by erin stewart sm (915 of 27)

Therapeutic Bathing with Aromatic Herbs, Aromatherapy Products, and Other Ingredients

When the summer heat melts into the cooler temperatures of the fall season and I begin to pull out my comfy sweaters, oversized scarves, and fluffy socks, I find myself more drawn to hot baths in the evenings. They’re a great way to warm up and relax before bed, but they can also be incredibly helpful for my health. Did you know that whole books have been written about how therapeutic baths can be? Most of what we know about therapeutic baths focuses on the hydrotherapy aspect of them, but when we begin to add aromatic plants and other ingredients, a simple bath can become a powerful tool to help us support our physical and mental well-being.

The Art of the Therapeutic Bath

Now, if you don’t have a bath tub, don’t worry. You can still experience therapeutic baths by treating yourself to hand and foot baths with a large bowl or basin. In fact, some of my favorite therapeutic baths are hand and foot baths. I love them so much that I wrote a whole article about them. (You can read it by clicking here.)

We’re going to take a look at some of the different kinds of ingredients you can add to your therapeutic baths in a moment, so you can start formulating therapeutic bath blends like a pro. Keep in mind that, regardless of what kinds of ingredients you use, you’ll want to try to plan enough time to soak in the tub for about 20 minutes. That’s generally how long it takes to really experience the full benefits of a therapeutic bath.

Baths can be helpful for many aspects of health and wellness. I have go-to bath blends to help me calm down before bed, reduce stress, relieve headaches, boost my immune system, relieve congestion, soothe sore, achy muscles, uplift my spirit, and shift energetic patterns. I’m going to share my favorite tried-and-true formulas for these things (and more) with you at the end of this article.

Note: If you’re prone to urinary tract infections and prefer to avoid baths, you can skip the full bath and opt for a hand or foot bath instead.

Herbal Ingredients

Aromatic and non-aromatic herbs, as well as herbal tinctures and vinegar infusions, can all be added to bathwater.

Aromatic herbs are some of my favorite herbs to use in the bath because they add a pleasant aroma to the bathwater and their volatile oils rise on the steam from the bath, doubling as an aromatic steam treatment. Adding aromatic herbs to the bath can be especially helpful when you’re feeling congested or a bit sick, or when you are feeling achy or sore.

One of my favorite ways to add aromatic herbs to the bath is to infuse them into whole milk or buttermilk before adding them to the bathwater. The fat in these richer milk products helps capture more of the volatile oils (which are fat-soluble) from the herb than would be captured in a water infusion. As you’ll see in the recipes I’ve provided, I often work with an infused milk alongside a strong herbal tea or hydrosol in my therapeutic baths.

Another way to add herbs to bathwater is to steep them in freshly boiled water for 20 minutes in a covered dish before straining out the plant material and adding the infusion to the bathwater.

When I add water-based herbal infusions to a bath, I use 2-4+ cups of the infusion. When I add milk-based infusions, I use 1 cup of infused milk per bath.

Tinctures can make useful additions to baths as well, but don’t use too much of them – the alcohol in them can irritate the skin and mucous membranes. I usually stick to 1-2 droppersful if I use a tincture in the bath.

Raw, apple cider vinegar infusions can be especially useful for adding mineral-rich herbs to the bathwater. I usually add about a cup of vinegar infusion per bath when I’m working with them.

Essential Oils

Essential oils can be wonderful additions to therapeutic baths. To add an essential oil to the bathwater safely, you’ll need to dilute it first (it won’t disperse properly throughout the water on its own). This can be done with a carrier oil, which will help dilute the essential oil so it will not cause an adverse reaction when it touches your skin. It can also be done with a natural soap or shampoo, which will help disperse the essential oil throughout the bathwater (preferred).

When you use a carrier oil in the bath, you’ll need to be mindful about cleaning the tub when you’ve finished bathing because leftover carrier oil can be slippery. Slippery bathtubs don’t mix well with humans. Be careful when standing up after a bath that contained carrier oil and always wipe down the tub after it drains.

When I add essential oils to the bath with carrier oil, liquid soap, or shampoo, I usually use 2 tablespoons of the carrier I’ve chosen and keep my essential oil dilution to about 2% (10-12 drops). More is rarely needed.

Safety notes:

  • Do not add menthol-rich essential oils (such as peppermint) or spicy essential oils (cinnamon, clove, etc.) to bathwater.
  • I do not recommend adding essential oils to baths meant for children, since they will likely touch their eyes and faces throughout the bath and the essential oil can be quite irritating to their eyes and mucous membranes.

Hydrosols

I generally prefer adding hydrosols to baths over essential oils. They’re so versatile, have wonderful aromas and profound therapeutic effects, and are completely safe to use in the bathwater, even for children.

When I work with hydrosols in therapeutic baths, I’ll usually add about a cup of hydrosol to the bathwater. Hand and foot baths require less – a few tablespoons, up to 1/4 cup.

If you’re able to grow herbs and distill your own hydrosols, that is the most economical option for working with hydrosols in the bath. An alternative would be purchasing hydrosols in bulk directly from a distiller or farm near you.

Flower Essences

Flower essences make a nice addition to therapeutic baths when you want to incorporate an energetic element to your formula. They’re especially lovely in comforting bath formulas for people who are grieving, stressed, or overwhelmed. Not much is needed to experience their therapeutic effects – less than one dropperful per bath is what I use.

Salts

Three of my favorite salts to add to the bathwater include dead sea salt (which has a very interesting and unique texture compared to some other salts), Himalayan pink salt, and Epsom salts.

Epsom salts are made with magnesium sulfate and are incredibly useful in baths for sore or achy muscles or for people who are feeling pain. Himalayan salt and dead sea salt (or other sea salts) introduce other minerals to the bathwater.

When adding salt to bathwater, try to purchase the smallest grain available so it will dissolve into the bathwater easily. To add Epsom salts, follow the instructions on the package (usually 2 cups per bath is what is recommended). To add other salts, add about a cup of salt per bath.

Other Ingredients

Other ingredients you may choose to include in your therapeutic baths could be:

  • Whole milk or buttermilk (can help soften the skin)
  • Powdered milk
  • Oats (skin-soothing and anti-itch)
  • Clays (useful for rashes, skin issues, and when you want a slight drawing effect)
  • Baking soda
  • Bath fizzies (which could be made with any of the above ingredients)
  • Bath melts (which could also be made with some of the above ingredients)

I’ve put together a special booklet of my favorite tried-and-true therapeutic bath recipes especially for my Insiders group this month. Joining is free – you’ll receive monthly newsletters and bonuses from me, along with updates throughout the year when I have other news to share. To download your complimentary copy of this printable recipe booklet, please enter your email address here or in the sign-up form at the bottom of this page. When you confirm your email address, the booklet will be automatically delivered to your inbox.

If you’re already a member of my Insiders group, please check your email for the September newsletter from me – it contains your download link.

Much love,
Erin

bio-photo-18

Erin Stewart is an herbalist, NAHA certified aromatherapist, organic gardener and urban homesteader. She grows over 150 kinds of aromatic and medicinal plants for her own apothecary and distills essential oils and hydrosols in her PNW garden. Erin is the founder of Floranella and of AromaCulture’s herbalism + aromatherapy magazine.

Want to learn more about herbalism and aromatherapy?

AromaCulture Magazine is filled with educational articles, case studies and recipes written by practicing herbalists and certified aromatherapists. New issues are published each month and issues are available individually or via subscription. Visit www.aromaculture.com for more information.

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