Herbs have a long and well-documented history of use in folk traditions, on the battlefield, and in the clinic. Emergencies and acute and chronic conditions have been successfully treated with herbal remedies taken internally and acting systemically. When herbal remedies are topically applied they tend to act locally, affecting mainly the tissues with which they come into direct contact, and the adjacent tissues through perfusion of the medical elements if they are in a suitable carrier. What conditions are we likely to see in the home and which external treatment protocols are practical, appropriate and harmonious?
Father Sebastian Kneipp developed a wonderful system of Hydrotherapy which included soaking the whole body or body parts in temperature controlled water. Adding herbal extracts of teas, tinctures, essential oils, hydrosols and salts provided an enormous variety of treatments, and is itself a complete subject of study. The following herbs are still used in European naturopathic hydrotherapy, which was imported to the United States at the turn of the twentieth century by Benedict Lust. There are still Kniepp therapists in European health spas and the list of herbs below are made into liquid extracts and are dispensed in unit size and bulk bottles. John H. Kellogg MD has also written an excellent treatise on hydrotherapy. Most of the following list of herbs can be found in proprietary compounds ready for use in a bathtub or sitz bath. Most good health food stores have a selection of therapeutic bath products.
Valeriana officinalis: tranquilizing & sedative
Picea spp. (Spruce needles): respiratory problems
Avena sativa (Oatstraw,Hayseed): antirheumatic
Acorus calamus & Rosmarinus spp: circulatory & nervous system stimulant
Thymus vulgaris & Calendula off.& Hydrastis can.: antibacterial & antifungal
Humulus lupulus: sound sleep
Zingiber off.: colds & flu
Quercus off.: skin diseases major astringent
Avena sativa: sedative
Matricaria recutita & Hypericum perf.: reduces inflammation and eases tension
Melissa off. & Lavandula off.: mild sedative
Juniperis off.: muscular relaxation
Mustard powder: influenza & colds, muscle aches
Capsicum annuum: (footbath) chill with flu
As water is one of the four primary elements, we must recognize how integral it is to all life. There could be no life on Earth, as we understand it, without water. How often do you think of water as one of your primary healing choices? We use water to extract our herbs as tea and tinctures but do we realize that water is one of the necessary ingredients in our formulations? Besides the four elements we have temperaments. Water helps transmit temperature by intimately touching all surface areas when we are suspended in it. In hydrotherapy there is a scale of temperatures and a requisite time for immersion in order that the effects be controlled and safety is observed.
125 F/ 52 C. May cause injuries
111-124 F/ 44-51 C. Intolerable
105-110 F/ 41-43 C. Tolerable for short time periods
98-104 F/ 37-40 C. Tolerable and causing redness
Warm / Neutral
93-97 F/ 34-36 C. Comfortable
81-92 F/ 27-33 C. Just below skin temperature
66-80 F/ 19-26 C. Produces goose bumps
55-65 F/ 13-19 C. Tolerable but uncomfortable
32-54 F/ 0-12 C. Painfully cold
(Boyle & Saine 1988)
There are a few principles that can be addressed here. The more extreme the temperature of the water is from comfortable temperature, the less time spent immersed. Extremities of the body can better tolerate extremes in temperature. The body will always react two times for each immersion.
For example: Cold water will immediately constrict blood vessels and reduce blood volume in the submerged area. Blood will collect in the centre of the body to be heated and protect the viscera. A neurological response will cause vasoconstriction throughout the whole body. The second response will be like a rebound. Hot blood will then move out from the centre to the periphery. Circulation will return and the vasculature, having been exercised, will be more responsive.
Cool and cold water will have a tonifying and stimulating effect whilst warm and hot water will have a relaxing and sedating effect. Extreme hot or cold focused at a point will overcome the nerve force but will register as hot like a burn. Alternating hot with cold immersion especially with the limbs will improve circulation and accelerate healing of damaged soft tissue.
Water as steam in a sweat bath has many benefits particularly with respiratory conditions like influenza, COPD, tuberculosis and even cancer. It is beyond the scope of this little essay to expand upon all the benefits of hydrotherapy other than to alert you to the experience and literature.