It's the Plants, Darling

Herbal Baths: My New Favorite Cold-Weather Treat

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My recipe: pour one gallon of boiling water over 4 branches each of lemon balm and peppermint, a handful of roundleaf horehound, and several sprigs of lavender leaves. Steep for 10 minutes.

As grim, grey weather takes hold, there are still hardy herbs growing in my garden. And when I can’t linger outdoors long, I can bring some of that nature inside to do what nature does so well: delight the senses, inspire the mind, soothe the soul.

Herbal baths aren’t a new idea—they’re not even new to me—but I recently figured out how to make them easy so I can indulge more often.

I’ve tried floating branches of herbs in the bath before, but that gets a little messy. On emerging all relaxed, I don’t want to clean soggy leaves out of the drain or run a dripping mass of spent herbs out to the compost pile. If I were more craft-oriented, sewing a bunch of oversized muslin tea bags and filling them with dried leaves might sound more appealing. What I really want, though, is the experience of bringing plants fresh-cut from the garden into the house, with their essential oils and phytonutrients still intact, and partaking of them with minimal fuss.

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A veggie steamer pot makes herbal baths easy.

Last month, it finally occurred to me. Why not make a big batch of herbal tea and add it to a bath? I used a veggie steamer pot, cutting herbs and adding them to the steamer insert, pouring boiling water over them and steeping covered for 10 minutes or so, then drawing a bath and pouring the “tea” (minus plants) into the water.

Aaaahhhhh. The first time I tried this, I was amazed at the silky feel of the water. The plant juice added a thicker, softer quality to it. Enticingly delicate plant aromas wafted through the bathroom. I could imagine my skin drinking in those plant nutrients. Rough spots on my elbows disappeared within minutes (while I was still in the bath!), and my skin felt surprisingly smoother and softer, an effect which lasted for days afterward.

Obviously I want to do this again, and do it often, so I will be expanding my patches of these herbs… well, except for the peppermint. I probably have enough of that.

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This four-foot by 15-foot island bed in my paved courtyard has a peppermint ground layer that acts as a living mulch under young woody plants (currant bush, hazelnut tree, Japanese maple) and a trellised honeysuckle vine.

More herbs will benefit my pollinators. My garden will smell even better. Moreover, these herbs are remarkably easy to grow, they grow densely enough to ensure a relatively weed-free patch, and most if not all retain some foliage throughout winter here in Zone 5B. What a great new excuse to convert more lawn to garden!

Posted by on November 3, 2015 at 10:53 pm, in the category It's the Plants, Darling.
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11 responses to “Herbal Baths: My New Favorite Cold-Weather Treat”

  1. Might be fun to add epsom salts to the herbal bath. I found some epsom salts with lavender in a herbal store and it was wonderful for achy gardening muscles. Also good for leg cramps!

  2. Laura Bell says:

    Oh, my.

    Why didn’t it occur to me to turn my herbs into bath teas? Especially when the kids come in tired & sore and asking for a hot bath. My mind is spinning with ideas. Already ordered myself a copy of The Herb Book.

  3. Anna says:

    Thank you for this recipe! It’s a great start with experimenting. And indeed- people have been using herbs in bathwater for a really long time. I always picture rose petals or rosewater in the bath when I think of an herbal bath.

    Japanese bath houses would prepare baths with special mixes of herbs and fruit for healing and relaxation. They still do it too- there’s even traditional monthly bath herb concoctions that are popular. For example, October is the month for Shoga Yu, or ginger bath. November is traditionally the month for Mikan Yu, or mandarin orange bath. Using cypress is common too.

    Mint alone would be a wonderful bath addition, using your recipe for preparation. Mint is great for relieving sinus pressure, and will often open up closed nasal passages. A natural alternative to cough medicine for kids, yes please! All in the fun of bathtime.

    Great article, thank you!

    • Thanks, Anna. You mentioned cypress; conifers are possibilities I hadn’t considered yet. According to Lust’s book, spruce needles or twigs in a bath would be calming, and juniper berries (if the oil is diluted, which I’d do by adding a little olive oil to the bathwater and stirring) to help with respiratory issues. My neighbor’s bald cypress just dropped its leaves for the season. It’s not in the book, but maybe it would be a good addition as well. This is a topic to keep exploring!

  4. Laura says:

    Doing this doing this doing this!

  5. Marte says:

    Sounds intriguing. I might try this I wonder if tarragon and sage would work? Or would I just smell like a turkey?

    • Marte, I would check a reliable herb reference before putting any plant in my bath, even a commonly used cooking herb. I am using John Lust’s The Herb Book. It doesn’t mention an exterior use for tarragon (just as a tea to stimulate appetite and relieve insomnia, especially from causes of illness or depression).

      Sage is more promising, with the tea helping clear away mucous and reduce perspiration, and the fresh leaves treating insect bites. So it would have an overall drying effect that might be very pleasant in cold, wet climates. I’d probably avoid it in my bath here in Boise’s dry climate, unless I had a lot of congestion.

      Let me know if you try them!

    • p.s. Other herbs on my list to try, all reputedly good for relieving sore muscles: calendula (pot marigold), camomile, and fennel. Imagine how that will smell!

  6. Nancy says:

    I really am inspired by this herbal tea bath idea. I’m thinking that there are transdermal benefits from those herbs that in that warm bath give your body important nutrients.