(This is the first in a series on Healing Baths. Look for the second installment on bath teas coming up in July.)
There’s nothing quite like relaxing in a nice, warm bath after a stressful day, when you’re not feeling well, or when it’s nasty outside. Take a bubble bath, or use some nicely scented bath oil. Add your favorite beverage, some music, maybe a good book and you have heaven on earth… for a little while.
As good as this sounds, it gets better. Your bath can not only help you relax, it can help you get, and stay well. It can do wonders for your skin and for your whole body. The secret lies in what you put into your bath. Salts, kelp, herbs, oils, essential oils, and even milk all do their part.
Very Brief History
Hippocrates, the founder of modern medicine, strongly recommended a daily aromatic bath and scented massage to prolong life. Natural perfumes and healing balms were very popular with the Greeks, being one of the many Greek ideas exported to Rome.
The Romans of course were the world’s greatest bathers. In addition to aromatic plants, the Romans were fond of naturally warm spa waters. Both were utilized for their health giving properties.
Contrary to popular belief, people in the Middle Ages did enjoy bathing. The wealthy often had private bathing houses. Some had special rooms off the kitchen where women could bath together sociably. Public bath houses were called stews, and their managers were considered medical personnel, though on the lowest rung of the medical ladder. Aromatics were used in bathing both for pleasure and medicinally. Many of their recipes still remain for herbal bath waters and herbal soaps.
So sanitation aside, how do baths benefit our health? Our skin is a two-way system, capable of both absorption and excretion, though it’s rather particular. It can’t pass water through to the bloodstream, but it can pass substances that have small enough molecules. Essential oils are volatile oils found in aromatic plants, and their molecules are small enough. Probably through the skin’s hair follicles, essential oils are passed through to the circulatory and lymphatic systems (If this sounds too incredible, try this: rub a clove of garlic on the soles of your feet, and have a friend check your breath an hour or two later). Essential oils can be purchased and added to the bath directly, or they can be released from the fresh or dried herbs used in the bath.
This will come as no surprise to anyone who enjoys aromatherapy candles, especially if the candles are made with essential oils. The molecules of essential oils readily diffuse into the air, and from there, into the lungs. The lungs contain tiny air sacs called alveoli, which serve to pass oxygen from the air into the surrounding blood vessels. Essential oil molecules also cross the alveoli into the blood stream.
The simplest way to benefit from the essential oils found in herbs is to go down to your local health food store and buy some, or to buy products made with essential oils. If you decide to buy your own, be careful – essential oils are very potent, requiring no more than a few drops. Get a good book on aromatherapy before experimenting with essential oils. Remember anything that can benefit your health can also cause harm if misused. The precautions are simple, but important.
||Always know the essential oil you’re working with. Some can be skin irritants if too much is used. Some essential oils are dangerous and should never be used without professional supervision. Never take any essential oil internally unless under the care of a professional.
Another, wonderful way to benefit from aromatic herbs is to take an herbal tea bath. Herbs were used in bath water long before anyone learned how to extract the essential oils. Nor are essential oils all there is to aromatic herbs. Pure botanical waters without dyes or other additives are as close as your spice rack. Sooth your nervous system and enhance your circulation with a rosemary bath. Try a sage bath to cool down on a hot night or after running
Baking soda in a bath helps to balance the skin’s PH. It also helps sooth sunburn pain, itchy skin, insect stings, and other minor skin irritations. Finally, baking soda acts as a natural cleanser.
Bath salts can be sea salt, Epsom salt, or both. They can also contain rock salt, or table salt, so always check the ingredients. Bath salts may contain base oils, essential oils, fragrances, milk (cow, goat, buttermilk, even soy or almond), oatmeal, and/or baking soda.
Adding salt to your bath increases blood circulation, encouraging your lymphatic system to eliminate body toxins. And by triggering the body’s own oil secretion, sea salts help to naturally moisturize the skin.
Hot baths are beneficial when suffering from a cold or flu, especially if you plan on going to bed afterward. Otherwise, they are tiring, and can age the skin. Avoid hot baths and Epsom salt baths if you have high blood pressure or a heart condition.
An Epsom salts bath draws toxins from the skin by encouraging the body to sweat. It will also sooth the nervous system, relax muscles, ease aches and pains, and exfoliate the skin. Epsom salts have long been known for their ability to reduce the swelling of sprains and bruises. They are beneficial to sufferers of arthritis and rheumatism, and will help ward off the symptoms of a cold or flu.
Always move arthritic joints after an Epsom salts bath to prevent congestion which would cause more pain.
Sea salt has a high mineral content, providing the skin with the nutrition it needs to be smooth and supple. Salts can contain Calcium, Chlorides, Potassium, Magnesium, Iron, Manganese, Copper, Zinc and more. Salts obtained from different parts of the world contain different minerals in differing amounts, with salts from the Dead Sea being the richest, while containing lower levels of sodium.
There are several kinds of seaweed commonly used in baths, including Bladderwrack, Kelp, and Sea Palm. Kelp is probably the most beneficial, releasing release a purifying gel into the water. Seaweed baths have a very high mineral content and include Magnesium, Calcium, Phosphorus, Iron, Potassium, 12 vitamins (including A, B1, B2, C, D and E ), 21 amino acids and over 60 minerals and trace elements, in particular, iodine and tocopherol (Vitamin E). Kelp is a great body detoxifier and revitaliser.
Seaweed requires hot water before releasing its healing properties. Draw the bath water as hot as possible, add the seaweed, then let the bath cool down before entering.
Bubble Baths and Fizzies
Bath Fizzies (or Bath Bombs) are tablets that are dropped into the bath water after the tub has stopped filling. They fizz delightfully while dissolving. They can come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Use one or more depending on the size and your preference.
Bubble baths and fizzies are simply fun. But they can also contain any or all of the many healing ingredients discussed in this article. When buying bubble bath or bath fizzies, be sure to check the ingredients carefully. Choose bath products that will help you gain the maximum benefits from your bath, healing and nourishing your body while you relax.