“Bath tea” may be a confusing pair of words for many folks, as herbal baths are not especially popular in American culture. While bath salts line the shelves of health food and drug stores, bath teas are far less common. When I sold herbal products, people did not line up at my booth to purchase bath teas.
I think this has something to do with our culture of convenience. It is hard enough to sell loose-leaf drinking tea to most people, who don’t want to mess with straining herbs. It’s no surprise that this is the case, because herbal medicine in general is overlooked by today’s pill-popping society. As such, the idea of taking the time to bathe with herbs is a foreign concept for many.
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And yet, bath tea is such a simple way to use nature’s bounty to promote health of the body, mind, and soul. Baths in general are wonderful for our health. And yes, this includes men’s health! It takes a real man to step into a bathtub and enjoy its sensual nature. That’s right—this is a bit of a playful challenge for all you guys out there who feel a little too manly for a bath. First of all, I commend you for reading this far into the article. Second, let me explain that I’m not asking you to take a bubble bath while listening to Enya and chanting (aaah, but wouldn’t that be lovely?). I’m just saying that we are all humans with bodies that require care, and taking a bath is a kind of therapy. Call it hydrotherapy if you must; just don’t deprive yourself of this curative creature comfort.
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Adding herbs to the equation makes taking a bath all the more healing. The idea is very similar to herbal tea: you infuse hot bathwater with herbs, so they extract their medicinal compounds into the water. While soaking in the herbal infusion with your pores open and your blood flowing, you absorb this medicine through the body’s largest organ—your skin.
How to Create Bath Tea
The beauty of bath tea as a healing modality is its inexpensive and easy nature. You don’t need to buy oils or alcohol to extract the medicine from the plants; the water does that for you. All you need are herbs and a bag—simple as that.
For earthier types, it might be tempting to just throw a handful of flowers or leaves into the bath and jump in. But believe me, it only takes one instance of painstakingly picking flowers from one’s hair to de-romanticize the whole Scott McKenzie “San Francisco” hippie flower-child business. This is where the bag comes in handy.
It doesn’t have to be very big—just about 2x4 or 3x5 inches works nicely. Ideally, it is made of natural cotton or muslin, and it should have a drawstring on the top. I made mine myself, as it’s a simple sewing job, but even simpler is buying one pre-made. If you’re lucky, you might spot one in a store; otherwise, they can be found online inexpensively. Sometimes, companies require a large purchase quantity with these bags. I recommend one of two sites for those looking for a small quantity. At Sunburst Bottles you can buy just one bag. At Etsy, I found a company that sells as few as ten, and they are organic (which is always better). I see no problem in stocking up on these, as they are also useful for sachets and other things.
Top Five Herbs for the Bath
This herb boosts circulation in the body, making it a great choice for treating achy muscles and joints as well as cold and flu. Ginger baths are stimulating and invigorating. The effects can be felt immediately—you may even start sweating, which helps your body release toxins. Hot Ginger baths are a great alternative to a sauna. I like to take Ginger baths during a detox, and also throughout the winter to keep me warm and healthy. Preferably your Ginger root will be fresh and diced just before use, but you can also use dried Ginger. (If your Ginger is powdered, you can ditch the muslin bag just this once.)
Wait, isn’t this a food? Indeed, Oats are both food and medicine. You can use plain oatmeal for the bath, or the herb known as Oatstraw, which is the green, grass-like portion of the same plant, Avena Sativa. This Latin name inspired the brand Aveeno, which produces lotion and other products with Oats as the active ingredient. While both are beneficial, I prefer using Oats because they exude a gel-like substance that softens the skin. You can even squeeze the gel out of the bag to use as a natural shaving lotion. Oatstraw and oatmeal baths are commonly recommended for all kinds of skin ailments. Oats help with itchy, flaky, or dry skin, caused by eczema, insect bites, or even chicken pox. Avena is also calming to the nervous system, and relieves stress and nervous exhaustion. In her book Healing Wise, Susun Weed recommends Oatstraw baths for a number of serious ailments, including cystitis, rheumatism, urinary tract or kidney issues, and neuralgia.
A well-known herb popularly used in natural body care products, Calendula flowers heal wounds, soothe inflammation, and clear infection. Sunburns, cat scratches, herpes sores, and rashes are all good reasons to bathe with Calendula. Possessing a strong solar energy, these orange and yellow blooms promote cheerful feelings and clear away mild melancholy. Matthew Wood calls Calendula “herbal sunshine,” and uses the plant to get the lymph moving throughout the body. It is an especially useful herb in wintertime, when the lack of warmth and sunshine causes malaise and seasonal affective disorder. What better time for a hot Calendula bath?
The power of mint has been known since ancient times. According to legend, Cleopatra used mint oil in her secret beauty preparations. The Ancient Greeks called mint “Aphrodite’s Crown” as a testament to its stimulating properties. While peppermint might stir up your primal passions, it is even more useful for intellectual intercourse, as its aroma stimulates the central hippocampus of the brain. Peppermint promotes mental clarity, memory, and improved concentration for those feeling fatigued. This aromatic herb also contains menthol, and is a good choice for opening the nasal passages during a cold or flu. As if all of this weren’t enough, the potent Peppermint plant also fights nausea and boosts the digestion, making it a wonderful ally during illness.
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|By DENzer via Wikimedia Commons|
Waste Not, Want Not:
Certain table scraps can be saved and used as bath tea. Instead of throwing away citrus peels or the skin of Ginger root, collect these goodies in your muslin bag and use them for a nice bath before composting.
For added potency, you can also make a strong tea of the herbs in your kitchen, and then pour the infusion into your bathwater. I like to do this for Ginger and other roots because they are sturdy materials. Bring the roots to a boil, simmer for several minutes, and then strain the decoction into the tub. You can then fill your muslin bag with these roots and bathe as usual. When creating an infusion or decoction of herbs beforehand, just remember to keep your kettle or pot covered so that the crucial essential oils of the herbs are not evaporated.
To amplify the healing effects of your herbal bath, brew a cup of tea using the same herb and drink it as you bathe. Each plant I’ve mentioned above can also be drunk as tea, with the exception of oatmeal. You can either eat a bowl of oatmeal before hopping into the tub, or brew a cup of Oatstraw tea to bring with you. While your body does absorb a plant’s healing compounds through the pores during a hot bath, taking an infusion internally ensures that you get a strong dose of the medicine. The hot liquid warms you from the inside out, promoting better circulation and detoxification.
The primary thing to remember when creating herbal baths is to relax and enjoy the experience. This is your time, set aside from the demands of the outside world, to care for yourself. Water gets us in touch with our emotions and intuition. It also serves to cleanse away impurities and leave us feeling fresh and new. Enhance your bathing experience by lighting candles and playing relaxing music. Clear your mind and meditate on how good it feels to be in the warm, healing water. If you are working to heal a particular condition, visualize yourself as healthy and whole. Go ahead; infuse yourself!