You've always known how a warm, aromatic bath is. Scent has long been recognized as the most evocative of the five senses—memories can be recalled and moods altered with the introduction of specific smells. No surprise, the cosmetics industry has picked up on this, and loads their soaps with scents that "wake you up," help you feel like a foreign spring, or "energize you." The problem is that these companies use chemicals, not botanicals, to awaken your senses as well as your mind. An herbal bath can do all this and more—and without the harsh stuff that damages your skin and well-being.
One thing to remember: Your skin absorbs. Along with scent, this is how herbal baths nourish and rejuvenate your body, and also why you should be aware of what goes into the products you use. So whether you're run down or stressed out, whether you ache or itch, there is a wide selection of herbs and oils to fulfill your needs:
Known as far back as 400 B.C.E. Greece, comfrey is an extraordinary plant whose name derives from the Latin conferva, meaning "water plant healer." Allantoin is the primary ingredient responsible for this reputation. According to The Rodale Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, allantoin not only rejuvenates cells, but actually "promotes the growth of new cells." For skin conditioning and healing cuts and scratches, comfrey is unsurpassed.
Comfrey also alleviates the pain of bruises and pulled or stiff muscles. Containing a large percentage of mucilage, it soothes and softens your skin. You can add comfrey to any herbal bath recipe and obtain beneficial results.
The word derives from the Latin verb "to wash," harking back to the Greek and Roman custom of scenting their soaps and bath water with it. Lavender is added to both baths and facial steaming for its stimulating and cleansing attributes.
Not only do roses smell terrific, they act as an astringent, and are both cleansing and soothing.
Have a stuffy nose? Eucalyptus oil (a few drops only) in a steaming bath breaks up the congestion of a cold or flu without drugs. It is also antiseptic and astringent.
Though technically not an herb, oatmeal can be used as a beauty scrub or to relieve itchy skin. Tie a handful or two of uncooked oatmeal in a wash cloth, and swish around throughout the bath to release the demulcent qualities.
Making a Bath Bag
To make a bath bag, fill a small cloth sack with desired herbs. This bag can be as simple as a square of cheesecloth tied with yarn, or as elegant as an imprinted muslin bag with a ribbon drawstring (makes an attractive present, too). Even a washcloth may be substituted—this is especially appropriate if being used as a scrubbing bag.
Place the tied bag in a tub partially filled with hot water. Steep about 15 minutes, then fill as you normally do (remember: cooler baths are energizing and hot baths are enervating). Keep the bag in the water during your bath to get all the benefit, giving it an occasional squeeze. For those who prefer showers, use an herbal bag for a brisk rubdown.
If you wish to reuse a bath bag, add sandalwood-scented vetivert as a fixative (especially with rose mixtures).
Before creating any of these recipes, be aware of any allergies to plants and watch for signs of skin irritation. Generally, these herbs are milder than many products with artificial colorings and other additives. These are not recommendations for internal use. All ingredients should be added in equal parts.
Creating Your Own Herbal Bath Recipes
Traditionally, various herbs have been recommended for specific problems; many herbs having more than one attribute appear in more than one category. And those listed here are just a few of the many herbs available. This is where mix-and-match skills come into play, as you concoct a formula tailored especially for yourself.
Antiseptic: eucalyptus, linden flowers, marjoram, peppermint, thyme
Cleansing: lavender, lemon balm, lovage, mint, rose
Fragrance: acacia, bay, cinnamon, cloves, geranium leaves, jasmine, lavender, lemon balm, lemon peel, myrtle, patchouli, rose, sandalwood, verbena
Healing: comfrey, houseleek, lady's mantle, linden flowers, mint, nettle, yarrow
Love Herbs: (see also Fragrance) ambrette, lovage, mint, rose, rosemary, sage, savory, sandalwood
Relaxing: catnip, elder, jasmine, linden flowers, valerian root
Skin Care—Soothing: comfrey leaves and roots, melilot flowers
Itching: oatmeal, pennyroyal, peppermint; stimulating: basil, bay, lavender, lemon peel, peppermint, pine needles, rose buds, rosemary, sage, sandalwood, vetivert, yarrow
Tonic: blackberry leaves, comfrey, jasmine, nettle, patchouli, raspberry leaves
Herb and Plant Sources
Where can you find these wonder herbs? You probably have basil, bay leaves, marjoram, rosemary, sage, and thyme in your kitchen. Other herbs, such as chamomile, peppermint, red clover, and rose petals, may be growing in your garden. And check the Yellow Pages under "Herbs." Natural food stores, too, often carry a selection of bulk herbs.