By, Valerie Lull MH
“Hydrotherapy, or water therapy, is the use of water (hot, cold, steam, or ice) to relieve discomfort and promote physical well-being.” (1)
The use of water for healing purposes goes back to ancient times. The ancients, especially the Romans were famous for their baths. Water therapy was used in Native American cultures. They had the sweat lodge. According to folklore, in the winter the Native Americans would often sit in the hot springs to relieve arthritis pain.
Water therapy, also known as Hydrotherapy was very popular in the 19th century. There were many health institutes and sanitariums in the United States and around the world that promoted water treatments. Sometimes these treatments included herbs. Today there are an amazing variety of remedies that include the use of water combined with herbs.
Herbal baths have been in use since antiquity. Bathing with herbs goes back to ancient Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, and Israel. The Hebrews practiced ritual bathing and would apply herbal perfumes and ointments during and after the bath. Hippocrates, the “Father of Medicine” coined the term hydrotherapy. (2)
There are many variations of the bath including, steam baths, saunas, soaks, rinses, foot baths, herbal bubble baths for kids, and Sitz baths. These various types of baths can include the use of salts and herbs. Some examples are oatmeal and herbal baths for after giving birth; lavender and chamomile for a relaxing soak. Lavender is especially good for healing joint and muscle pain. (3)
Most people don’t think of teas as water therapy, but just try making a cup of tea without water. Water is absolutely necessary for a healing brew. There are an infinite variety of teas and herbal preparations that can be used for every ailment imaginable. Just be sure to use pure, fresh water when making an herbal tea and consult your holistic health practitioner.
Inhalation therapy has been used for at least 2000 years, maybe more. Most modern hospitals have a department of in respiratory therapy. It is used as a delivery mechanism for drugs to the lungs of folks with lung disorders. (4)
On the home front there are many folk remedies. Heating water on the stove, then pouring it into a bowl, putting a towel over your head and inhaling the steam is a popular remedy. My mother would add a few drops of Eucalyptus oil to the steaming water and it would help ease the congestion of stuffed up sinuses.
Lavender is a popular herb used for inhalation. Put 2-4 drops into 2-3 cups of boiling water and inhale. Folks with Asthma should talk to their doctors about essential oil inhalations which might be helpful for them. (5)
- Compresses and poultices
A compress is as “a soft cloth pad held in place by a bandage and used to provide pressure or supply moisture, cold, heat or medication”. (6)
The use of an herbal compress is a common remedy that has been used for centuries. The most common uses for compresses are for inflammation, reduction of swelling, and treatment of muscle aches and pains. Poultices are commonly used for infection and swelling.
A compress is usually a cloth dipped in an herbal infusion and applied to the skin. A poultice is plant material that is put directly on the skin. (7) A poultice could be held in place by a compress that is used like a bandage.
- Herbal Ice cubes
Freezing herbs in ice cubes is a popular way to store herbs-long term. The herbs are frozen in the cubes when they are fresh and they are good for a long time.
Herbal ice cubes can be used for healing purposes. Folklore suggests making an herbal infusion of a favorite tea that is good for the skin, then freezing it in the form of ice cubes. An ice cube can be put on the skin after the skin has been cleaned and the skin pores are open. In cases of acne, it is thought to be useful for reducing inflammation. Herbal ice cubes can be made using essential oils as well. I would suggest you consult your dermatologist before trying thee things. (8)
Herbal ice cubes can also be used in iced teas and drinks, and are popular for parties and social gatherings.
I could go on and on. The uses for herbs combined with water are endless. Most of the herbs are inexpensive and so is the water. Pure spring water is recommended if it is available. Just be sure to consult your health care professional about the use of specific remedies for specific ailments.
Do not try any new regime or herbal treatment without first consulting with your health care provider. Some herbal preparations do not mix with prescription drugs.