In my earliest memory of herbal baths, I am shivering in a bath pan with my hand over my mouth covering a weak but rasping cough. Limp, moss-colored leaves are entangling my toes in the warm water, and my grandmother is sloshing a wash cloth in the water, then letting it drain down from my narrow shoulders and heaving chest.
By the next afternoon I was sucking on a piece of grandma’s toffee while chasing dragonflies along the banks of the Sweet River; and believing that it was my grandmother’s kind face and gentle hands that were responsible for my cure. I really do not remember the name of the herb that was used in that bath, but I grew up associating baths with being ill.
A few days ago when I watched a video on YouTube of a Chinese mother lovingly giving her 9-month-old baby a honeysuckle bath for his eczema rashes (It is recorded that the Chinese have been taking herbal baths as early as the Zhou dynasty), it took me on a trip down memory lane to summer holidays at my grandmother’s house in the countryside, and the beginnings of my love for everything natural.
Herbal baths, made with flowers, roots or bark , were highly valued by the ancients and used worldwide to relieve inflammation, arthritis, reproductive, urinary and intestinal disorders, skin diseases and allergies, stings of poisonous animals, damage of soft tissues, rheumatic and neuralgic pains, nervous and cardiovascular diseases, and more. The effectiveness of herbal baths are mainly absorbed through the skin and respiratory system to activate the patient’s life functions.
The earliest written information about therapy by bathing with aromatic herbs dates back to 1500 B.C.E. Ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians and Hebrews widely applied the practice for hygienic and medicinal purposes. For example, Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, bathed with rose petals.
Herbal baths were quite common among the Greeks. Hippocrates, known as the Father of Medicine, learned about the healing properties of aromatic baths from the ancient Egyptians. He subsequently developed teachings about using water as a form of treatment, which he called hydrotherapy.
This treatment method was later adopted by ancient Roman physicians who recommended aromatic baths for urological and genital disorders, as well as for tumors, wounds, colds, bad mood, and fatigue. The Caracalla baths in Rome were especially opulent and famous during the 3rd century C.E.
According to Greek historians, the Scythians, a nomadic tribe of the Ukraine region, threw hempseed upon red-hot rocks to medicate a vapor bath: “The Scythians take some of this hempseed, and, creeping under the felt coverings, throw it upon the red-hot stones; immediately it smokes, and gives off such a vapour as no Grecian vapour-bath can exceed.”
During the Renaissance and Reformation, the Church nearly rendered the European bathhouse extinct. Only the Finnish, Russian and Scandinavian peoples continued their traditions of herbal bathing. Russians applied a kind of herbal therapy in their bathhouses: they vigorously thrashed each other with switches of green birch twigs (so called Birch Broom). It was believed that such “birching” in a bath improves circulation and rejuvenates an organism. The Finnish bath (sauna) resembled the traditional Russian bath, but its principal therapeutic effect was associated not with hot water, but with steam.
During the Middle Ages, a cult of bathing was formed in Persia, Turkey, and the Caucasus. An 11th century Iranian writer, Keykavus Ziyari, wrote, “Since architects began to raise buildings, they created nothing better than a bathhouse.”
Perhaps not to be outdone, Medieval Azerbaijani doctors regularly prescribed essential oils and other fragrances for their patients. This practice is described in the medieval Arabic, Persian and Turkish manuscripts, including the medical texts that describe aromatherapy.
Apart from healing our physical conditions, herbal baths also have a potent influence on the mind. An herbal bath can calm our anxieties and help us to relax, revitalize our energy and memory, fight fatigue and apathy.
The ancient animists (those with the worldview that non-human entities—such as animals, plants, and inanimate objects—possess a spiritual essence) believe in the concept that the soul and its connection to an individual’s physical self can be achieved through a spiritual bath. Bathing in sacred water cleanses and rejuvenates the soul, giving it mystical energy. Depending on the reason for the bath, there are specific instructions provided for each one. Some of the water will need to be poured on the body and some spiritual baths require total immersion in a tub.There are also different kinds of physical movements to consider when taking a bath. To reel in positive energy, an upward stroke in the water is required. To dispel negative energy, downward strokes should be carried out.
Traditional healers, like Mayan and Native American shamans, have long used herbs to heal the emotions. They mash the herbs and pray over them while preparing them to extract the oils. For herbs and oils to heal the emotional body, they must be prepared with prayer, love and respect.
There are those who believe that baths for skin rashes, bug bites, sunburn, and all kinds of skin irritations like diaper rash must be a cool bath. A warm bath is used for healing the emotional body and insomnia.
My Honeysuckle Herbal Bath
After my journey into the secrets of herbal baths, I treated myself to one. Honeysuckle, also known as woodbine or Jin Yin Hua, is an old Chinese medicine used for relieving inflammation, killing harmful bacteria in the body detoxifying the bloodstream and reducing high fevers by cooling the body
Soaking in a bath of honeysuckle flowers and leaves can help relieve all kinds of skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and thrush, poison ivy, oak and sumac,. Honeysuckle has the ability to pull poisons and toxins out of the body while relieving itchiness and redness. Honeysuckle even has potent antioxidants, vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, antibacterial properties, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties that can help nourish and heal the skin naturally. Some people even use honeysuckle tinctures in clay masks to help treat and cure acne on the face and body. I personally find honeysuckle baths relaxing and detoxifying.
- All you need are hot water, bath tub and herbs.
- To get the best results from the herb, the water should be very warm, preferably 96°-98° Fahrenheit.
- Some of the herbs used in combination with honeysuckle are echinacea, ginger root, cowslip, mulberry and milk thistle.
- Place the herb in a large muslin pouch or brew as a tea shortly before use and pour the liquid in the bath water
- For a more luxurious bath, add a few drops of herbal oil, such as calendula herbal oil to the water
- Once in the tub, soak for a minimum of 20 minutes and dream pleasant dreams.
- Cover your chest or knees with a hand towel to keep warm if your tub is small.
- You can sip herbal tea during your luxurious soak.
- There are those who believe that you should allow yourself to be air dried because a towel will remove all the effects of the bath
- Follow your bath with your favorite lotion or body oil
If soaking in a bath with creepy herbs is not in your liking, you could purchase honeysuckle bath bombs, although the infusion of a whole fragrant herb is often considered to be more effective than its pure volatile oil.. After my adventure into my first honeysuckle herbal bath, I decided to make some bath bombs with Epsom salts and scented with honeysuckle essential oil.
Our cautious conclusion: herbal baths have a reputation for being beneficial and lacking harm, nonetheless, a mother should consider the well being of the fetus she carries or for the nursing child – also consider the chronically ill, the elderly, and of combining herbs with the prescription drugs.