Emotional Resilience

Stress is a fact of modern life – seemingly everywhere and all the time. There are so many sources of stress: caring for children, disabled persons, and elderly parents, holding down a job, and making time for a social life are all everyday sources of stress. Added to these everyday stresses are extraordinary events such as deaths, serious illnesses, natural disasters and social upheavals that often occur randomly and without warning. It is easy to become frustrated by the great number of pressures that consume you on any given day. Over time, the cumulative effects of multiple stressors, small and large, can combine to wear you out before you’ve had a chance to get started.

Stress can overwhelm your defenses despite your best efforts at coping. In the short term, you may lose your temper, your blood pressure may soar, and you may even feel sick to your stomach. Over the longer term, the cumulative nature of stress can keep you on edge long after individual stressful events have passed, and can even contribute to medical problems. For example, unresolved and lingering stressful feelings of anger, hostility, and aggression appear to make the development of heart disease and arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) more likely to occur.

There is no escaping stress, but there are ways you can learn to handle stress better when it is present, and to ‘bounce back’ faster from its impact. The collection of skills, characteristics, habits and outlooks that make it possible to remain maximally flexible and fresh in the face of stress is often referred to as “emotional resilience”, which is the topic of this document. Learning to become more emotionally resilient can dramatically improve your attitude and your health in the face of inevitable stress.

To be resilient means to be able to ‘spring back’ into shape after being deformed. To be emotionally resilient means to be able to spring back emotionally after suffering through difficult and stressful times in one’s life. Stressed people experience a flood of powerful negative emotions which may include anger, anxiety, and depression. Some people remain trapped in these negative emotions long after the stressful events that have caused them have passed. Emotionally resilient people, on the other hand, are quickly able to bounce back to their normal emotional state.

The Resilient Attitude

How do they do it? What is it about emotionally resilient people that make them more effective at managing stress than non-resilient people? The key difference between the groups appears to be that emotionally resilient people have a specific set of attitudes concerning themselves and their role in the world that motivates and enables them to cope more efficiently and effectively than their non-resilient peers.

Specifically, emotionally resilient people tend to:

  • Have realistic and attainable expectations and goals.
  • Show good judgment and problem-solving skills.
  • Be persistent and determined.
  • Be responsible and thoughtful rather than impulsive.
  • Be effective communicators with good people skills.
  • Learn from past experience so as to not repeat mistakes.
  • Be empathetic toward other people (caring how others around them are feeling).
  • Have a social conscience, (caring about the welfare of others).
  • Feel good about themselves as a person.
  • Feel like they are in control of their lives.
  • Be optimistic rather than pessimistic.

These special beliefs characteristic of resilient people help them to keep proper perspective, and to persist with coping efforts long after less resilient types become demoralized and give up. In order to become a more resilient person, it is necessary to work on cultivating these beliefs and attitudes for your own life.

The attitudes that underly emotional resilience is powerful because they enable people who subscribe to them to cope with great efficiency and effectiveness. It’s not really that emotionally resilient people know more or better coping skills than do non-resilient people. It’s more that they are better able to apply the coping skills that they do know that are non-resilient people.

Consider, if you will, that the first principle of coping successfully is to believe that it is possible to cope. Resilient people believe that they have the potential for control over their lives; they believe that they can influence their situation. Non-resilient people tend not to share this belief, and consequently, their stress-coping efforts don’t fair as well. People don’t work at coping when they don’t believe that coping can help.

Stress is stressful precisely because it is a source of negative emotions: depression, anxiety, anger. These negative emotions exert a powerful influence over perception. While you are experiencing negative emotions it can easily seem that there is no way to resist them. Depression, for example, often feels like it is a permanent condition that must simply be experienced; that nothing can be done to make it go away. Though this perception of being helpless in the face of negative emotion is seductive, it is not necessarily true. It is possible to consciously influence and change one’s negative moods to more positive moods. Simply deciding to exercise (physically) when feeling stressed can temporarily lift one’s mood, for instance. Rationally challenging negatively-exaggerated perceptions is another effective method for lifting one’s mood. It is, in fact, quite possible to think or act one’s self into a better mood. Resilient people understand this intuitively. For the rest of us, there is a scientific explanation as to how this is possible.

Mind Over Matter

The past quarter-century of neurological research has revolutionized our understanding of how the brain creates and regulates emotion. Scientists used to think that the limbic system, a set of brain structures occurring above the brain stem but below the wrinkled, walnut-shaped cortex, was wholly responsible for producing and managing emotions. Recent studies suggest that it is not that simple. Though emotional impulses do originate in the limbic system, our expression of those emotions is regulated by the prefrontal cortex, a cortical brain structure located just behind the forehead which is associated with judgment and decision making.

The involvement of the prefrontal cortex in emotional responding is one of the things that separates humans from animals. Animals have little control over their expression of emotions. When an animal’s limbic system becomes activated, that animal will experience and act out the resulting emotion. Scared animals will instinctually run and hide, or get aggressive, for instance. Human beings, on the other hand, are able to make judgments and decisions regarding their emotional state and to act on those decisions even when those decisions run counter to their emotional state. Frightened humans can evaluate whether or not their fears are justified, and act counter to their fears, for instance, making a speech in public despite being afraid of possible negative judgments that might result. People’s ability to change the way they experience emotion is important for two reasons: first because it means that people have a real, if limited, capacity to snap out of negative emotions that don’t serve them, and second because choosing to snap out of negative emotions is usually a good decision that can have a positive influence on one’s overall health.

In part then, resilient people believe they can change their moods, and so they work to change their moods. The less resilient among us can instead fall prey to hopelessness. A major purpose of this document is to help convince those of you who do fall prey to the hopelessness that it is possible to become more resilient. We’ve just described how-how it is possible that you can change your negative moods to more positive ones. Now, let us tell you why it is a very good idea to do this.

The first reason you should work to become more resilient is that the positive moods that you’ll enjoy more of when you become more resilient are really good for your health.

Accumulating research suggests that the positive emotions (happiness, contentment, joy, etc.) are associated with healthy immune system functioning. Conversely, the negative emotions are associated with the weaker immune function, greater production of stress hormones such as Cortisol, and greater incidence of illnesses. These findings suggest that how you habitually feel is much related to how vigorously you can resist illness.

To illustrate, consider that in one study depressed women suffering from breast cancer were found to have fewer immune system cells and weaker overall immune functioning when compared to non-depressed breast cancer sufferers. Because the immune system’s job is, in part, to hunt down and kill cancer cells, depressed breast cancer sufferers weaker immune function means that their bodies are less likely to be able to resist their cancers. In the same vein, another study found that depressed bone marrow transplant patients were significantly more likely to die during the first post-treatment year than were nondepressed transplant recipients.

Positive emotions are not just window-dressing; they are intimately tied up with your immune function efficiency and your physical health. If you can learn to cope better with stress so as to avoid becoming depressed, and to lessen the time you spend feeling negative you can have a positive impact on your emotional and physical health.

Positive emotions benefit your social health as well as your physical health. Sharing of positive emotions with others helps to bond people together, creating and maintaining strong, healthy, and caring relationships. Caring relationships, in turn, provide social support which nourishes further emotional resilience, and positive feeling states. It is a circular, self-reinforcing movement towards health. The better you feel, and the more you share that positive feeling with others, the more you are able to draw upon the relationships you create through that sharing to create further positive feelings.

