Before I began my studies as an herbalist, I learned a lesson about treating ailments through the feet. One hot summer night, I played an outdoor concert with the orchestra. The temperature outside that night was in the low 90’s, and it was over 100 on stage. By the end of the evening my head hurt so badly, I could barely drive home. Though dehydration could have been part of the problem, I had kept up on my intake of fluids. This was a seriously bad heat headache. Once home, my friend, an herbalist, drew a room temperature bath, and told me to stick my feet in. The relief was instant.
From the moment I was relieved of my heat headache with a footbath, treatments through the feet became a curious thing to me. I learned the feet are an amazing pathway for healing. Though many remain skeptical, there is enough anecdotal proof historically to validate the benefits.Read more…
History of Foot Therapies
Many of us are familiar with reflexology. It is a method of healing introduced to the United States in 1913 by Dr. William H. Fitzgerald. Eunice D. Ingham, a nurse, further developed the practice in the 30’s and 40’s, which is when the term reflexology was coined. Ms. Ingham was responsible for charting the hands and feet with points that corresponded with organ systems, glands and functions of the body. The theory is that by massaging and putting pressure on certain points on the feet and hands, one can get therapeutic results. It is her work that is typically taught in reflexology courses today.
Without knowing worldly developments in hand and foot treatments, one French family was right in line with their realization of how sensitive the feet are. Maurice Messegue was born in a rural French village in the province of Gascony in 1921. His father and grandfather were both herbalists. In fact, the tradition of herbalism in his family can be traced back nearly 450 years. Maurice learned the art of herbal healing from his father. But the tradition rarely used plants internally. The treatment plan for those who sought healing was a hand and footbath with the recommended plants. The success rate was high. So high, in fact, that Maurice Messegue became regarded as one of the leading French herbalists of his time. Among some of his clients were Winston Churchill, President Herriot of France, and King Farouk.
I didn’t discover Maurice Messegue’s book, Of Plants and People, in the beginning of my herb and aromatherapy practice. My approach to therapies for the feet was limited to a physiological approach – the veins in the feet run directly to the heart and respiratory tract. Therefore, I formulated foot treatments for respiratory distress and colds, high blood pressure and insomnia. These treatments were successful. But this book opened a whole new way of working on the body through the soles of the feet. Much more could be affected. I began to witness effects in my clients that were unintentional in their treatments: improved mood, better circulation, pain relief, and improved health and vitality.
Warming Essential Oils for Foot Rubs and Soaks
Winter is cold, and when extremities get cold, the body has trouble warming up. This can cause stress on the immune system, muscles become tense, and circulation suffers. There are many conditions that occur in the body as a result of cold. Simple foot rubs or soaks can counteract many of these effects of cold on the body.
I chose these essential oils for their warm, calming and uplifting nature. It is also holiday time, and orange, ginger, cinnamon, balsam peru and spikenard are all reflective of that. Choose your essential oils based on what you like to smell, and what results you would like. Consistency is key here. Doing something once will have a nice short-term effect, but doing it regularly will yield longer-term therapeutic results.
Orange (Citrus sinensus)
General attributes: calmative, diuretic, antiseptic, digestive
Inhalation: instills sense of joy and lightness of the spirit
Orange lifts the mood from the inside out. Warm light, and sweet; the scent of orange helps us remember the sweetness of life. It counters the emotion worry, and is great for the person who can’t take their mind off events of the day long enough to relax.
Ginger (Zingirber offic.)
General attributes: antiseptic, breaks up cold congestion both emotionally and physically, joint pain, stomachache, cold headaches
Inhalation: instills courage and confidence
Ginger is optimistic. The warmth it creates stimulates circulation. Ginger raises body temperature and increases the potency of the immune system. It breaks up emotional and physical stagnation in a person.
