Secrets Of The Healing Bath
Water, fortified with plant essences, soothes, heals and relaxes tense or weary bodies. It also lifts a sagging spirit even better than a glass of good wine. The right kind of bathing can be relaxing and revitalizing at the same time. The relaxation helps change our fragmented thoughts into blissful states and makes us feel whole again.
Whenever possible, make bath-time a real performance in a warm bathroom filled with delicious fragrance, soft music and gentle light. Before you even touch a tap, make sure you’ve gathered together everything you’ll need for your soak: A loofah or hemp glove, a towel, another towel to act as a head-rest, sea salt for rubs, Epsom salts or magnesium chloride flakes, plus the pièce de résistance—herbs and essential oils you love.
BAG YOUR HERBS
Don’t just toss a handful of leaves, bark, root, and flowers into the bath water. Yes, they can make an infusion that you can soak in. But they will also make an awful mess. Herbs stick to the bath and to you, and clog up the plug-hole. Create a sort of ‘tea bag’ by sewing up three sides of a 6” square muslin bag. Put your herbs into it and then close up the last side. You can use these bags again and again, so making a few is worth the investment in time. If you only want to use a collection of herbs once, put a big handful in the middle of a square of muslin, make a bundle of it and secure it with an elastic band. When you’ve finished with it you can throw the herbs away, wash the muslin and use it again.
Herbal baths have all sorts of therapeutic uses. I got hooked on them when I found that bathing with herbs could ease me into restful sleep, or pep me up after a long day’s work so that I was bright enough to enjoy an evening out. Toss an herb bag into your bath while it’s running. Or make your bag with string or ribbon ties so it can hang under the flow from the hot tap. Leave it in the water for the first five minutes of your bath, then squeeze it out thoroughly and put it on the side. (You can even use the wet bag like a flannel to wash with if you like.) If this seems like too much effort, you can get away with making a super-strong infusion of your herbs in a tea pot and pour this into the bath—it can have the same effect.
I like to gather herbs from my garden. I use them either dried or fresh. Because dried herbs, spices, barks and flowers are inexpensive at iHerb.com, I often order a pound of each that I like—from Pau d’ Arco bark and Ground Turmeric Root to Damiana Leaf, Hibiscus flowers, Dandelion Root, Lemon Grass, Rubbed Sage Leaf and Frankincense Tears. The best dried herbs are made by Frontier Natural Products. They are also the cheapest, and many are organically grown. I often mix their herbs with whatever I’ve grown myself in the garden.
AN HERB FOR EVERY PURPOSE
|To relax you||Use 1 ½ cups of any of dried herbs on their own, or a mixture of ½ cup each of two or three:
Camomile, comfrey, hyssop, juniper berries, lavender, lemon balm, mullein, passionflower, peppermint, slippery elm, valerian
|To invigorate you||Try any of these plants, or mix together ½ cup each of two or three:
Calendula, fennel, horseradish root, lavender, marjoram, mint, nettle, pine needles, rosemary, sage, thyme.
|To ease aching muscles||Use a mixture of ½ cup each of two or three:
Agrimony, crushed juniper berries, oregano, sage, strawberry leaves.
|To bathe tired feet||Try a mixture of ½ cup each of two or three herbs in a comfortably hot foot bath:
Agrimony, burdock, ginger, lavender, bruised mustard seed, sage, witch hazel.
WHAT A SMOOTHIE
An herb bath is an opportunity to pamper your skin with natural ingredients in the most luxurious way. Before you dip a foot in the water, try a sea-salt scrub. If you think exfoliation means expensive preparatory body creams, then think again. A handful of sea salt mixed with a little water rubbed all over your body removes old, dead skin cells, softens your skin, and leaves you glowing all over. There is nothing quite like the tingle of warm water on just-scrubbed skin! Also, a salt rub taken before an herbal bath increases the benefits of the herbs because it makes your skin more absorbent. A particularly delicious way to use a salt scrub is to mix a cup or two of your dried herbs –rosemary, perhaps, or peppermint, orange peel, or camomile—into the salt. Fill a glass jar with your mixture and keep it in the bathroom, it looks and smells delicious.
Cleopatra bathed luxuriously in milk to soften her skin and preserve her extraordinary youth. I’ve experimented with this but I think it’s a pretty useless practice. Dried milk sticks to the body and the tub. Maybe the problem is that, while Cleopatra had fresh asses’ milk in ready supply, contemporary asses are hard to come by and freeze-dried milk is disgusting. The good news is that I’ve devised something infinitely better. It’s readily available and cheap. I think this will surprise you.
