Herbal Foot Baths: Achieving Good Health, One Step at a Time

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the feet act as an access point to the whole body. Stimulating different acupuncture points along the tops and sides of the feet can open up a wide array of healing for various maladies. In fact, there is an entire field within Oriental Medicine called reflexology that uses systematic massage of the feet to heal any ailment throughout the body. Similarly, Western Medicine recognizes over 7,000 nerve endings in the feet alone not to mention that each foot has 26 bones of body’s total 206. That’s nearly a quarter of the body’s skeleton all nestled comfortably in your shoes. We may not pay much attention to our feet, but caring for them well can produce extraordinary healing effects that radiate through the whole body and spirit. 

An Ancient Healing Practice
One of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to do this is with a traditional herbal foot bath. Sun Si Miao 孙思邈, a famous herbal doctor from 541-682 A.D., summarized the health benefits of foot bath in different seasons. He wrote that foot baths in the spring strengthens yang energy and prevents loss of qi. In the summer, a foot bath removes dampness and heat, relieving tiredness and promoting healthy appetite. A foot bath in the fall strengthens the lungs and digestion, whereas a foot bath in the winter warms the Dan Tian (energy center) building defense against the iminent cold weather and dryness.

So much Good from One Little Foot
Regardless of the season, an herbal foot bath can help reduce fatigue, promote a clear mind and restful sleep, lower blood pressure, strengthen muscles and tendons, improve circulation, expediate healing after an injury, and detoxify the body. Some specific complaints that may benefit from regular herbal foot baths are:

  • Insomnia
  • Arthritis or Neuralgia
  • Loss of Energy
  • Chronic Constipation
  • Acute Viral Infection or Cold
  • Irregular Menstration
  • Anemia
  • Obesity
  • Cold or numb extremities
  • Fungal Infections

What’s in the Water
Just as foot baths in different seasons can have slightly different effects on the body, so too can different herbs used in the bath make produce a different effect. You can use just about any herbs to promote healing in the body, but the Sages recommend a few calssics to begin with:

Ginger is especially good to use in Winter as it warms the body, eases aches and pains, and relieves colds with runny nose.
Saffron greatly improves circulation which can help with varicose veins, numb hands and feet, and peripheral neuropathy.
Mugwort is also naturally warming but can be used in the Spring and Summer months for tired and swollen feet after a long day of work. Mugwort is a powerful yang tonic that can replenish energy depleted from work, old age, or illness. 
Sophora Root is perfect for detoxifying the body. In TCM the herb is known to clear heat and drain dampness. 
Vinegar can improve foot odor and prevent or treat fungal infections. 
Stones or pebbles can be added to the bottom of the basin to massage the feet. 

How to Get Started
Its best to add your herbs to a pot of 4-6 cups of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes before dumping into your washing basin. Any basin or bucket will do, but be sure to avoid ones made of toxic materials. Allow the water to cool to 120-140° F (typically allowing to cool for 10 minutes). You can alternatively add cool water to speed up the process. When you place your feet in the bath, the water should fully cover your feet, ankle, and a bit of your shins. Soak for 15-20 minutes. The best time for a foot bath is right before bed. The goal is to sweat a little but not too much. Sweat is evidence of the qi and blood moving: the body’s response to the herbs and heat. If the water is too hot or you soak for too long, however, excessive sweating can actually drain qi rather than tonify it. Lastly, if you have arthritic pain in the hands or suffer from cold extremities, you might consider soaking your hands as well!

Precautions:Of course, if you are pregnant or have any medical issues, consult your doctor before beginning herbal baths. Tradition Herbalists also recommend avoiding a foot bath after drinking alcohol. If foot bathing causes an sense of vertigo or dizziness, remove your feet from the hot water and soak them temporarily in cold water to constrict the blood vessels and help ground you again. 

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