Try a Fomentation | An Herbal Infusion for the Skin
In Traditional Thai Medicine, herbs are applied topically several ways; with steamed herbal compresses, in balms and oils, in herbal steam tents and saunas, and herbal infusions are even hand-ladled over the body as a tepid shower.
A Bit Better than Steamed Herbal Compresses?
Here's my thinking. When I lived in Thailand, I received hundreds of Thai massages with steamed herbal compresses. The smell of the steamed herbs drifted from the tiny massage shops out onto the sidewalk beckoning passersby in for a massage.
The herbal compresses where bundled with a layer of white cotton and covered with a second cloth for cleanliness (between clients) - two layers of fabric between herbs and skin. Often the therapist worked the compresses over my own clothing as well (being shy of skin as Thai people are) - making three layers of fabric!
This never made any sense to me, but I loved the smell of the herbs and the bit of heat the compresses imparted. We know, of course, that the inhalation of herbal steam has its own medicinal benefits, but I was frustrated by the cloth barrier between herbs and my tissues.
My most profound experience of Thai herbal medicine was during postpartum recovery after my son's birth in Chiang Mai. My Thai family prepared medicinal tea for me to drink, foods to promote lactation, and the most heavenly postpartum tea bath for my daily shower. The simmering pot pictured here was cooled and strained for my herbal rinse (here's the postpartum herbal bath recipe).
My shower with herbal infusion was deeply satisfying because there was no barrier between me and the herbs.
Advantages of Fomentation in Thai Bodywork
- Fomentation delivers more of the herbs' beneficial constituents directly to the skin.
- It provides maximum benefit with the smallest portion of Thai herbs, which are expensive when imported by those of us working outside Thailand.
- It avoids the high cost of shipping Thai herbal compresses with all their cotton and packaging.
- Most importantly, a fomentation is easy to prepare, store and apply with massage clients (or at home!).
How to Make a Therapeutic Fomentation
- Place (1) ounce of Thai herbal blend in a one-quart Mason jar.
- Pour boiling water over the herbs to fill the jar and cover.
- Let the herbs infuse overnight at room temperature.
- Strain the solids from your infusion and store in a clean, covered Mason jar.
- The herbal infusion can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a month.
- (1) quart of infusion will make approximately (6) applications.
How to Apply it Effectively
- Layer 1: Place a washcloth saturated with warmed herbal fomentation on the skin.
- Layer 2: Place a hot water bottle on the saturated cloth. If the heat is too intense, add a dry layer of toweling between the saturated cloth and the hot water bottle.
- Layer 3: Place a thick layer of dry bath toweling on the hot water bottle to insulate the layers.
Allow the fomentation to do its work for about 20 minutes. After removing it, keep the skin layer warm by covering with clothing or a blanket.
A Tip for Thai Massage Therapists
Prepare your saturated cloths at the beginning of your work day and keep them in small insulated thermoses. Warm each thermos with boiling water and warm your herbal infusion gently. Saturate your washcloths, roll them up, and pop one into each thermos. They will be hot and ready to unroll when you need them.