The social support benefits of relationships are numerous and important:

  • Close caring relationships offer opportunities to express and to receive love, both of which are important for identity, self-worth, and self-esteem. They offer a path towards becoming part of something larger than yourself which-which you can identify in a positive manner. They keep you from feeling lonely. They support you when you are down. They are environments in which it becomes likely you will experience positive states: 1) feeling accepted and cared for, and 2) happy playfulness.
  • Inside the give and take of relating are many opportunities to practice social skills (which turn out to be resilience skills as will become clear later on). Healthy relationships promote communication, reciprocity, and compassion. They also function as a sounding board and can provide opportunities for reality testing. Friends may offer workable solutions to problems you would have never come up with on your own.
  • By offering you opportunities to network with people you would not otherwise meet, relationships can benefit you economically (by helping you to find work or work opportunities), and romantically (by introducing you to potential romantic partners).

Where positive feelings help you to build relationships, negative feelings do the opposite. Depressed, negative feeling states tend to break relationships down and erode social support. Negative feelings tend to be consuming and to promote self-centeredness. They do not motivate people to attend to the needs of others. Though friends and family often want to support their depressed relationship partners, they find this a difficult task as depressed, negative people tend to withdraw from offers of support and to isolate themselves. It is ultimately frustrating to remain in relationships with negative-minded people and one by one, the relationships that depressed people have to grow more distant or extinguish.

There are real health and wellness benefits of being resilient. It’s something worth striving for if you aren’t already that way. Importantly, resilience is a learnable skill. Most anyone can become more emotionally resilient if they work at it.

Growing in emotional resilience requires that you work towards greater self-knowledge. It is important, for example, that you to learn to identify how you react to emotional situations. Becoming aware of how you react when stressed helps you gain better control over those reactions. A good framework to help guide you towards becoming more aware of your emotions is something called Emotional Intelligence.

The term ‘Emotional Intelligence’ was coined by psychologists John Mayer and Peter Salovey in 1990. It can be defined as your ability to use your emotions intelligently and appropriately in different situations, combined with your ability to use emotions to make yourself more intelligent overall. Emotionally intelligent people are able to accurately recognize and comprehend emotion, both in themselves and in others, to appropriately express emotion, and to be able to control their own emotion so as to facilitate their own emotional, intellectual and spiritual growth. In short, emotionally intelligent people intentionally use their thinking and behavior to guide their emotions rather than letting their emotions dictate their thinking and behavior. People who are highly emotionally intelligent tend to also be highly emotionally resilient.

In order to become more emotionally intelligent, it is necessary to develop the following five skill domains:

  • Self-awareness. Self-awareness involves your ability to recognize feelings while they are happening.
  • Emotional management. Emotional management involves your ability to control the feelings you express so that they remain appropriate to a given situation. Becoming skillful at emotional management requires that you cultivate skills such as maintaining perspective, being able to calm yourself down, and being able to shake off out-of-control grumpiness, anxiety, or sadness.
  • Self-motivation. Self-motivation involves your ability to keep your actions goal-directed even when distracted by emotions. Self-motivation necessarily includes being able to delay gratification and avoid acting in impulsive ways.
  • Empathy. Empathy involves your ability to notice and correctly interpret the needs and wants of other people. Empathy is the characteristic that leads to altruism, which is your willingness put the needs of others ahead of your own needs.
  • Relationship Management. Relationship management involves your ability to anticipate, understand, and appropriately respond to the emotions of others. It is closely related to empathy.

These various skills work together to form the basis of emotionally intelligent behavior.

People come to the challenge of emotional intelligence with different strengths and weaknesses. Where some find it easy to develop self-awareness and empathy, others have a difficult time, or don’t easily recognize the need. Luckily, emotional intelligence (likewise emotional resilience) is something that can be cultivated and developed. You have the ability to learn how to better work with emotions so as to improve your mental, physical, and social health.

In order to develop the five emotional intelligence skill domains, you’ll need to become skillful at the following tasks:

Noticing Emotion

By their nature, emotions are consuming. During the moment, it is very easy to simply remain embedded inside them and not quite recognize that they are occurring. In an emotionally embedded state, it is as though you are asleep, or helpless to act differently than the emotion wants you to act. You might find yourself doing things you will later regret doing while in such a state.

As self-awareness grows, you become able to notice emotion as it is occurring. Noticing emotion allows you to step back from it, and witness it as though it were happening to someone else. Noticing emotion separates you from that emotion and therefore provides you with space you need to recognize that the emotion is happening, and to form judgments as to whether your actions in response to the emotion are proper. A self-aware person is awake and responsible rather than asleep. They are conscious of what they are feeling and can use their understanding of their emotion to change how they act.

In order to notice emotion while it is happening, you must pay attention to the following:

  • Your Senses. Emotions get expressed physically and are reflected in one’s body and posture. Specific behaviors like clenched fists or gritted teeth are good signals that one is probably angry, for example.
  • Your Thoughts and Beliefs. Emotions are also expressed as thoughts. It is fairly common for particular types of thoughts and beliefs to only be present when you are upset. Your learning to notice that those emotion-linked thoughts are present in your mind becomes a clue that you are upset. For example, many people say thing to themselves like, “Things will never ever get better, ever again!”, when upset, but not say this sort of thing to themselves when they are feeling okay. If you do something like this, you can learn to recognize when you are doing it and use that knowledge to know when you are upset.
  • Your Actions. Emotions have behavioral components. Learn to recognize the way you act while upset. Noticing that you are suddenly raising your voice or starting to speak over other people might be clues that you are upset.
  • Your Triggers. Triggers are situations, people, places, feelings, thoughts or objects that get you to start thinking or feeling something you would not otherwise have thought or felt. Triggers can often start you down the road towards becoming upset without your conscious awareness. Identify your triggers by watching for the things that set you off, and then writing them down. Knowing what your triggers help you to anticipate them so that they don’t catch you off guard. Generate a plan for handling each trigger so that it doesn’t get the best of you.
  • Your Motives. Think about how you believe people should conduct themselves in various different situations. For instance, ask yourself which is better behavior when speaking with one’s spouse: calm discussion or screaming? Later, compare your own behavior against your list and see if you meet your own standards. Learn to notice when you are not meeting your own standards of conduct. Your noticing when you are not meeting your own standards of conduct can become a clue as to when you are upset.

Identifying Emotion

Having noticed the signs that emotions are occurring, your next step is to understand and identify those emotions. You can begin this process by asking yourself questions that will help you understand the ways that emotion has affected you. Good questions to ask include:

  • What am I feeling now?
  • What are my senses telling me?
  • What is it that I want?
  • What judgments or conclusions have I made (and are they accurate)?
  • What is this emotion trying to tell me?

The answers to these questions are key to using your emotions in the service of your life goals, rather than allowing your emotions to use you.

Often, your physiological (body) reactions suggest vital clues to the nature of your emotional state. If your face begins to get warm while you are talking with someone, you may be embarrassed. If you have “butterflies” in your stomach, you may be nervous. If you feel excited and giddy and there is a smile on your face, you may be happy. If your head pounds, your heart races, and you feel increasingly tense and hot, you are probably angry. However, if you feel tense, your heart is pounding, your palms are sweating, and you feel cold, you are probably frightened rather than angry.