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
Contraindications: sun exposure, sensitive skin
General attributes: anti bacterial, anti viral, anti fungal, indicated for impotence in men, tooth care, cold conditions of the lung; effective against staph, strep, pneumonia and meningitis
Inhalation: warming to heart
Cinnamon raises the temperature of the body. The heating nature increases immune function, and stimulates the nervous system to counteract fatigue, and lift mood. It stimulates circulation and improves small capillary circulation, making it useful for spider veins and Raynaud’s Syndrome. It was used in Egypt in small amounts topically to relieve digestive complaints, and in poultices to relieve muscle and joint pain.
Balsam Peru (Myroxylon balsamum)
Contraindications: prolonged skin use
General Attributes: anti infectious, anti bacterial, antiseptic, catarrh, and expectorant
Inhalation: warm and calming
Balsam Peru is effective for physical, spiritual and emotional bruising, and is used topically in Trinidad to treat bruising. It has a vanilla-like scent with a hint of spice. It also relieves itching in scabies, ringworm and eczema.
Spikenard (Nardostachys jutamansi):
Contraindications: none known
General attributes: sedative, strong anti fungal, calming physically and emotionally, great for difficult to heal skin conditions (Psoriasis), and insufficient ovarian function
Inhalation: aids grief, sadness and fear; helps us to find our center
Spikenard, the Asian cousin to Valerian, is a powerful sedative that is warming. It is known as the oil with which Christ’s feet were anointed. Spikenard’s scent is a musky cross between patchouli and valerian, and it is very long lasting. I include Spikenard in products for insomnia, and difficult to heal skin conditions. With intent as a dream oil, it brings dreams for the spirit.
How to Make a Salve
To prepare a salve, you will need: a kitchen scale, a double boiler, a glass container to pour the salve into once complete, something to stir, beeswax, the appropriate carrier oils (olive, almond, jojoba, comfrey, calendula etc.), pure essential oils. I use a stainless steel measuring cup in a saucepan with water for a double boiler when preparing small batches. To stir, I use chopsticks. I also always add 15% jojoba oil to my salve recipes as a natural preservative. I have mass-produced salves for sale in stores, and believe me, the jojoba oil trick works. Other salves have a shelf life of about 6 weeks, depending on the environment they are kept in. Salves preserved with jojoba oil will keep for twice that, and in some cases a year. This also works for aromatherapy formulas in carrier oils.
An appropriate number of essential oil drops is 15 drops of pure essential oil per ounce of carrier oil or salve mixture. This will make a foot rub that is strong enough to yield results.
Bring water to a slow boil, and turn heat down to a simmer. Per cup of oil, add 1 ounce of beeswax, and let the beeswax melt at a simmer. Once the melting has occurred, turn off the fire and allow it to cool for a minuet, but not to the point where it hardens. Stir while it sits. Put your drops of essential oil in the glass jar, and pour the melted salve into the jar. Stir briefly, and then close the lid on the jar. Let this sit at room temperature until it hardens.
How to Prepare a Footbath
You can prepare a footbath in a bathtub or any container that allows you to sit with both feet in the water. To prepare a footbath, make the water as warm or hot as you can tolerate. I recommend adding Epsom salts to the water. They are warming, and detoxifying. I also recommend that folks apply a salve for feet or oil formula directly to the feet instead of adding it to the water. When added to water most of the essential oil will not penetrate the skin, but rather sit on top of the water and diffuse into the air. To receive the maximum benefits, soak for about 20 min. It’s ideal if the water doesn’t get cool.
You can also make a tea with herbs for your footbath instead of using essential oils. Per gallon of water, use approximately ½ cup of herb or combination of herbs to make the tea. Always strain the herbs off before adding them to your bathtub or footbath. This saves a lot of clean-up time later. A great warming footbath for winter is ginger tea. You can feel the warmth move all the way up your body. It is truly amazing.
Foot soaks are contraindicated for people with heart conditions and high blood pressure. Pregnant women should also employ caution.
Cold nights are often spent curled up under a blanket with a book or knitting. We may have a hot cup of tea or mulled cider by our side. Imagine taking warm holiday spices, putting them into a therapeutic footbath or rub, and adding that to your chilly nights ritual. It would warm the heart, sooth with scent, and probably make chilly days go much easier and quicker as well. Happy Holidays.