HISTORY OF THERMAL BATHS
Ancient Greeks and the Romans knew the deeply beneficial properties of sulphurous springs, especially for healing skin diseases and for relieving muscular and joint pain. Historically, they are considered the leaders of therapeutic bathing as they erected the most elaborate and luxurious bathhouses, in some cases accommodating up to 6,000 bathers at one time. Bathhouses were places for healing, socializing and even to conduct business. Some public baths were so grandiose that they contained lecture halls, art galleries, meditation rooms, and prayer stalls. It was not uncommon for wounded or weary soldiers to find comfort there, after battle, for convalescence and healing. Some of the finest healers worked in the baths and could tend to their wounds.
In the Ottoman Empire the purity and sacredness of water had always been esteemed for cleansing and renewal. The Hammam (Hammim), also known as a ‘Turkish bath’, involves a series of cleansing techniques often used to heal a wide array of chronic diseases. The healing waters of the Hierapolis ancient pool were so famous that the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra frequently visited here and gave the pool another common name: Cleopatra Pool.
During the Middle Ages, a cult of bathing was formed in Persia, Turkey, and the Caucasus. Bathhouses served as both beauty parlors and health clinics. It was general consensus for people to bathe 1-3 times per week in order to maintain good health. Medieval Middle Eastern bathhouses usually offered services such as steaming, bathing and massage with the application of herbs and aromatic oils. Many large public bathhouses had a staff of masseurs for this purpose, because it was believed that massage alleviates physical and mental tiredness, and improves circulation.
In Ancient Egypt water was deeply revered and used for purification, ritual, and cosmetological purposes. Queen Cleopatra was renowned for her radiant skin and her stunning beauty. She did ceremonial sweats, bathed frequently using chamomile, and blue lotus petals and milk, along with mud wraps from the Dead Sea for purification and mineralization.
For centuries, Japan has been another culture known for its bathing and purification customs and obsession with cleanliness. Spiritual pursuits of purity, hygiene and ritual purification were a key part of Japanese culture, and bathing was also often done communally.
The ancient Maya have perhaps one of the oldest sweat baths that archaeologists have found yet, located in Belize called Cuello. It dates back to 900 BC. The Maya used sweat baths as a way to help keep themselves healthy. They also used it for women during labor, during religious purifying rituals, and when someone was sick. The Maya, like other traditional cultures, used sweat baths as a way of getting to the underworld. They thought sweat baths let them talk not only to previous generations, but to the Gods as well.
In the Homeric poems and Hesiod, many references are made to the use of restorative baths with mineral springs and herbs to rid the body from disease, and bring balance back to the body and mind.
The Greek physician Hippocrates (circa 460—377 b.c.e.), 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 hydropathy. Medicinal bathing also was called thalassotherapy or hydrotherapy (water cure). The name thalassotherapy may come from ancient Greek thalassa (small sea) or from the Greek philosopher Thales (circa 636—546 b.c.e.), who believed that the physical world derives from a single underlying substance: water.
The bathhouses (thermae) of ancient Rome became famous, owing to their fragrant decoctions and balmy ointments. Such scholars as Dioscorides (1st century c.e.) and Galen (circa 130—200 c.e.) recommended aromatic baths for urological and genital disorders, as well as for tumors, wounds, colds, bad mood, and fatigue. Galen treated patients for fever in the famous Hadrian baths. Some public thermae in Rome were huge, magnificent buildings having separate rooms with hot, warm, or cold water, and special sections for massage, sports, and physical exercises.
ANCIENT HERBS, OILS AND MILKS
The earliest written information about therapeutic bathing with herbal decoctions is contained in the Indian Vedas (1500 BC) and ancient Babylonian medical scripts (2300 BC). Aromatic oils were used to treat various diseases, for the bath and post bathing to further assist the healing experience. For example, thyme ointment was applied for rheumatism, and an ointment with henna or onion was used for herpes. During and after a bath, bathhouse visitors would rest and moisten the skin with tonic herbs to further assist the therapeutic experience, some of the classics were: peppermint, thyme, sweet marjoram, rose petals, cardamom, ginger and cloves.