You can also learn to identify emotions based on the way they make you feel, think and act. Perhaps certain memories come to the surface of your mind when you are feeling sad that aren’t there at other times. Perhaps you were hurt in the past by a romantic partner with a particularly striking face, and find over time that when you meet new people who remind you of that partner, you automatically respond negatively towards them. Consciously knowing what you are feeling and why may suggest a set of actions you can take to help you change your feelings.

Managing Emotion

Understanding your emotions makes it possible for you to manage them so that they work for rather than against you. For instance, having established that you are feeling sad, you can take steps to make yourself feel happier. More pointedly, if your sadness (or anger, or anxiety, etc.) would normally influence you to act in a way that might damage yourself or someone else, becoming aware of that emotion can enable you to take steps to not act in that destructive way.

As an example, suppose you are in a meeting at work and your boss calls your carefully researched proposal “a stupid harebrained idea”. A careless comment like this might make you angry: your heart beats faster, your head pounds, your blood pressure goes up, and you experience a compelling urge to give your boss a piece of your mind. Though you want to yell at your boss, doing so might likely get you into trouble, and might even get you fired. A better solution would be to suppress your outburst by actively managing your emotion, respectfully disagreeing with your boss, and then later finding a safe outlet for your hurt feelings.

Assuming you are an emotionally intelligent person, you might manage such a hurtful comment in the following way:

  • First, by recognizing that your pounding head and racing heart are signs that you are angry.
  • Next, by thinking about your goals with regard to your relationship with your boss (e.g, to maintain steady employment). Although giving your boss a piece of your angry mind would likely help you feel better in the short term, doing so could ultimately create serious problems. Recognizing this danger, you might decide that while your boss’s comment was unreasonable and even sadistic, there is nothing particularly useful to be gained by sinking to his level.
  • Later, after the meeting is done, you can think about ways to handle your boss’s tendency to put you down. Soliciting opinions and help from knowledgeable other people who care about you may help you figure out the best way to proceed. You may need to look for another job or a departmental transfer. Alternatively, a private meeting with your boss or with your human resources staff might result in successful resolution of the problem.

By actively managing your emotions, you are taking steps towards becoming more emotionally resilient. You are also taking steps to avoid pitfalls and problems that strong emotions would otherwise push you towards.

Early on in this document, we said that the foundation of emotional resilience (and thus emotional intelligence) is largely a matter of attitude and belief. How people think about themselves and their relationships with others and the world forms the base on which emotion management skills sit. Negative, defeatist attitudes towards self and others make it more difficult for you to successfully manage your emotions. Positive, empowering attitudes, on the other hand, make emotional resilience seem like second nature.

Emotionally resilient people tend to display the following positive characteristics:

  • Happiness
  • Control
  • Optimism
  • Mindfulness and Flow
  • Hardiness
  • Communication
  • Relationships
  • Compassion and Empathy

In the next major section of this document, we’ll explore each of these characteristics attributes (beliefs, attitudes) in greater detail. It is worth your while to learn about and practice these attitudes, for doing so will make it easier for you to become more resilient and self-aware and to be able to consciously manage your emotions as necessary to benefit your life.

Happiness is elusive for many people. The vast majority of us are raised to think that obtaining material things will make us happy. Food clothing and shelter are not enough to satisfy. For example, once you purchase the house you’ve been saving for, you start thinking about the furniture you want to buy or how the landscaping needs to change. Each desire, once satisfied, gives birth to new desires in an endless progression. The more we buy into the idea that we’ll be happy when we have enough of the right sort of possessions, the more trapped we become. We become jealous of people who have more than we do, and we risk bankruptcy to pay for things with credit we can’t afford. The more ‘stuff’ we desire, the less happy we are.

The facts are: possessions don’t make people happy, except when there isn’t enough of it to purchase the essentials of food, clothing, and shelter. Studies examining the relationship between family income and happiness show that money is only related to happiness when there really isn’t enough of it and real deprivation occurs. No relationship has been measured between money and happiness for any family living above poverty wages, suggesting that once basic needs are taken care of, further happiness cannot be bought at any price. As a result of these types of findings, researchers now consider happiness to depend on less on people’s actual circumstances and more on how people choose to respond to their circumstances.

Your happiness is not dependent on whether you drive the right car, live in the right neighborhood, or wear the latest clothes. Instead, how happy you are depending on how you approach your life and the people around you. True satisfaction is not about getting what you want but rather is about wanting what you have. Learning to be content with what you have is the true path to happiness.

Traits of Happy People

In order to learn how to be content with our own lives, we need to understand what makes some people generally happier than others. Researchers have found four inner traits that predispose people to have positive attitudes and to be content or happy more often than not. These traits are:

  • Self-esteem. Happy people respect their value as human beings and have confidence in themselves. When times get tough, people with a solid sense of self-worth and a firm belief in their own competence are the very people who persist until the tough times have passed.
  • Personal Control. Happy people believe that they have control over what happens to them. They tend to believe that they are actively in charge of their own destiny rather than being a passive victim of fate.
  • Optimism. Happy people are hopeful people. They expect they have a decent chance to succeed when they try something new. They see the proverbial glass of life as half full rather than half empty.
  • Extroversion. Happy people tend to be outgoing and sociable. They often find it a pleasure to be around others, rather than a chore.

Even in old age, happy individuals tend to be cheerful and full of the joie de vivre – the ‘joy of life’. People who like themselves are confident that other people will like them too. They have friends and they engage in rewarding social activities through which they experience affection and social support. Social support, in turn, reinforces happy people’s sense of self-esteem, in a circle of health. Social support is an important part of the foundation supporting a happy person’s sense of well-being and positive outlook on life.

Becoming a Happier Person

Not everyone is born extroverted with high self-esteem and an optimistic outlook. Some people are more pessimistic by nature, prone to depression, to not think well of themselves and to find social activities to be more work than play. Can such pessimistic people become happy despite their nature? The answer is yes.

The way to cultivate greater happiness is deceptively simple. Pretend that you are self-confident and optimistic. You might think that pretending to be happier couldn’t possibly work, but in fact, if you give it half a chance, it can indeed help you to become a happier person. There is a very real sense in which being happy is a habit. You can strengthen your own habit of being happy by practicing it again and again. As you become more and more comfortable acting happy, the phoniness will diminish and the happy behaviors and attitudes you have been practicing will begin to feel more natural.

The same goes for your interactions with other people. Pretend to be more outgoing than you are. Smile. Act like you like the people you meet, and you will likely find that you actually do like some of them! As a bonus, you may also find out that you are beginning to like yourself better, that you feel more confident, and that you are becoming more comfortable with other people. These changes can help you feel greater happiness in your life and more optimism for the future.


The Power of a Morning Ritual

I’ve discovered that setting a good tone for the day helps to both attain a positive attitude and to stay intentional throughout the day. That’s why I talk to my clients about establishing a morning ritual.

