Author: Holly J Coley
Remember bath time as a kid? You may have whined when you were ushered off to strip down and hop in the tub but I bet you secretly loved it. I did. Who doesn’t love baths? They’re warm. They’re relaxing. They give you permission to chill for thirty minutes, no interruptions. As an adult I’ve transitioned to a shower person for the sake of time but I’m making the switch to the cleansing ritual of my youth and here’s why: Herbal baths. More specifically, Plant Soak.
Herbal baths have been around for centuries. The Ancient Egyptians, Assyrians and even Babylonians were known to immerse themselves in pools containing botanicals. There are manuscripts from as early as the 9th century showing flowers, oils and herbs being used in combination with water to promote healing. And when you think about it, the practice makes sense. Skin is the largest organ of the body and what we put and submerge it in gets absorbed through the pores, affecting us not only externally but internally.
As enlightened as I like to think I am about holistic medicine, I had never heard of herbal baths until last December when I discovered Plant Soak, an herbal bath company located in New Paltz, NY. With six varieties, each soak is handmade and contains a series of organic or wild crafted herbs and flowers designed to encourage wellness, inside and out. And on a side note, the packaging is really pretty. Who doesn’t love good packaging?
The soaks are formulated to meet specific needs, such as strengthening the immune system, calming nerves or detoxing. The Relaxing soak contains chamomile which is known to promote sleep and ease skin irritation. The Boosting soak is great for when you’re feeling fatigued or down with a cold. It features elderflower, known to ease a myriad of ailments, from joint to sinus infections. The Nourishing Soak is infused with mineral-rich plants like hibiscus and nettle leaf to promote natural energy and liveliness. Each soak is $18 and lasts several immersions. And if you don’t have time to hit the tub, you can use in the shower. Just cork your drain and follow the directions as you would for a bath soak. It’s easy. It’s healthful. It’s a little bit of luxury and I like luxury.
The mastermind behind this genius product is Heather Bruntil. Ethereal looking and well versed in the medicinal benefits of botanicals, she takes great pleasure in making wellness approachable. “It feels really good to put something into the world that I’m proud of and to introduce people to the benefits of herbal bathing,” she says.
Heather has been an herbalist for six years and works with clients to find harmony in their system and psyche. “Any kind of chronic disease or dis-ease state really is an imbalance of your body and a sign your vitality is low,” she explains. She addresses these imbalances by looking at a client overall, including their diet and lifestyle, to learn what can be irritating conditions or causing illness. “I work with clients on a very individual basis,” she explains. “I help them know they can have health if they really seek it in their heart and I’m there to walk with them on that path.”
I’ve never seen Heather for a wellness consultation but I quickly see how she empowers clients to take charge of their health. She’s extremely personable, welcoming me into her workspace with tea and offering up the comfiest chair. It feels like I’m talking with a friend rather than an interview subject.
Like so many people who find themselves in the holistic field, Heather’s introduction to the world of medicinal plants came from dealing with her own chronic illness which has made her empathetic to those she works with. “I was diagnosed with Lyme disease,” she explains. “I went from doctor to doctor trying to find some relief and it just became more chronic.”
According to the CDC, 300,000 individuals are diagnosed with Lyme each year. It’s particularly prevalent in the Northeast and can cause a number of health issues such as severe arthritis, nerve pain, inflammation of the spinal cord, and even short term memory loss. While antibiotics are given as treatment, they don’t always clear symptoms and cases can become chronic.
Rather than be defeated, Heather began searching for alternative treatments, eventually discovering Healing Lyme by Steven Buhner. The book championed plants as medicine and opened her up to how botanicals could be used to not only treat Lyme but other health issues. She began going herbal and it was transforming. “I saw my vibrancy and vitality improving and I was feeling better and better,” she remembers. Her experience made her want to spread the knowledge.
“When I was really ill I had a moment of darkness where I wasn’t sure I was going to be okay,” she says quite candidly. “I wanted to know if anyone ever got better and I never could find that information. At that moment, even before I found herbs, I made a promise that if I was able to get better I was going to share [my story] with people and give them hope for health again.”
And she made good on that vow, eventually going back to school to study herbalism. “Herbalism is a craft,” she tells me. “There’s a real beauty to it.”
Part of that craft is herbal bathing, which has played a large role in Heather’s life. The formulas that make up Plant Soak are based from the recipes she has used to promote her own health. While she once used Epsom salts, she found substituting or coupling them with plants turned out to be the real game changer.
“Herbal bathing has a rich history,” she explains. “I started making these really potent infusions, straining them and putting them into my bath. It took the experience from something that felt like a chore in my quest for wellness to something that was a beautiful self-care experience. When I was done with [them] I always felt wonderful…You’re absorbing all the natural constituents of the plants and it also often helps to soften the skin and soften and strengthen the hair. You’re getting this all over therapeutic experience.”
Plant Soak allows anyone to benefit from the healing power of plants at home in a fun new way. Let’s be honest, how many of us have taken a bath like this? For my first try I opt for the Cleansing soak. I had a wild birthday weekend with too little sleep and too much alcohol. I’m definitely in need of a cleanse. Sinking into the tub I feel my muscles relax and my forehead sweat from the heat. After ten minutes I swear I smell the perfume I sprayed on my clavicle two days ago seep out of my skin. Could this be the soak purging my system? The body absorbs the herbs directly, much like it would a transdermal patch. And the herbs inside of Cleansing, like ginger root, dandelion and nettle are known to remove impurities. Around thirty minutes I pull myself out, feeling soft and refreshed.
Along with its physical benefits, Plant Soak encourages users to take time for themselves; one of the simplest yet often forgotten aspects of self-care that I’m ready to embrace. If herbal bathing can help me nourish my body and spirit, consider me a convert. “With herbalism [you learn] that healing comes with patience and time and trusting your body,” says Heather. “We seemingly don’t have that time in our society anymore…Being able to set aside that time for your healing is critical.”
In honor of Valentine’s Day, the company has released a new herbal soak. With pink rose petals, hawthorn, hibiscus, damiana and even cinnamon, Loving You supports the heart and opens you to the spirit of love. Whether you’re coupled or flying solo, we can’t think of a nicer way to spend the holiday. To shop the rest of the line, visit plantsoak.com. To learn more about Heather or to book a consultation with her, visit her official website, bruntil.com.