If the lost art of therapeutic herbal bathing were to be rediscovered, a most useful tool would be restored to healers and physicians. (Rosita Arvigo)

There are basically three variables you can manipulate in creating a bath treatment: temperature, time and additives to the water.

    • If your goal is to relieve physical fatigue, stimulate the body and enhance elimination, take a tonic bath in the morning at a neutral temperature of 98.6 degrees F.
    • If your goal is to release, relieve stress and prepare the body for sleep, you do not want to get the water too hot. You should take a relaxing evening bath at a warm temperature of 98.6 to 102 degrees F.
    • If your goal is muscle or joint soothing after intense physical exertion or a very stressful day, a hot bath of 104 to 107 degrees F would be the way to go.

Note that a hot bath may be too vigorous for some circulatory systems to endure – you are essentially inducing an artificial fever when you take a hot bath, so if there’s any question in your case, check with your doctor before you take more than a warm bath.

Beyond time and temperature, there are a wide variety of ingredients that can be added to bath water for therapeutic effects. In the month named after Februa, it seemed appropriate to share a few recipes.

Baking Soda and Salts

Balneotherapy is one of the oldest forms of pain relief. The term “balneo” comes from the Latin word for bath and means soaking in thermal or mineral waters. One popular kind of bath recipe attempts to recreate mineral waters by adding mineral rich alkaline salts to bath water. Epsom salt is the common name for a mineral found in seawater that was first distilled in the town of Epsom, England. The salt is also called magnesium sulfate, because it is made up of the metal magnesium bonded to sulfur and oxygen. Dead Sea salts contain high levels of magnesium, potassium, calcium chloride, sodium and bromide. There are mail order sources of a wide variety of salts from different locations around the world with different mineral profiles that can be explored.

A common recipe for “bath salts” mixes Epsom salts with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). Baking soda is said to help eliminate the chlorine in the water, as well as soften the water, and help the body to absorb the magnesium. Sea salt (which will have varying mineral profile depending upon the mineral content of the location it was taken from) can be used instead of or in addition to Epsom salt.

Muscle Soak

The first recipe I will share comes from Tamara Felix, who I studied with in 2009. It is a muscle soak that combines Epsom salts, baking soda, herbs and essential oils.

1/2 cup baking soda
10-20 drops essential oil of eucalyptus, peppermint, juniper or pine
1/2 cup Epsom salts
1 tbsp juniper berries
1 tbsp dried rosemary leaves
1 tbsp dried chamomile flowers
1 tbsp dried eucalyptus leaves
2 tsp dried lemon balm leaves
2 tsp dried peppermint leaves

Put the baking soda in a mixing bowl, and add the essential oils. Add the Epsom salts and herbs and mix well. Place the mixture in the middle of washcloth or cheesecloth, and tie up the ends. You can also acquire reusable drawstring muslin sachet bags. This will keep plant material from clogging your plumbing. Hold the sachet beneath running water until the tub fills. If you can tolerate it, you want the water hot (104-107 degrees). Massage your body with the bag and let it float in the tub. Soak until the water cools.

Milk Bath

Another philosophy is to make the bath water weakly acid, with the intention of helping to retain and replenish the skin’s protective acid nature. This can be done with additives like milk, milk whey, or apple cider vinegar. Cleopatra was famous for bathing in milk. Milk is said to leave the skin smooth and moisturized.

Citrus & Milk Bath

This recipe comes from a book by Catherine Bardey. It would be perfect for a relaxing evening bath to help you get to sleep.

1 cup dried milk powder
1/4 cup orange peels
1/4 cup lemon peels
4 drops lavender essential oil

Add warm water (102 degrees F) to tub and mix in the milk powder and essential oil. You may want to put the citrus peels tied in a washcloth, cheesecloth or sachet bag for easier cleanup. Stay submerged in the bath for 10-20 minutes. After your bath, if you don’t go immediately to bed, take the time to wrap in a warm blanket and rest for at least 10-20 minutes.

The final recipes feature herbs and essential oils.

Revitalizing Ginger, Lemon & Parsley Bath

This recipe also comes Catherine Bardey. It would be perfect for a neutral morning bath (with the water at body temperature). Ginger is heating to the body and may cause you to sweat profusely or make your skin turn slightly red, so be careful with the amount you add. Ginger is appropriate for a detoxifying bath.

1/4 minced ginger root for promoting circulation
1/4 cup dried parsley, an herb valued by the ancient Romans as a tonic for the skin
1/2 cup lemon peel (grated) for a cleansing and aromatic effect
2 tbsp oatmeal to soften the water

If you wrap your body in a blanket immediately after getting out of the tub, you can continue to detoxify through perspiration for another couple of hours. This is especially beneficial if you are trying to rid the body of a bug of some sort, like the flu, or a cold

A Mayan Winter Bath with Dried Plants

This recipe comes from Rosita Arvigo. The procedure given more deeply steeps the herbs than occurs with simply adding them at the time of the bath.

1/4 cup dried rosemary
1/4 cup dried sage
1/4 cup dried roses
1/4 cup dried rue

Boil herbs in a large pot for 5 minutes, then turn off the burner and let steep for an hour. Strain and pour the herbal water into the tub. Soak for twenty to thirty minutes. If at all possible, don’t towel-dry. Let your body air-dry to retain the goodness of the herbs as much as possible.

Aphrodisiac Bath Blend

Finally, since we are coming up on Valentine’s Day, it seems appropriate to give this essential oil recipe. This one also comes from Catherine Bardey.

4 drops ylang-ylang essential oil
3 drops neroli essential oil
2 drops bergamot essential oil
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp fresh cream

In order to avoid ending up with a film of oil on the surface of the bath water, you can add one capful of pure castile soap or very mild shampoo to disperse the oils in the bath water.


    • Rosita Arvigo, Rainforest Home Remedies: The Maya Way to Heal Your Body & Replenish Your Soul, 2001 ISBN 0-06-251637-X
    • Catherine Bardey, Secrets of the Spas: Pamper & Vitalize Yourself at Home, 1999 ISBN 1-57912-063-6
    • Tamara Felix, Mayan Massage: Revealing Secrets of Traditional Mayan Medicine, 2009 ISBN [pending]
    • Image: © Yonel | Dreamstime.com