Ritual versus Routine

A ritual is not the same thing as a routine. A morning routine might involve exercising, showering, dressing, reading the paper and eating breakfast. Because we’ve done it so many times before, we know what to do and in what order without having to do much thinking. A ritual may involve these same mundane chores, but a ritual takes on a meaning beyond getting a task completed. Rather, the focus is on the process of the task or an appreciation of its side benefit. With a ritual you have the added value of feeling energized, focused, grounded, clear-headed or some other additional benefit beyond completing something on your to-do list. Some common morning rituals include meditation, exercise, journaling, yoga, reciting affirmations and setting daily intentions, such as remaining patient with a difficult coworker, experimenting with a new stevia recipe and following through on your plan to snack only on fruit.

I found a meaningful morning ritual a long time ago and have continued with some version of it for well over two decades. Instead of rushing out the door or upstairs to my home office, I gift myself time to sip my coffee while having a meaningful conversation with my husband. I spend time thinking about my goals for the day and their potential obstacles and simply center myself for what might be in store. An important part of my morning ritual is my jog. It has become my meditation with the consistent steady sounds of my footsteps and my breath. By the time I’m home from jogging, I have set my intentions and feel mentally prepared for my day.

5 Steps to Forming a Morning Ritual

There are many ways to go about forming a meaningful ritual. These 5 steps are just one way I help clients find their ideal way to start the day centered and intentional.

  1. Commit a few extra minutes. You may want to get up a little earlier or save time by setting out your clothes and breakfast dishes the night before. Acknowledge that this is an important time. There’s no reason to feel guilty for giving yourself the gift of not rushing to start your daily chores. By letting family members know that you’ve set aside time for yourself, they can help you protect that time.
  2. Chose a morning ritual to try out. Scan your past activities to identify ones you’ve enjoyed and found meaningful. Or consider something brand new that’s intrigued you. Would you like to meditate, read poetry, walk in nature, journal about your thoughts or goals? Pick any one thing to start. Be creative and open to new things. If something interests you, go for it. It’s okay if it’s not someone else’s idea of a morning ritual.
  3. Determine the time. Consider your schedule to pick an appropriate time. Some people will prefer to engage in their activity shortly after waking up. Others will want to wait until kids have gone to school or a spouse is out for a run.
  4. Experiment for at least a few days. Like with most health and wellness habits, it takes time to work your way through your new ritual to find what you like and what works. Stick with something for a few days and tweak as necessary. It’s okay to experiment with a few rituals until you find something doable and meaningful.
  5. Be consistent. Keep at it and guard your ritual. If you’re short on time one day, that’s okay. Just do what you can. If you wish for 30 minutes but have only 10 – or even less – modify your ritual for the time you have. That consistency will help you maintain your ritual long term.

These tips work equally well to help you start an exercise routine. If that interests you, just try it. Months down the road, you may find that it’s become part of your morning ritual too. Cheers to a beautiful start to your day!

Inner Balance ~ New Moon In Libra

Today, October 19th at 12:12 pm PST (3:12 pm EST) we move into the Dark Moon of Libra. Libra energy gives us the chance to look at what is increasing and decreasing in our lives; what is in balance and harmony.

This is our first New Moon following the Fall Equinox, a time to connect to your inner point of balance through stillness. To still yourself is to come to rest in your own right place. This stillness is not the opposite of motion, but a push into motion by outside influences. Whether you move or stop is determined by your own sense of the nature of the time. When you are in your stillness you can be inwardly still and reflective and at the same time outwardly stay with your situation; not seek to act on it or escape it.  Outer and inner stillness reinforce one another.

To work from this inner point of balance allows you to slow down, become aware of your feet on the ground and create that moment of stillness that supports you in discovering your natural path and pace. This helps you to flow in greater harmony with your environment and more genuinely connect with other people because you are fully immersed in your authentic experience.

During a dark moon (seed moon) your mind turns inward.  You may feel contemplative yet find your intuition is active. This is the time to seed/plant your intentions.

Here are a few questions to contemplate under this Dark Moon ~

Where is your inner point of balance?
What is just beginning to germinate?
What is increasing/decreasing in your life?

Here are a few thoughts on seeding your intention for this Dark Moon:

  • Create your altar using pinks and greens. Some lovely gemstones to work with under this moon are rose quartz, jade or labradorite.
  • Prepare you Moon Water using either rose quartz or jade ~ speak your intention into the water and place it on your altar overnight.
  • If you like, use balancing essential oils in a diffuser or as aromatherapy by dabbing on your wrists or clothing ~ clary sage, lavender or geranium are some of my favorites.
  • Take a walk today or if you are not able to take a walk, be aware of any animal or insect that speaks to you. For example, I took a walk today and saw many animals, but during my walk, I happened to look down and saw a beetle and I found it was sharing a message with me.  Pay attention and please trust yourself.  Once you have your animal totem find its meaning/symbolism in a book or online.
  • How does this message support your intention? How does it support you in finding your inner balance?
  • If you feel comfortable ask the animal spirit to work with you in your Dreamtime tonight (you may even have a specific question for your animal)
  • When you awaken, take a few minutes to remember your dream and write down any messages you were given and place them on your altar.
  • Before eating or drinking, take a sip of your Moon Water and speak your intention into your water again and place it back on your altar. Take a sip each day until the Full Moon on November 3rd.

Friday, October 20th, is the New Crescent Moon (sprouting moon). During a sprout moon, you may find sudden insights or new ideas!  Your appetite may increase and you may need less sleep. If you can watch the Moon setting (7:11 pm PST, 10:11 EST). It is a beautiful way to bring your intention forward and feel the blessing of new beginnings and balance as we move into the waxing moon.

New Moon Blessings

Aromatic Herbal Baths of the Ancients

From ancient times through the Middle Ages, different nations of the Mediterranean and Near East used aromatic herbal baths widely for medical purposes. Over time this practice, which began in Ancient Egypt and Babylon and was further developed by famous Greek scholars and practitioners, spread throughout Southern Europe and the Near East and, later, influenced medical practices in Western Europe.

Herbal baths, which were highly valued by the ancients, are not completely forgotten today. Modern science proves that bathing can relieve muscle tension, dilate blood vessels, and slow the heart rate.1Herbs can contribute to these benefits. Bathing with infusions of fragrant herbs is used traditionally to treat many diseases, may eliminate physical and mental tiredness, and is beneficial for the skin and hair.2

Since the late 1960s, owing to the widespread use of phytotherapy in the United States and Europe, herbal baths have become even more popular. Many unique methods of application of herbs in our daily life have been developed, and today a number of medicinal preparations and cosmetics are produced with herbs and sold throughout the world. Soaps, shampoos, and shower gels containing various herbs and other plant-derived aromatic substances are now widely available for bathing or hand washing.3

However, volatile oils are not the only agents working in an aromatic bath. Fragrant plants contain numerous other constituents (tannins, flavonoids, alkaloids, etc.) that are also therapeutic in a herbal bath. The infusion of a whole fragrant herb is often considered to be more effective than its pure volatile oil.4

Despite the number of modern works on phytotherapy,5 compared with the ancient medical manuscripts, they contain limited information about aromatic baths. Many ancient recipes have been forgotten. To revive them, one must refer to the ancient books on medicine and pharmacy. These sources contain numerous recommendations that might be of interest to modern physicians and could enrich modern herbal medicine.

