Herbal Baths for Self-Care + Community Healing
A few years back I was exposed to the work of Maurice Mességué via Rosalee de la Floret’s blog post on the famous French herbalist. I love reading biographies and autobiographies of herbalist - their stories of becoming herbalists and practicing their craft are always illuminating and inspiring. I especially appreciated Mességué’s approach to herbs which generally involved little to no alcohol-based remedies and a lot of hand and foot baths. As someone who doesn’t use a tremendous amount of alcohol-based remedies in my practice, I am always interested in learning about the herbalists who use alcohol-free alternatives as well. Herbal baths (whether full body or for the feet) are something that I personally love and I would make them as part of many a client consultation, usually with a ritual component attached to them (because magick). Reading Mességué’s work inspired me to work more with herbal bath concentrates and have them become a primary form of herbal remedy with some of my clients as opposed to an adjunct therapy. I haven’t been disappointed with the results and what I love about herbal baths is that they are so darn easy to create and use. If you can throw herbs together in a bowl and pour hot water over them you can make an herbal bath. You don’t even have to worry about what the blend will taste like as in the case when you’re making teas.
Herbal baths are an inexpensive luxury which is why they are such a great self-care tool. You don’t even need to have a bath tub to enjoy an herbal bath as you can use a big bowl for a foot or hand bath. I have a large white bowl that I thrifted a few years ago that I use exclusively for foot baths and it has become a magickal cauldron for tired feet to be soothed in and re-emerge happy and restored.
Foot baths have also become my remedy of choice to send to community clinics, political actions, and protests. Herbal foot baths don’t require that you like tea (which lots of folks are not interested in taking an herbal tea consistently) but it is rare that I meet someone who doesn’t enjoy a simple foot bath. I will be sharing two recipes that I created this summer for the Orlando Grief Care Project and the Standing Rock Camp political action.
The following tutorial will help you create a single herb or multi-herb blend for your own herbal bath. I have separated out herbs between those that are more warming versus those that are more cooling. Herbal baths are typically enjoyed hot, but the energetics of herbs can be cooling or warming to the body. You might want to use warming herbs for an autumnal blend that helps you release tension whereas cooling herbs might be better for a summertime sleep blend. I’ll also list out some additional herbal bath “boosts” that you can incorporate into your brew for a special addition of healing spark.
Let’s get brewing!
Warming herbs are often more stimulating than cooling herbs. They help to move stagnant energy, improve circulation, and awaken a groggy mind.
Ginger (Zingiber officinalis) : A circulatory stimulant and a great aid during times of indigestion, travel sickness, as well as colds and flus. Elevates the body temperature to help break fevers. Warming to a cold disposition and heavy heart.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) : Rosemary is great for when headaches are present whether brought on by stress, high blood pressure, indigestion or fatigue. The herb is a heart-strengthener and connects the mind and the heart in a healthy and loving way. Helps to re-establish a sense of sovereignty.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) : Wonderfully antibacterial, antiviral, anti-parasitic, antifungal, and pro-feeling good. Thyme is great for chest and head colds and infections of all sorts. It also has carminative effects. Thomas Bartram writes of Thyme’s ability “to break the alcohol habit” which might make Thyme an interesting addition to a herbal care protocol for those in the early stages of recovery.
Basil (Ocimum spp.) : Warming and gently detoxifying, Basil is uplifting to the spirits making it a great addition to a bath to help alleviate depression. It is also an antispasmodic herb which pairs well with its ability to calm high-strung nervous types.
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.) : Improves weak digestion, alleviates colds, and it’s astringent qualities help to relieve diarrhea. Cinnamon is good for those who are exhausted in body and spirit. A little goes a long way.
Cayenne (Capsicum annuum) : An effective stimulant that opens up the body to increased warmth. Excellent at improving circulation and in cases of hypothermia. Cayenne increases vitality and courage. Like Cinnamon, a little goes a long way.
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgraris) : A great addition for menstruating folks as it helps to regulate the cycle and alleviate cramping and pain. It is stimulating to the appetite. Mugwort is calming and centering. Helps to alleviate night mares while promoting vivid dreams. The soft herb has been used as a shoe insole to cushion the foot and has a reputation for being very protective of travelers.
Rose (Rosa spp.) : Rose is cooling, mildly sedating, and a classic heart-opening aphrodisiac. The herb has excellent anti-inflammatory qualities, making it a great choice for after-sun recovery as well as sore muscles and bruises. I call Rose a vessel herb since it is known in Traditional Western Herbalism to carry the medicine of other plants to wherever they need to go in the body - most of my herbal baths contain Rose in them for this reason.
