Give the Gift of Relaxation with Herbal Bath Blends

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An aromatic bath or foot soak is one of the simplest and most pleasurable forms of herbal therapy.
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You can pamper your loved ones year-round by creating
these personalized, high-quality bath soaks and salts.

As the holidays approach it’s easy to be pulled into the
consumption stream. But do we really want to fight traffic and swim
through the multitudes in the malls? Must we? Suppose instead that
we focus on tranquility with gifts of herbal bath blends to impart
a message of love and peace to the folks on our gift lists.

The ingredients can be homegrown or of a high quality from
vendors near home. These are gifts we can make from imagination and
wisdom, laced through and through with intimate knowledge of our
friends and family members. Part of the fun can be inventive
packaging that’s appropriate to the product and the person. Always
include instructions for use.

FIRST, A WORD OF CAUTION

Because each individual may react differently, be sure to
include the instruction to do a patch test on the skin before using
the product, especially if you or your loved one has not used this
particular blend before. Advise your gift’s recipient to apply a
small amount of the product, dissolved in a little water if it’s
solid, on the inner part of the elbow and wait a few hours to see
if any redness or itching develops. Many essential oils are not
safe for use by pregnant or nursing women. Do your research
carefully if you are giving herbal gifts to an expectant mother or
others who may be at risk of an adverse reaction.

GET CALM WITH HERBAL BATH THERAPY

An aromatic bath or foot soak is one of the simplest and most
pleasurable forms of herbal therapy. Just the thought of soaking in
hot water is relaxing, but when you add herbs or essential oils,
the experience becomes a sensory treat that can soothe, rejuvenate
or stimulate. We’ll discuss how to use dried herbs and flowers on
their own and in combination with essential oils (be sure to use
pure, natural essential oils, not fragrance oils that are
synthetically produced), salts and other oils for the bath and
shower. You can create your own scents or use our recipes as a
guide. These aromatic preparations can be packaged and presented in
pretty bottles or containers. They can be combined with other spa
items such as a nail brush, sisal washcloth or luffa, bath brush,
cotton washcloth or towel, potpourri or whatever you dream up, and
packed into a nice basket or box for a total pampering
experience.

LUXURIOUS BATHS IN A BAG

For gifts that are simple to create, we use dried herbs,
flowers, seeds and citrus peel to make bath blends and tie them up
in pieces of muslin or cheesecloth. The small muslin bags used for
bouquet garni and tea blends are ideal for this, since they can be
emptied, washed and dried, and used again. We often package herb
bath blends in a jar, tie on a filled bag, and write instructions
on the label as to how much to use and how to recycle the cloth
bags. We also have used the paper tea bags that you fill and iron
to seal closed, and we put a dozen or so of them in a jar — all
your recipient has to do is drop one or two of them in a tub of hot
water.

Some favorite combinations are lavender leaves and flowers with
a few rose petals; lemon herbs and/or anise leaves with fennel or
coriander seeds; rose geranium with orange or grapefruit peel; and
chamomile with lemon peel or lemon herbs. We find lemon balm to be
an excellent sleepy-time bath herb, while mint and rosemary are
stimulating.

Include directions so there is no question how to use your
homemade gift. “Place the bag in the tub or hang it from the faucet
as you draw your bath.” Susan usually advises her recipients to add
a few drops of almond or sesame oil, not more than a teaspoon, to
the water. It softens and lubricates the skin and it captures the
scent of the bath herbs so that it lingers on your skin.

SOOTHE THE SOUL WITH BATH AND MASSAGE OILS

Because essential oils are concentrated and very strong, they
should be added to carrier oils before adding them to the tub or
applying on the skin. Most essential oils should not be applied
directly to the skin.

We generally use organic, cold-pressed oils such as almond,
grapeseed, jojoba or sesame as carrier oils and buy them in small
amounts so they are fresh. Usually we blend two or three, sometimes
four, different essential oils together when making blends for the
bath or massage. We use 20 to 24 drops of essential oil to 2 ounces
(about 4 tablespoons or 1/4 cup) of carrier oil for bath blends,
less for massage oils. You can use more essential oil in a bath
blend because it will be extremely diluted in a tub of hot
water.

We use bath oils for cold symptoms (this works well for
children), muscle aches, to soothe and relax, or to renew and
stimulate. A blend we frequently use for colds and flu is
eucalyptus and lavender, with a drop or two of tea tree and one
drop of peppermint, lemon or sweet orange. Susan mixes up a special
blend that she calls Bliss Blend that contains lavender, clary
sage, cedarwood and a drop or two of chamomile, which she finds
blissful at the end of a long day. For relaxation, we use lavender,
a little chamomile or ylang ylang and a drop or two of cedar or
exotic sandalwood.

For massage oil, we use a much smaller amount of essential oil
because we don’t want to overwhelm the person being massaged. Start
with 6 to 10 drops in 2 ounces of carrier oil, cap it and shake it
up, and then rub a tiny bit on the back of your hand and sniff to
see if you want to add more essential oil. The act of massage is
relaxing, and you can use oils to soothe, but you can also make
blends that are warming or sensual. Find out if your recipient has
a favorite scent and then use it as the basis of a special blend
for them. A very pleasant blend is lavender, sandalwood and one
drop of patchouli. We also like ylang ylang, neroli or jasmine,
which are fragrant and sensual, combined with a little clary sage
or cedarwood for balance. Go lightly at first: You can always add a
few more drops of essential oil.

