory, Thyme, Vetiver Root
Try this invigorating Shower Gel from The New Age Herbalist:
2 ½ parts fresh Irish Moss or 2 oz dried Seaweed, rinsed
1 part water
4 tablespoons orange flowers or elderflowers
Put the Seaweed or Irish Moss in a large pan with the water, bring it to a boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Rub the mixture through a strainer, stir in the flowers. When cooled, put into jars or wide-necked bottles. The gel (produced by the mucilage in the moss/seaweed) softens the skin while it invigorates. Rub handfuls over the body as a shower scrub before rinsing thoroughly.
Bath Herbs as Body Tonics
Blackberry leaves, Comfrey, Dandelion, Daisy, Ginseng Root, Jasmine Flower, Nettle, Orange Peel or Blossoms, Parsley, Patchouli, Raspberry leaves
For Skin Tonics, try:
Equal parts Comfrey, Alfalfa, Parsley, and Orange Peel; or
Three Parts of Jasmine Flowers to one Part Orange Blossom; or
Equal parts Rose Petals, Orange Blossoms, Lavender; or
Equal Parts Comfrey, Nettle, Dandelion and Daisy
Herbal Foot Baths Relieve those tired tootsies with these tried and true herbs:
Agrimony, Alder bark, Burdock, Goat's Rue, Lavender Flowers, Lime Flowers, Mustard Seeds, Rosemary, Mugwort, Thyme, Yarrow Flowers, Sage, Witch Hazel Bark and Leaves, Wormwood
Antiseptic Herbs for the Bath
Burdock Root, Eucalyptus, Hyssop, Sandalwood, Dock
Burdock Root and Hyssop are reported to induce sweating when added to the bath. For a cold or flu, add Eucalyptus to clear congestion and assist with its antibacterial qualities.
Astringent Herbs for the Bath
Agrimony, Alum Root, Bay, Bayberry Bark, Clary, Comfrey Leaves and Root, Dock, Lady's Mantle, Lemongrass, Mullein, Nasturtium Flowers, Periwinkle, Potentilla Root, Queen of the Meadow, Raspberry Leaves, Rose Flowers, Rosemary, Strawberries, While Willow Bark, Wintergreen, Witch Hazel Bark and Leaves, Yarrow Flowers
Bath Herbs to Soothe Skin Inflammations
Alder, Dandelion leaves, Elecampane, Lady's Mantle, Marigold leaves, Mints, Plantain
These herbs all help to heal and gently cleanse the skin. Marigold Leaves in particular are said to heal scars and sooth varicose veins.
Herbal Bath for Beauty
You only look as good as you feel! Try this herbal bath tea mixture used by a renowned French beauty.
One handful each of dried lavender flowers, dried rosemary leaves, dried mint, chopped Comfrey roots, and thyme. Make an infusion in a quart of water, then add to the bath. Soak for a minimum of 15 minutes and you have had what is referred to as a "Magic Beauty Bath".
For the skin conditioners, adding a bit of extra lavender or a little oatmeal will add skin-softening agents to the mix
Bath Herbs for Pure Fragrance and Aromatherapy
Angelica Root, Bay, Clove, Geranium, Jasmine Flowers, Honeysuckle flowers, Lavender Flowers, Lemon flowers an d Lemon Peel, Lovage Root, Mints, Myrtle Leaves and Flowers, Patchouli, Pennyroyal, Rose Petals, Rosemary, Sandalwood, Southernwood
Now, isn't it time to take a break? Go ahead...relax. Ease yourself into a soothing herbal bath, and let the natural medicines heal your body while the aromatherapy eases your mind and soothes your spirit. While you're at it, promise yourself this will be at least a weekly ritual. You'll thank You!