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) : Skullcap is my go-to herb for high-strung nervous tension. It is great for folks with busy thoughts and who carry a lot of anxiety and worry. Skullcap is relaxing without being sedating which is a key characteristic to helping many anxiety-prone folks to relax. It’s also great for tension headaches, muscle spasms, and irritable stomachs.
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) : Exhaustion, insomnia, and nervousness are often relieved by Passionflower. It is a great herb for relieving neuralgic pain and tension headaches. Passionflower is more sedating than Skullcap. It is good for restlessness and relieving spasmodic conditions of all sorts.
Borage (Borago officinalis) : Borage restores and strengthens adrenal integrity. It is cooling to hot, agitated bodies, especially the stomach. It helps to alleviate anger but bolsters courage. Borage is helpful in relieving arthritic pain, menstrual cramps, and general tension.
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) : An excellent choice for the healing of clean wounds as Comfrey accelerates the regrowth of healthy skin cells. It has a long use in TWH in helping to repair broken bones and its great for sprains, strains, and general muscular discomfort.
Neutral + Dual Energy Herbs
Milky Oat (Avena sativa) : A great remedy for overworked and tired feet, Milky Oat is a fantastic nervine that is neutral on the warm to cool scale. Great for eczema, psoriasis, itchiness, and irritated skin. Milky Oat is especially effective when used both internally and externally for the long haul.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) : Peppermint is a useful herb embodying the mercurial qualities of its Guardian Planet of Mercury. It is able to relax when needed one day and to awaken and stimulate the next. To understand how a plant can be both relaxing and stimulating, try the following. Rub the top of your head with your finger for a quick moment. Feel how that is both relaxing and stimulating? Such is the powers of Peppermint. So, it is a popular herb in the summer for its cooling qualities and it is found again during the winter as part of warming teas and cold-care remedies.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) : Lemon Balm is rebalancing and neutral on the warm to cool scale. It relieves tension and indigestion caused by nervousness. Lemon Balm is also antiviral and it is a great herb to help bring on sleep.
Epsom Salts : A great addition to relief muscle tension and pain including cramps and tension headaches.
Apple Cider Vinegar : Apple Cider Vinegar has an alkalinizing effect on the skin, provides pain relief, and is a great antibacterial addition to a bath.
Flower + Gem Essences : Choose any variety of Flower and Gem Essences to add that amazing extra boost of magickal energy.
Making an Herbal Bath for the Body, Feet or Hands
Option 1: Add 1/2 - 1 cup of your herbal bath blend to your bath or bowl either directly in a tea bag or loose. Remember that adding it loose to your bath requires cleaning up the herbs afterwards.
Option 2: Brew your bath tea ahead of time! Add 1/2 - 1 cup of bath tea to a large bowl or jar and cover with hot water and let steep for at least 15 - 20 minutes. This is also great option for folks who want to use the herbal bath as a wash if they don't have a bath or if you're using the herbal bath loose leaf because you can strain the tea before adding it to your bath. This is my favorite way of preparing a bath tea.
A note on hand baths: While I recommend soaking both feet at once in the same bowl, I often soak one hand at a time. Mostly because it is an easier set-up to create and allow someone to sit comfortably for 15 - 20 minutes. I would soak one hand first and then prepare a second fresh bowl for the other hand. Of course, you can soak both hands at once and even both hands and feet if you are able to find a comfortable way to do it!
Making an Herbal Bath Concentrate
To make an herbal bath concentrate you are basically making a really strong infusion. For every 4 parts of water use 1 part of herbs. Let the infusion brew for at least 20 minutes - I typically let it infuse overnight. Strain and place in a clean, airtight container and place in the refrigerator. Your concentrate should last for about 3 - 4 days. I use about 1 ounce per foot or hand bath and about 4 ounces per bath.
For the Orlando Grief Care Project, I wanted to create something that relieved both physical and emotional pain - something that called frightened hearts back to the sanctuary of the body.
- 4 parts Rose (Rosa spp.)
- 3 parts Borage (Borago officinalis)
- 3 parts Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
For the Standing Rock Camp, I made a brew that served the practical purpose of being warming and restorative to sore bodies with the additional purpose of supporting the spirit in maintaining its connection to its inherent sovereignty of place.
- 4 parts Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
- 2 parts Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
- 1 part Ginger (Zingiber officinalis)
- 1/2 part Cinnamon (Cinnamomum burmannii)
- 1/2 part Rose (Rosa spp.)
What brews will you create for you and yours?
Share your recipes and your favorite herbs for soaking in the comments below. Make sure to check out the Orlando Grief Care Project and the Standing Rock Camp if you haven't already. And if you're craving some self-care comfort, clever one, I hope you make yourself an herbal bath to enjoy. You deserve it.