Here are some of the many herbs mentioned within ancient texts by Egyptians Babylonians, Assyrians, Hebrews, Greeks, were:
Herbs: anise, barley, basil, cinnamon, cardamom, chamomile, peppermint, white and blue lily, lotus family, sweet marjoram, eucalyptus, tulsi, rose, dill, flax, sweet clover, garlic, turmeric, tulsi, juniper, mugwort, oregano, pine needles, lemon balm, lavender, marjoram, mustard, rosemary, grape leaves, mallow leaves, cabbage leaves, beetroot, flax seed, hibiscus, violet, barley, pomegranate, and more!
Oils: almond, castor beans, olive, jojoba, guggl (resin), frankincense (resin), sesame, coconut and sacha inchi.
Milks: donkey, goat, camel, yak, coconut, oat.
Other: honey, ground crystals, salts, clay.
COMMONLY USED HERBS + ESSENTIAL OILS FOR IMMUNE PROTECTION & RELAXATION
There are many medicinal herbs, spices that can be easily incorporated into your bath. Many of the classic culinary herbs we stock in our pantry are ancient plants that have been used in all shape and form for protection and healing. Essential oils in general are very immune protective as the oil of the plant itself is like extracting the immune system of the plant itself. Of course there are some plants that orient more to relaxation while others have more immune protective compounds. There’s a plethora of herbs that can be used, get creative and use what you have available.
Any of the herbs below can be used fresh, dry (powders, whole dried leaf, petals, etc), or as an essential oil. Use what you have and blend what feels intuitive and inspiring to you. If you opt for fresh or dried plants, be sure to make a “medicinal broth” or medicinal infusion before the bath, that you can then pour into the tub.
IF USING FRESH + DRY HERBS
Make a huge pot of tea (anywhere from 1-5gal) on the stove top with your favorite fresh and/or dry herbs you have handy and in abundance. For every 1gal of water, calculate at least about ¼ of it to fresh and/or dry plants. Allow it to simmer in for 15-30min. Depending on what you’re infusing, gage the fire. If you’re using barks, roots or mushrooms, simmer on medium high for a good 20minutes. If you’re using delicate flowers and leaves like roses, or fresh herbs like mint, be sure to use medium to low heat, and allow it to infuse in hot water for 10min, don’t over-cook it as it’ll damage the medicinal constituents. You can strain and pour the medicinal broth directly into your bath. For mushrooms, barks, roots, and fruits like cacao and mangosteen powders (yes cacao in the bath!) you can simmer for a longer time, just be sure to keep the heat consistent, and not to over-do it.
Below are some tips on how to brew your fresh and dried herbs. For essential oils, use the general rule of thumb of 1-3 different single essential oils, totalling about 20 drops within your bath. Remember not to over-do essential oils, they are very strong and can be damaging when over-done. To give an idea it requires 6,000 pounds of lemon balm to distill just a single pound of lemon balm essential oil (that equals around 63 pounds of melissa per 5mL bottle!) Nearly 3,000 lemons are needed to distill just over 2 pounds of lemon essential oil. Use mindfully!
HERBS FOR IMMUNE PROTECTION
EUCALYPTUS – Classically used as an anti-inflammatory and for cooling the body down when running on heat due to chronic inflammation. Eucalyptus is well known for being a purifying agent, with a particular affinity in supporting upper respiratory health.
ROSEMARY - Used since ancient times as a heal-all, Rosemary is very protective to the immune system and can help decongest clogged nasal passages. It can be greatly beneficial to relieve sinus headaches, migraines and mental stress. Rosemary has classically been used as a brain tonic, as its scent and medicinal properties have been studied to help mental clarity, cognition and even assist with dream recall.
OREGANO – It’s high carvacrol and thymol content made it one of nature’s greatest antibiotics. Oregano essential oil can help protect the immune system, and prevent colds and flu due to its strong antimicrobial and antibacterial makeup.
CINNAMON – One of the most powerful antibacterials within the essential oil world. it has been used as a tonic for the blood, and as an immune protector. Cinnamon may possess antiviral effects and help prevent infection.
CLOVE BUD – Well known for the myriad of healing properties it contains, this exquisitely aromatic spice often found in chai has antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic, antiseptic and antiviral properties.