The author of this article is engaged in the study of the ancient practice of phytotherapy in the Near East. For these purposes, information from manuscripts dating from 9th—18th centuries c.e. and written in Latin, Greek, Arabic, Azerbaijani, Turkish, and Persian has been analyzed. All these sources are kept at the Institute of Manuscripts of the Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences in Baku. As a result, some forgotten ancient recipes have been deciphered.6 Some of these medieval and earlier recommendations are cited and analyzed in this article. This author believes that they may enrich modern phytotherapy, once they have been experimentally and clinically tested.


The earliest written information about therapy by bathing with decoctions of aromatic herbs is contained in the Indian Vedas dating back to 1500 b.c.e. Ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and Hebrews widely applied this practice for hygienic and medicinal purposes. For example, Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt (69—30 b.c.e.), bathed with rose (Rosa spp., Rosaceae) petals.After bathing, Egyptians would apply perfumes and ointments from cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum J. Presl, Lauraceae), peppermint (Mentha x piperita L., Lamiaceae), white lily (Lilium candidum L., Liliaceae), sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana L., Lamiaceae), Indian frankincense (Boswellia serrata Roxb., Burseraceae), and oils derived from almond (Prunus dulcis (Mill.) D.A. Webb., syn. P. amygdalus Batsch., Rosaceae), castor (Ricinus communis L., Euphorbiaceae), olive (Olea europaea L., Oleaceae), and sesame (Sesamum indicum L., Pedaliaceae).7

The Greek physician Hippocrates (circa 460—377 b.c.e.), known as the Father of Medicine, learned about the healing properties of aromatic baths from the ancient Egyptians. He subsequently developed teachings about using water as a form of treatment, which he called hydropathy. Medicinal bathing also was called thalassotherapy or hydrotherapy (water cure). The name thalassotherapy may come from ancient Greek thalassa (small sea) or from the Greek philosopher Thales (circa 636—546 b.c.e.), who believed that the physical world derives from a single underlying substance: water.1

This treatment method was later adopted by Roman physicians and gradually spread throughout the Mediterranean. The bathhouses (thermae) of ancient Rome became famous, owing to their fragrant decoctions and balmy ointments. Such scholars as Dioscorides (1st century c.e.) and Galen (circa 130—200 c.e.) recommended aromatic baths for urological and genital disorders, as well as for tumors, wounds, colds, bad mood, and fatigue.8 Galen treated patients for fever in the famous Hadrian baths. Some public thermae in Rome were huge, magnificent buildings having separate rooms with hot, warm, or cold water, and special sections for massage, sports, and physical exercises. The Caracalla Baths in Rome were especially impressive and famous during the 3rd-century c.e. People not only bathed there, but also were treated with water, massage, and aromatic herbs, they also relaxed, visited with friends, and entertained.

According to Greek historians, native inhabitants of Central, Northern, and Western Europe also used primitive herbal baths. For example, the Greek historian Herodotus (circa 484—425 b.c.e.) mentions that the Scythians, a nomadic tribe of the Ukraine region, used hempseed to medicate a vapor bath: “The Scythians take some of this hempseed, and, creeping under the felt coverings, throw it upon the red-hot stones; immediately it smokes, and gives off such a vapour as no Grecian vapour-bath can exceed.”9

After the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 5th-century c.e., Western Europe plunged into the Middle Ages, a dark era of ignorance (circa 400—1450 c.e.), which in some countries continued up to the Renaissance and Reformation (circa 1450—1700 c.e.). However, during the Renaissance and Reformation, the Church forced the demise of saunas and nearly rendered the European bathhouse extinct. Only Finnish, Russian, and Scandinavian peoples continued their traditions of herbal bathing. In Russia, people bathed in special wooden houses (bania) with hot water and steam. Before the 18th century c.e., these bania were common, and men and women bathed together. Russians applied a kind of herbal therapy in their bathhouses: they vigorously thrashed each other with switches of green birch twigs (so-called Birch Broom). It was believed that such “birching” in a bath improves circulation and rejuvenates an organism.10Birch leaves were also placed over the hot rocks to expel cleansing vapors.

The Finnish bath (sauna) resembled the traditional Russian bath, but its principal therapeutic effect was associated not with hot water, but with steam. An old Finnish proverb says, “The sauna is the poor man’s apothecary.”8 Compared to the ancient Greeks, the peoples of Northern and Eastern Europe used fewer herbs in bathhouses and their bathing traditions were much simpler.

During the Middle Ages, the Greco-Roman culture of hygiene, bathing, and treatment by aromatic plants survived and continued to develop in the Byzantine Empire, Middle East, and Central Asia, where Greek medical traditions were influenced by Middle Eastern and Indian phytomedicine. Bath pavilions were a common and well-attended feature of hospitals in Constantinople. After the 7th century c.e., aromatic baths were added to the armamentarium of Muslim physicians, including the great Ibn Sina (also known as Avicenna, 980—1037 c.e.), who believed that bathing in a decoction of dill (Anethum graveolens L., Apiaceae) is good for intestinal colic and stops congestion of sperm, while a bath with leaves of bay (Laurus nobilis L., Lauraceae) is effective against urinary diseases.11

During the Middle Ages, a cult of bathing was formed in Persia, Turkey, and the Caucasus. Contemporary sources attribute great healing properties to bathing. An 11th-century Iranian writer, Keykavus Ziyari, wrote, “Since architects began to raise buildings, they created nothing better than a bathhouse.”12 In order to maintain health, it was recommended that a person visit a bathhouse at least two or three times each week. Bathhouses served as both beauty parlors and health clinics.12 Medieval Middle Eastern bathhouses usually offered services such as bathing and massage with the application of aromatic oils. Many large public bathhouses had a staff of masseurs for this purpose, because it was believed that massage alleviates physical and mental tiredness, and improves circulation.13,14 Aromatic oils were also used to treat various diseases. For example, thyme ointment (Thymus spp., Lamiaceae) was applied for rheumatism, and an ointment with henna (Lawsonia inermis L., Lythraceae) or onion (Allium cepa L., Liliaceae & Alliaceae) was used for herpes.13,15 The staff of many bathhouses included a barber who cut hair and shaved the customers, and then applied henna (Lawsonia inermis L., Lythraceae), dyer’s woad (Isatis tinctoria L., Brassicaceae), or other dyes to their hair.13

After a bath and a massage, visitors to the bathhouse could rest and relax in a special room where they would drink coffee or tea with fragrant herbs that included peppermint, thyme, sweet marjoram, rose petals, cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum (L.) Maton var. cardamomum, Zingiberaceae) or cloves (Syzygium aromaticum (L.) Merr. & L.M. Perry, Myrtaceae ).16 In Azerbaijan, customers could also order sweets, dinner, or a pipe. Stays in the bathhouse were so pleasant that some people would spend all their free time there; some even slept there. As a rule, after a visit to the bathhouse, people felt rejuvenated, attractive, healthy, strong, and energetic.12

The medieval Middle Eastern bathhouse was a very beautiful architectural object, usually a stone building with arches, domes, and beautiful gates. In Azerbaijan, the inner part of the public bathhouse consisted of the entrance hall and one or several large bathing halls with pools. There was also a cloakroom and rooms for rest. Bathhouses were heated by hot steam circulated in pipes under floor and walls. Several large medieval bathhouses are still preserved in Baku, including the Haji Gayib Bathhouse (built during the 15th century c.e.) and the Gasim bey Bathhouse (built during the 17th century c.e.), which now houses a museum of medieval pharmacy. In medieval times, the bathhouses would serve men one day, and women the next.