To play the Cleopatra game, add a pound (450 grams) of good quality baking soda/bicarbonate of soda (it MUST be aluminum-free, while most baking sodas are not). This is why I order several bags of Bob’s Red Mill, Pure Baking Soda 16 oz bags at iHerb all at the same time, and keep it on hand. Their baking soda is made from deposits of mineralized sodium bicarbonate. It is extracted by an all-natural water process that uses no chemicals. I add it to a running bath together with 2-3 drops of a fragrant essential oil (don’t use more, as too much essential oil may burn your skin). The effect is amazing. It softens skin and deep cleanses the body all at the same time. Be sure to stay in the water for 20-30 minutes to reap the full benefits of this amazing practice. So fascinating are the health and cosmetic benefits of using the very best baking soda(bicarbonate of soda) that I keep telling myself I must soon write a newsletter all about them.
SOFT, SMOOTH SKIN THAT LASTS
|Baking Soda Softener||Pour 16 ounces (450 grams) of baking soda(bicarbonate of soda) into a bath. Add a bag of elderflowers, rose petals, camomile or sage—or a mixture of all three.|
|Camomile Smoothie||Pour 16 ounces of baking soda(bicarbonate of soda) into a bath, then use equal quantities of camomile, elderflowers, comfrey and linden blossoms.|
|Comfrey Brightener||Try a bag containing equal quantities of comfrey, nettle, dandelion, and orange peel in your bath with baking soda(bicarbonate of soda).|
|Oatmeal Scrub||Fill a bath bag with 2 cups of rolled oats, 1 cup of elderflowers, and half a cup each of crushed nettle leaves and crushed spearmint.|
An herb bath doesn’t have to mean filling the bath with water and fully immersing yourself, by the way. You might like to try a sitz bath. This is a great method for healing lower back troubles or period pain. Simply run six inches of warm water into the tub. Add your bagged herb mixture (don’t use essential oils—they might burn your skin in so little water). Sit in this sitz bath for ten to fifteen minutes, keeping the top half of your body well wrapped up. Step out of the bath and wrap yourself in a towel (don’t dry yourself with it). Go and lie down in a warm room for 20 minutes and give yourself time to absorb its blessings.
Or you might like to try a steam bath. This is also an excellent way to cleanse and soften your skin while clearing your mind from habitual worries. You need two large buckets, pans, or foot baths. Fill one with hot water and herbs, and put it underneath a straight-backed chair (be careful of the surface you put this on). Fill the other with comfortably warm water and herbs to put your feet in. Sit on a towel on the chair with your feet in the footbath while you’re wrapped, tent-like, from the neck down in a sheet and a blanket so that you cover both steaming pans. Have a good sweat for fifteen minutes, then wrap yourself in a towel and rest for half an hour enjoying a large cup of herb tea before you take a refreshing shower.
You may think I am being mean by adding only 2-3 drops of essential oil to a Cleopatra milk-bath. But the effectiveness of essential oils is such that they work best when they are highly diluted. Essential oils soothe a tired body and a troubled mind. As you breathe in their mood-enhancing qualities on the steam, you will absorb their healing properties through your skin. I have a collection of them which I keep in the bathroom for easy access.
There are two good ways of adding essential oils to a bath. You can put in 2-3 drops of the pure essence straight into running water; or you can make a simple bath oil by adding five drops of essential oil to 1/4 cup of carrier oil like apricot or almond oil. Pour this mixture into the water five minutes after you have got into the bath. This gives your skin time to absorb some moisture. Otherwise the oil can cling to your skin as you get into the bath and act as a barrier.
Here are some of my own most-loved essential oils. By the way, five drops of them in the bath can as effectively bring relief from seething anger as they can from physical exhaustion.
|To diffuse anger||Ylang ylang, rose, camomile|
|To unlock resentment||Rose|
|To cheer up||Hyssop, marjoram, sandalwood|
|To invigorate the mind||Basil, peppermint, cypress, patchouli|
|To ease worry||Lavender|
|To end world-weariness||Neroli, melissa, camphor|
|To make you feel stronger||Camomile, jasmine, melissa|
|To soothe irritability||Frankincense, marjoram, camomile, lavender|
|To relieve exhaustion||Jasmine, rosemary, juniper, patchouli|
|To unknot anxieties||Sage, juniper, basil, jasmine|
|To use as an aphrodisiac||Add a drop each of basil, cardamom, jasmine, patchouli and myrrh, or use only ylang ylang.|
ONE MORE SUGGESTION
The relaxing effect of water in the bath makes this an excellent time for a little gentle exercise. Try shaping your legs while you lie back. Press your legs against the side of the bath and hold there for six seconds and release. Repeat three times. Press legs hard inward together and hold for six seconds, then release. Repeat three times.