GARLIC – Using its stems, leaves or cloves, Garlic baths have a therapeutic value since this plant has antispasmodic properties and substantial effects against bacteria, fungi, viruses, and even worms. Since boiling garlic inactivates some of its beneficial effects, garlic baths may be less effective for inflammatory diseases than an ointment of fresh chopped garlic (particularly if treating a chronic or acute infection)
FRANKINCENSE – This family of trees contains very powerful compounds known to powerfully strengthen and protect the immune system. It’s been scientifically studied for its anti-inflammatory nature and its ability to increase white blood cell protection.
NETTLE - The nettle plant contains several immune-boosting compounds, including flavonoids, carotenoids, and vitamins A and C. These antioxidants help protect immune cells against damage that can weaken immune function. Research shows nettle extract strengthens the immune response, encouraging immune cell activity. *If nettle grows abundantly near you, harvest them fresh and infuse in your medicinal broth to then add into the bath, and sip while bathing.
ELDERBERRY - A powerful heal-all and immune protector. The berries, flowers, are packed with antioxidants and vitamins that may boost the immune system and help herb stress. The leaves and bark are also used to lessen inflammation and powerfully boost immunity. Overall the plant can protect the heart, ease and prevent cold and flu symptoms. *If elderberry grows abundantly near you, use some of the berries in the medicinal broth before adding into your bath. The leaves and bark are also magnificent in baths, and oftentimes said to be even stronger than the berries within its immune restorative effects. Please use mindfully!
ADAPTOGENS -- There are some primary and secondary adaptogens that can be used in tea for a deep immune repair, and restorative bath. Keep in mind that most adaptogens are very special and slow growing plants, so use mindfully or only if in serious need. Best would be to drink it as a tea, or elixir as you sit in a bath. The adaptogens listed below are easy to grow and find even at your local farmers market. You can also use easy-to-find mushrooms like shiitake, maitake, turkey tail and others, and add into your medicinal broth that you decoct along with the other herbs, like basil, hibiscus etc.
- Ashwagandha - A powerful immune-modulator and deeply relaxing. Add 1-2Tsp into your medicinal broth, that you can sip while bathing, and add into your bath.
- Tulsi - Immune protector. An abundant and powerful plant that can be easily incorporated into your bath.
- Medicinal Mushrooms - Immune protectors and anti-microbial, and some anti-virals. If you have a mushroom grower near you, you can use a handful of classic immune protective culinary mushrooms, like white buttons, shitake, maitake, and oyster mushrooms into your medicinal broth.
HERBS FOR RELAXATION
The mint family is excellent for many things and can help to decongest the lungs, increase brain function, and provide a deeply calming effect.
MINT - Is cooling, and can help lower inflammation and fevers. Mint, like rose, can help clear skin breakouts that are often linked to stress or allergic reactions. Mint baths have also been classically prescribed to relieve muscle spasms, reduce pain, and increase blood circulation.
LEMON BALM - A great and exquisite tasting nervine (nervous system relaxant) is used to calm nervousness, irritability and mild depression. Lemon Balm also helps increase mental clarity, relieve emotional stress.
ROSES - Roses have been classically used as a beautifying ally, as it has quite the ability to brighten complexion and soothe irritated skin. Roses are well known to open the heart and help relieve physical and emotional stress.
CHAMOMILE - An herb rich in history, used as a medicinal stable by every ancient civilization ever known. Chamomile is a nervine, known to soothe the nervous system, assist with anxiety, stressed muscles, and can help with a restful sleep. Chamomile is also used to soothe skin irritations, breakouts and for nerve damage.
LAVENDER - Ancient Greek scholars such as Galen and Dioscorides, as well as medieval pharmacists, report the strong calmative properties of lavender. A study published in the Journal of Medical Microbiology found that lavender oil could be effective in combating fungal-resistant infections. It’s also well known for its soothing effects on the nervous system, well known for its ability to uplift the spirit. Lavender as a decoction and essential oil has anti-spasmodic and calmative effects and is used for tachycardia (rapid heart beat) and neurasthenia.