The Near Eastern authors of the Middle Ages suggest numerous plants to use in one’s bath, including grape leaves (Vitis vinifera L., Vitaceae), chamomile (Matricaria recutita L., Asteraceae), pomegranate (Punica granatum L., Lythraceae & Punicaceae), basil (Ocimum basilicum L., Lamiaceae), anise (Pimpinella anisum L., Apiaceae), violet (Viola sororia Willd., Violaceae), almond oil, garlic (Allium sativum L., Liliaceae & Alliaceae), and barley (Hordeum vulgare L., Poaceae). Ancient manuscripts provide evidence that during the 9th—14th centuries the aromatic oils of about 50 species of herbs and flowers were used for treatment through bathing and external application. Medieval sources provide information about methods of preparation and the curative properties of these baths.16

Near Eastern bathhouses used fragrant substances in several ways, including:

1. Aromatic decoctions or infusions were added to the water in a bath. For example, Mu’min (d. 1697) wrote that bathing in a decoction of pine needles (Pinus spp., Pinaceae) is good against diseases of the uterus and rectum.17

2. Ointments containing aromatic herbal oils were applied to patients’ bodies after or before bathing. For example, it was recommended to massage a patient’s body with the ointment of pine pitch, euphorbium juice (from Euphorbia spp., Euphorbiaceae) and guggul (resin of Commiphora wightii (Arn.) Bhandari, Burseraceae), which was considered a good cure for stones in the bladder if applied after bathing with a special decoction.13 Some caution must be taken when using euphorbium juice, which is caustic.5

3. Usually, fragrant fruits or perfumes were placed near a bathing person. It was believed that aromatic substances strengthen the heart and have a sedative effect. “[Hot] water in a bath should not cover the patient’s breast and heart,” wrote Ibn Sina.13 It was recommended to bathe as long as the skin continues to redden and swell. However, one was advised to stop bathing after the skin began to pale.14

According to the folk medicine of Azerbaijan, after a hot bath or nap, one was advised to apply rose, narcissus (Narcissus spp., Liliaceae & Amaryllidaceae), or violet aromatic oil to the face and body. Women especially liked these oils since they make the skin tender and silky when applied after bathing.

Reproductive, Urinary and Intestinal Disorders

In addition to the ancient manuscripts, cultural memory has retained the secrets of ancient therapy from aromatic plants. The author has collected some of these recommendations from native residents in various districts in Azerbaijan and listed them below. Such information is indicated by the words “Pers. comm.” (personal communication). Data on when, where, how, and from whom this information was collected are shown as well.

Cancer of the uterus

The herbs mentioned below were recommended not to treat cancer itself, but as analgesic remedies. For example, the 15th century Iranian author Mansur bin Mohammed wrote in his book Kifayayi-Mansuri(Sufficient from Mansur), “As to the cancer, it is a very dangerous disease and scarcely may be cured.”18

Mansur recommends an analgesic bath containing dill seed, chamomile flower, yellow sweetclover or yellow melilot herb (Melilotus officinalis (L.) Pall., Fabaceae), mallow leaves (Malva neglecta Wallr., Malvaceae), cabbage leaves (Brassica oleracea L. var. capitata L., Brassicaceae), beetroot (Beta spp., Chenopodiaceae), and flax seed (Linum usitatissimum L., Linaceae). These were boiled and added to the bathtub.18

Poor urination

Garlic (Allium sativum L., Liliaceae & Alliaceae). According to Ibn Sina, “Sitting in the decoction of stems and leaves of garlic causes a diuretic effect É .”11 Garlic baths may have a therapeutic value since this plant has anti-spasmodic properties and substantial effects against bacteria, fungi, viruses, and even worms.4,19In veterinary medicine, garlic is often added to otitic herbal mixtures for its antibiotic properties.20 Since boiling garlic inactivates some of its beneficial effects, garlic baths may be less effective for inflammatory diseases than an ointment of fresh chopped garlic.21

Stones in the bladder and kidneys

In order to crush and remove stones from the urinary bladder, Ibn Sina recommends bathing with an herbal mixture containing the following ingredients: chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus-castus L., Lamiaceae), maidenhair fern herb (Adiantum capillus-veneris L., Adiantaceae), mugwort herb (Artemisia vulgaris L., Asteraceae), rose petals (Rosa spp., Rosaceae), and other herbs with astringent properties.13 Supposedly, the astringent remedies may be pomegranate skin, barberry fruits (Berberis vulgaris L., Berberidaceae), or cornelian cherries (Cornus mas L., Cornaceae). Nowadays, in Azerbaijan, these herbs are widely used in the preparation of herbal baths.

Tumors and pains in the uterus

Anti-spasmodic, analgesic, and antiseptic herbs were applied for uterine dysfunction. To dilate blood vessels and release muscle tension, it was recommended to use hot water.15

Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus L., Verbenaceae). According to Ibn Sina, “Sitting in decoction of chaste tree seed is effective against pains and tumors in the uterus.”11 The anonymous author of Tibbname (Book of Medicine), which was compiled in Azerbaijan in 1712, also writes that chaste tree seed has analgesic properties.22 In his book Jamiye Baghdadi (Baghdad’s Collection, 1311 c.e.), the medieval Azerbaijani author Yusif bin Ismail Khoyi writes about anti-inflammatory properties of chaste tree baths.23

Uterine hemorrhage

Peppermint (Mentha x piperita L., Lamiaceae). The 18th century c.e. Azerbaijani author Abulhasan Maragayi writes in his treatise Mualijati-munfarida (Treatment with Simple Remedies) that a woman with uterine hemorrhage should bathe in a decoction of seeds and leaves of peppermint.24 The menthol in peppermint oil has a local vaso-constrictive effect and can relieve hemorrhage.4

Skin Diseases and Allergies

Since antiquity, the unguents, powders, and baths with decoctions and infusions from aromatic plants were widely used to treat skin diseases and allergies. Modern research now shows that the chemical composition of many aromatic plants contains ethereal oils with anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and analgesic properties.4

Allergic itch of the skin

These remedies were used not to cure the allergy itself, but only to relieve the allergic itch. Numerous representatives of two genera of conifers were applied for these purposes.