REVITALIZE WITH SUBLIME SALTS

Epsom salts are a good soaking aid for relieving muscle fatigue
and drawing out toxins. Milk powder makes the skin soft and silky;
but it isn’t absolutely necessary. Once prepared, these salts might
seem strong, but remember your recipient will be using a small
amount in a tubful of hot water, so the aromas will dissipate. Put
3 to 4 tablespoons into the tub toward the end of drawing your bath
and stir with your hand. Relax and indulge yourself.

The following recipe makes one 8-ounce jar and easily can be
multiplied to make large quantities for gift-giving.

Scant 1 cup Epsom salts
8 to 10 drops essential oil
2 tablespoons milk powder

Put salts in a glass or nonreactive bowl and sprinkle essential
oil over. Use a spoon or your hands to stir it and work it around.
Add milk powder and blend well. Pour the mixture into a jar, cover
with a lid and label with the ingredients and directions for using
the bath salts.

SOAK THOSE TOOTSIES

Soaking the feet is one of herbalists’ best traditions,
requiring the soaker to sit still for a time to concentrate on
doing something good for the entire body. Reflexology teaches us
that the feet contain points that correspond to every organ in the
body. Soaking the feet is even good for a headache.

Foot-soak preparations are decoctions and/or infusions. A
decoction is made by simmering barks and roots for at least 20
minutes to dissolve tannins and other beneficial elements of the
plant. To make an infusion, boil water, remove from heat, then add
herb leaves, flowers and stems. Strain the finished products and
toss the used foot-soak herbs into the compost or out in the garden
rather than plug up the plumbing.

For a gift basket, these products can be packaged together,
along with instructions for use, a luffa gourd, maybe a pumice
stone and an organic cotton bath towel. We use big, speckled enamel
bowls that we keep just for foot soaks. To provide equipment for
the first-time foot soaker, check your pharmacy or mail-order
catalogs for foot soak machines — we’ve seen some pretty fancy
electronic or battery-operated machines brought to our pamper
parties. Antique-store shoppers can still find large enameled wash
pans for presenting a complete foot-soak kit. A nonreactive soup
pot also will work just fine.

Ozark Foot Soak

Tina created this formula at the Ozark Mountain Center in
Arkansas, to demonstrate how simple herbs once brought — and
continue to bring — comfort to the lives of mountain people. The
herbs can be packaged whole in brown paper sacks to convey holistic
simplicity. The jewelweed vinegar, explained below, should be
stored in dark glass with a plastic lid. (metal reacts with the
acid of the vinegar.)

2 gallons water
1 small handful white oak bark strips
1 bunch dried spearmint or peppermint
4 to 7 dried comfrey leaves
1 cup jewelweed vinegar

Place water and bark in a large nonreactive pan. Cover and bring
to a boil. Simmer 20 minutes. Meanwhile, crush herbs with a mortar
and pestle. Turn off the heat and add herbs and vinegar. Cover and
steep for ten minutes or so. Pour the mixture into a wide and
shallow foot-soak pan. Add enough cool water to bring the water to
a comfortable temperature. Soak the feet for as long as it feels
nice. You can add a little more hot water if it starts to cool down
and you aren’t ready to get up. Massaging the feet enhances this
pleasurable experience.

Why it works:

White oak (Quercus alba) bark is readily available at the Ozark
Folk Center because the basket weavers and furniture makers use
white oak in their crafts. Oak trees of any species can be used. To
harvest bark, simply prune a small limb and whittle or skin off the
bark with a sharp knife (this process is called “barking”). Tannic
acid, contained in the inner bark, hardens the proteins in the skin
and is antifungal and antibacterial. For preparing a foot soak it
is not necessary to separate the outer bark from the inner
bark.

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) contains allantoin, a substance
that speeds the healing of tissue. Folks who walk the rocky hills
use comfrey externally to heal bruises and twisted ankles; it is
not recommended for internal use.

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis or I. pallida) is a native annual
herb found growing along streams and springs in the eastern United
States. The fresh juice of the entire plant traditionally is used
to soothe afflictions of the skin, including poison ivy rash, heat
rash and itchy bites. We crush the fresh plant and preserve the
leaves and stems in a container of apple cider vinegar to have the
remedy handy when needed.

Mint adds a pleasing fragrance and stimulates the feet. Folks
often grab a partner and do a do-si-do after having one of these
foot soaks!

City Folk Foot Soak

2 gallons water
3 green tea bags or about 1 generous
tablespoon green tea leaves
3 mint tea bags (spearmint or peppermint) or about 1
generous
tablespoon mint leaves
1/2 cup witch hazel astringent

Bring water to a boil in a large, nonreactive pan. Turn off the
heat. Add tea bags or loose tea and witch hazel, cover and steep
for 10 minutes. Pour the infusion into a foot-soak pan. Soak the
feet for as long as it feels nice. Pat the feet dry with a soft
towel. We might include a tube of arnica ointment in the kit for
bruises and/or achy joints.

Why it works:

The green tea contains tannic acid in place of the white oak
bark. Witch hazel is available in the pharmacy to treat minor skin
irritation.

PAMPER YOUR LOVED ONES

These gifts of herbal bath blends will bring peace and comfort
to the recipient. Pampering the people who love and care for you
throughout the year is a great way to let them know how much you
appreciate them. Be sure to make enough for yourself as you nurture
your friends and family.

Susan lives in Brookeville, Maryland, and believes baths are an
art form. Tina Marie lives in Leslie, Arkansas, and has been
happily (and publicly) soaking her feet for more than 20 years. The
authors get together regularly to have fun, from gardening with
great abandon to creating herbal recipes and collaborating on
presentations, articles and books. These bath blends are adapted
from a chapter in the self-published book they are currently
working on, Creative Herbal Home, with an anticipated publication
date this spring.

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