CACAO - One of my absolute favorites as it's a deeply nourishing and exquisite bath. Cacao is high in antioxidants as well as nutrients like magnesium (which can help reduce stress), potassium, and iron. Cacao can reduce anxiety and improve mood, while also being excellent for our skin!
.:. BLUE GREEN DREAM .:.
A deeply cleansing bath by Deborah of @mamamedicine
Photography by Stephanie Noritz
- ½ - ¾ cup of Spirulina
- 1 cup of Sea Salt
- 1 Cucumber sliced
- A handful of flowers
- 1 pot of Green Tea
- At least one cup of Epsom salt
- Five drops of rosemary essential oil and five drops of rose essential oil (or a mix of the immune + relaxing essential oils mentioned above that you might have at home)
- A pot of tea made with fresh or dried rosemary
- A handful of rose petals
- Two or three cinnamon sticks (powder works too!)
- Coconut milk or oat milk is a lovely addition also any non water soluble crystals you may have.
- Crystals: turquoise, jade, citrine and/or topaz
*Adjust Spirulina based on how strong you’d like it. You can also use a blend of spirulina, chlorella and/or blue green algae.
*Remember: Add in any other ingredients that you may desire, or that you have available that call to you.
*If at anytime you start feeling bad simply step out of the bath. For pregnancy we recommend consulting you care provider about bath and essential oils and skipping the breathing exercise
DIRECTIONS + RITUAL
- Cleanse aura with a selenite wand.
- Step into bath and dunk your head underwater.
- Place turquoise on the lungs.
- Breathe deeply into your heart center.
- Imagine yourself surrounded by a brilliant green golden light that supports you with all the protection and love mother nature has to offer. From this supported place she asks you what it is within you that you’ve always had? Write how this light of yours that has always been can work to help the healing of our human family, the light you have that can help you to heal yourself.
- Sit and soak in the Medicine you’ve created
.:. IMMUNE SUPPORTIVE VITAMIN C BATH .:.
- 2-3 cups Epsom Salts (and/or Magnesium Salts)
- 3-5 TBSP Mangosteen-Hibiscus*
- 1 bundle fresh mint (or use 5 drops of mint essential oil)
- 1 sprinkle of calendula flowers
*You can replace Mangosteen-Hibiscus with other high vitamin C herbs that you might have in your pantry, like hibiscus, orange peel, rosehips, etc.
DIRECTIONS + RITUAL
- Add the mangosteen hibiscus powder directly into the tub with the mint leaves and epsom salts.
- If you rather not have the leaves and the powder within the tub, infuse for 10minutes the herbs in 1-2Liters of water on the stove top, strain and pour into the bath along with the epsom salts.
- Add the essential oils, and mix all the elements into the tub as you set intentions for your healing bath.
- Smudge the space with your favorite herbs, like palo santo, cedar, juniper, sweetgrass (etc.) and visualize healing light surrounding your space.
- Immerse in the medicine, and enjoy the magic!
.:. BE YOUR OWN HEALER BATH .:.
- Fresh flowers
- Coconut milk
- Pink salt
- Black salt (or pink salt)
- Amethyst crystal
- Fresh and dried herbs*
Herbal Suggestions by Anima Mundi:
*For an added relaxing experience, with skin benefits add:
- In a big pot infuse in hot water:
- 1 part Tulsi
- 1 part Rose Petals (or rose powder)
- 1 part Chamomile (tea bags work!)
*Remember to use whatever it is that you have at home. Not to worry if an ingredient is missing. All herbs have their healing magic, and you can improvise and create from what you have in your own kitchen. Same for crystals, use what you might have at home, and add it into your tub to enhance your ritual.
DIRECTIONS + RITUAL
Combine equal parts of these herbs, or whatever you have available, and infuse for 10minutes. Strain, or if you like to immerse yourself with the herbs in the tub, pour straight in with the other ingredients.
Sing a tone that feels like medicine into the water as you add the ingredients, light a candle with intention, cleanse your aura with an lepidolite crystal, step into bath and dunk head underwater, place an amethyst crystal on your chest and take deep rhythmic breaths, notice how you feel.
Please do share with me your favorite spirit tools, herbs and ingredients that have been deeply therapeutic with you, and any questions you might have! Thanks for reading!