Juniper (Juniperus spp., Cupressaceae). Yusif Khoyi in 1311 c.e. prescribed bathing with juniper cones to ease allergic itch of the skin.23 According to Azerbaijani folk medicine, juniper baths are effective against allergic itch of the skin. It was recommended to carefully boil 50 juniper cones in 8 glasses (approximately 2 liters) of water and add the decoction to the bathtub (Pers. comm. M. Akhundov, conversation, 1989 December in Baku, Azerbaijan). These properties of the juniper baths may depend on counter-irritant and anti-inflammatory activities of the juniper oil. 25

Pine needle (Pinus spp., Pinaceae). Mu’min recommended bathing in a decoction of pine needles to cure allergic itch.17 In Azerbaijan, baths prepared with a 10 percent decoction of needles, cones, and branches of pine are considered a cure for allergic itch of the skin. Owing to counter-irritant and anti-inflammatory properties of the pine needle baths, they may relieve allergic itch.25

Irritation and inflammation of the skin

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita L., Asteraceae). The 18th century c.e. manuscript, Tibbname, recommends bathing with a decoction of chamomile flowers to ease pimples and inflammation of the skin.22 According to Azerbaijani folk medicine, bathing in a chamomile decoction soothes skin irritation and inflammation. It is recommended to add a handful of dried chamomile flowers to five glasses (approximately 1 liter) of boiling water and infuse for half an hour. Then, filter the infusion through a cloth or tea strainer and add to the bath water. The optimal temperature of the water must be similar to the temperature of the human body (Pers. comm. A. Muradov, conversation, 1988 July, in Baku, Azerbaijan).

The chief constituent of chamomile has anti-inflammatory properties, owing primarily to such compounds as chamazulene and (-)-alpha- bisabolol.3 Even though a decoction of the plant contains only about 10—15 percent of the volatile oil present in the plant material, it has very strong anti-inflammatory properties.5

Juniper (Juniperus spp., Cupressaceae). The 15th c.e. author Mansur recommended applying a juniper decoction externally to treat infectious wounds of the skin.18 In Azerbaijani folk medicine, juniper baths are used to treat rash, inflammation and itch of the skin (Pers. comm. A. Muradov, conversation, 1989 July, in Baku, Azerbaijan). Baths and unguents containing the infused oil of Zeravshan juniper (J. polycarpos K. Koch., syn. J. seravschanica Kom.) have shown a bacteriostatic effect in pathogenic microorganisms. Further, these baths promote regeneration and granulation of damaged tissues.26 In Cuba, juniper decoctions are used for patients affected by skin and urinary infections.27 Juniper tar is a principal constituent of Vishnevski Unguentum®, which is used in Russia for wounds. Martinez et al. have reported on the activity of J. barbadensis L. var. lucayana (Britt.) R.P. Adams bis against Staphylococcus aureus.28

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris L., Asteraceae). Tibbname reported antiseptic properties of mugwort decoctions when applied externally.22 Folk healers in Azerbaijan use mugwort to prepare baths for infectious diseases of the skin (Pers. comm. K. Baghirov, conversation, 1992 May in Barda, Azerbaijan). Such applications of mugwort are typical also to Bulgarian folk medicine, where bathing in a mugwort decoction is recommended to treat pyoderma (bacterial skin infection), infected wounds of the skin, etc.4 The volatile oil contained in mugwort baths has antimicrobial properties. At a concentration of 1:10, it depresses development of the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosaKlebsiella pneumoniae, and S. aureus.3 However, the volatile oil did not show any antimycotic effect against the yeast, Candida albicans.29 According to the data of Lambrev et al., an alcoholic infusion of mugwort leaves shows antibacterial effects against Shigella sonnei and Bacillus subtilis.30 To treat tired feet, Gardner recommends a soothing footbath with mugwort, comfrey (Symphytum spp., Boraginaceae) and mint (Mentha spp., Lamiaceae).31 The German Commission E warns that some sensitive subjects may have an allergic reaction to mugwort.32

Oregano (Origanum vulgare L. Lamiaceae). The Tibbname discusses antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties of oregano decoctions and juice applied externally or used as a local bath.22 According to Azerbaijan folk medicine, bathing in an infusion or decoction of oregano is good for many skin diseases. This treatment was prescribed for pimples and scrophuloderma (Pers. comm. D. Turabov, conversation, 1988 July, Shaki, Azerbaijan). Water infusions of this herb have shown antiviral effect in vitro.4 An aromatic bath with oregano oil is prescribed to ease various pains and colic.4

Pine needle (Pinus spp., Pinaceae). According to Mu’min, pine needle decoctions show anti-inflammatory effects when used externally in a bath.17 Azerbaijan folk medicine recommends baths of needles, cones, and branches of pine for rash, pimples, and inflammation of the skin. The oil of the endemic eldar pine (P.brutia Ten. var. eldarica (Medw.) Silba) is considered especially effective. This pine grows in the mountains of the Major Caucasus and is cultivated throughout the Azerbaijan Republic.25 Anti-inflammatory properties are associated with pine oil, which has strong antiseptic and diuretic properties, promotes granulation of wounds, and is used as disinfectant and deodorant.21 Ritch-Krc et al. have revealed that pitch preparations of P. contorta Douglas ex Loudon have antimicrobial activity against known human pathogens: Escherichia coli, S. aureus, P. aeruginosa, C. albicans, and Aspergillus fumigatus.33 Pharmacological effects of pine baths may depend on oils and terpenoids, many of which have antibiotic properties.5

Stings of Poisonous Animals

Usually, stings and bites of poisonous animals were treated with external remedies: fresh juices, decoctions, and infusions of different plants. In most cases, these plants had only analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects, but did not inactivate the poison itself. An example is fresh juice of basil (Oimum basilicum L., Lamiaceae), which is used today in Azerbaijani folk medicine against bee stings. However, some other plants are known as antidotes.

Scorpion stings

Ajowan (Trachyspermum ammi (L.) Sprague ex Turrill, Apiaceae). Ibn Sina recommended using a local bath of ajowan seeds against scorpion stings.11 Other medieval authors also confirm analgesic and antidotal properties of this bath 15,17,34

According to Azerbaijani folk medicine, decoctions of ajowan seeds have antidotal and analgesic properties, when applied externally. Taking a bath with this decoction causes the same effect (Pers. comm. B. Samadova, conversation, 1988 June in Lachin, Azerbaijan). This plant does not grow in Azerbaijan, but is imported.

Soft Tissue Damage

Traditional medicine often cures soft tissue injuries and ailments with the help of local baths. Juices, infusions, and decoctions of aromatic plants are applied externally to the wounded parts of the body. This practice is still widespread in the folk medicine of Caucasus.

Wounds, tumors and ulcers

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum J. Presl, Lauraceae). Khoyi in 1311 c.e. pointed out that cinnamon has antiseptic and healing properties.23 According to Azerbaijani folk medicine, cinnamon baths are good for external tumors (Pers. comm. Y. Garayev, conversation, 1990 July in Shamakhi, Azerbaijan). In many eastern countries, cinnamon is used externally for boils and abscesses.35 The pharmacological effects of cinnamon baths depend on antiseptic properties of this plant.36

White lily (Lilium candidum L., Liliaceae). Medieval medical manuscripts of Tibet recommended lily baths to cure wounds and ulcers of the body.37 Both infusions and decoctions of the bulb promote healing of experimentally induced wounds in rats.3 The infusion of the bulb eases pains, removes rash and blisters, and promotes epithelization of the skin when applied externally.38

Birch (Betula spp., Betulaceae). In the Caucasus and Central Asia, birch baths of European white birch (B. pendula Roth.) are used for external ulcers and wounds.25 To prepare a bath, it is recommended to infuse a teaspoon of the budding leaves in 100 ml of boiling water (Pers. comm. A. Muradov, conversation, 1993 January in Baku, Azerbaijan). In Himalayan regions, a decoction of the bark of Himalayan birch (B. utilis D. Don) is used to wash wounds.39 Birch preparations were used successfully in the Central Clinic of the First Moscow University against erosion of the skin and conditions when the wound does not heal for a long time.40

Calamus or sweetflag (Acorus calamus L., Acoraceae). Mu’min wrote about the anti-inflammatory and healing properties of the juice and decoctions of sweetflag.17 In modern Russia, alcoholic infusions of the dried rhizome is diluted with water (3:1) and applied on festering wounds and ulcers as a local bath.41

Rheumatic and neuralgic pain

For many centuries, medical baths were successfully used to treat rheumatic and neuralgic pain. Many recipes of these bath solutions are found in ancient Greek, Roman, Indian, and Arabic medical sources. In modern Azerbaijan, this practice is applied in the Naftalan health resort, where patients take baths with aromatic plants and unique healing Naftalan mineral oil. Baths with mustard oil are extremely popular in the folk medicine of Caucasus.


Mustard (Brassica nigra (L.) W.D.J. Koch., B. juncea (L.) Czern., Sinapis alba L. syn. B. alba Rabenh., Brassicaceae). The Tibbname recommends external application of mustard water in the form of baths or compresses to relieve pains in radiculitis (inflammation of the root of a nerve).22 In Azerbaijan, bathing in mustard water is prescribed for those who suffer from chronic radiculitis. It is recommended to add 10—15 tablespoons of mustard powder to a pot containing 2—3 glasses (400—600 ml) of water. The powder should be vigorously ground until the sharp smell of mustard becomes apparent. The powder is added and carefully mixed to a bath containing 20 buckets of water (approximately 200—250 liters). The temperature of the water must be similar to the temperature of the human body. After bathing, it is advised to put on a bathrobe and take a nap (Pers. comm. T. Aydinov, conversation, 1992 December in Baku, Azerbaijan). Mustard oils are contraindicated when kidney disorders exist, and prolonged applications may result in skin and nerve damage.32

The analgesic properties of mustard baths are thought to depend on the sinigrin content and the volatile oil contained in these plants. Externally, mustard is a local irritant applied against rheumatic pains, rubefacient, and vesicant in over-the-counter drugs, such as Musterole®.5

Nervous and Cardiovascular Diseases

Many aromatic herbs are used to treat various nervous and cardiovascular diseases. The derived benefits are associated with the sedative effect of some volatile oils contained in these herbs.

Low blood pressure

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis L., Lamiaceae). In Azerbaijan, rosemary baths are recommended to people with low blood pressure. Since medieval times, it has been thought that this fragrant plant stimulates circulation of the blood and is a good tonic.22 Four glasses of boiling water are added to a pot containing five tablespoons of rosemary leaves, and the mixture infused for a half an hour. The infusion is then filtered and added to the warm water in the bath. The optimal duration of the procedure is half an hour (Pers. comm. T. Aydinov, conversation, 1992 December in Baku, Azerbaijan).

Stewart recommends a rosemary bath for tension and stiffness.42 This bath may have a pharmacological effect since the hot infusion of rosemary is known as a tonic,38 and an anti-spasmodic,43,44 and antiviral agent.5

Neurasthenia and tachycardia

English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia Mill., Lamiaceae). Ancient Greek scholars such as Galen and Dioscorides, as well as medieval pharmacists, report the strong calmative properties of lavender.11,17According to Azerbaijani folk medicine, bathing in a lavender decoction has anti-spasmodic and calmative effects and is used for tachycardia (rapid heart beat) and neurasthenia (Pers. comm. A. Muradov, conversation, 1988 December in Baku, Azerbaijan).

Stewart recommends lavender baths for tension and stiffness.42 This bath contains lavender oil, which is applied for neurasthenia, migraine, and heart neurosis with tachycardia.45 Baths with lavender may relax the patient since isolation of a smooth muscle relaxant principle identified as 7-methoxycoumarin also has been reported.36 The bath may be taken before sleeping because lavender oil is effective for insomnia. 46,47

Sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana L., Lamiaceae). Dioscorides and Ibn Sina considered this plant to be good medicine against different nervous diseases.11,17 According to Azerbaijani folk medicine, taking a bath with a marjoram decoction is helpful against flatulence and nervousness, and causes a diuretic effect (Pers. comm. F. Safarov, conversation, 1993 August in Shamakhi, Azerbaijan). The healing properties of marjoram baths may depend on the sedative properties of the volatile oil (0.7 to 3.5 percent) contained in this plant.40

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis L., Lamiaceae). The Tibbname recommended external and internal application of lemon balm to relieve excessive nervousness and irritability.22 According to Azerbaijani folk medicine, bathing in a lemon balm decoction is useful for heart disease, relieves tachycardia, eliminates pains in the heart, and lowers blood pressure. Further, lemon balm baths are applied for furunculosis. The water in a bath must be warm, but not hot (Pers. comm. S. Valibeyov, conversation, 1987 April in Shusha, Azerbaijan).

Information about the healing properties of lemon balm baths may be confirmed by data of Leclerc, who reports that lemon balm has anti-arrhythmic activity and is successfully used to treat different types of arrhythmia and high blood pressure.38


To study the ancient recipes of herbal decoctions used in bathing during the Middle Ages and earlier, 18 medieval manuscripts in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Greek, and Latin were investigated. These medieval sources contain information about more than 50 aromatic herbs that were used in the preparation of medicinal baths. Some of these plants are listed and discussed above.

As a result, a number of forgotten medieval recipes have been revealed and deciphered. It has been established that aromatic baths were used to treat reproductive, urinary and intestinal disorders, skin diseases and allergies, stings of poisonous animals, damage of soft tissues, rheumatic and neuralgic pains, nervous and cardiovascular diseases, and more. Some modern scientific literature on aromatic plants has been analyzed as well. Comparative analysis of medieval and modern sources shows that recent investigations support the possible medicinal effect of some ancient recipes. Sometimes the healing effects of herbal baths may be associated with known medicinal properties of the constituents of aromatic herbs.

Medical manuscripts of the ancients contain descriptions and recipes of many herbal baths. Some of them also are used by modern folk medicine in different countries of the world. Modern research on the chemistry and pharmacology of these herbs and their constituents suggest that these ancient and traditional folk ideas continue to be relevant.


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Pumpkin Vanilla Chai Latte

Pumpkin is actually quite good for you, it’s rich in fiber, Vitamin C and A, and so much more. Here are nine reasons why you’ll want to have some this fall. It’s easy to do that with a delicious homemade latte that even your children will love. And not to worry about dairy intolerance, this recipe uses almond milk.
Here is what you need:
2 Chai tea bags or 2 teaspoons loose leaf tea
1/2 cup boiling water
3/4 cup almond milk
1/3 cup pumpkin
1 tablespoon raw honey
1/4 cup strong coffee or espresso
1/2 teaspoon vanilla 


Fresh nutmeg or cinnamon
Whipped cream or whipped coconut cream


Pour the boiling water over the tea bags and steep for 8 minutes. Heat almond milk and pumpkin to almost boiling. Remove from heat, add vanilla, espresso and honey. Mix well, add chai tea and pour into a large mug. 


Top with whipped cream and freshly grated nutmeg or cinnamon. Enjoy this hand warming yumminess that is good for you!


For children use decaf coffee or simple, skip it.