Salt baths, birch sap and bergamot: 5 ancient treatments that never get old
Could forests hold the key to calming our minds? Fancy using resin from ancient trees to wash your face? Brands, businesses and experts are searching through the sands of time to uncover age-old techniques which inform the latest, and greatest in wellness.
And they’re working. From Triyoga studios offering therapies grounded in Mayan medicine to ESPA’s new mindful massage that incorporates ancient breathing practices, wellbeing brands are applying modern science to century-old techniques, with potent effect. Balance has scoured the corners of the globe to find the traditional practices being revamped to offer new leases of life, for longer.
1. MASTIC TREE GUM and MYRRH
Ancient: On the subject of trees, resins collected from the barks of specific species have been hailed since ancient times for their cleansing properties. The Greeks, Babylonians and Egyptians all swore by chewing Mastic tree gum, a resin scientifically proved to be a potent antioxidant. Myrrh, the famed Eastern resin, is recognised in Unani medicine (a fusion of Arabic and Greek alchemy) as a natural antiseptic and analgesic.
Modern: Fast-forward to today and you’ll find both Mastic and Myrrh as ingredients in the Yesti collection from Niod — a series of facial products combining age-old ingredients with up-to-the-minute science. Use Mastic Must as a daily morning cleanser to remove impurities and tighten pores, top up on a weekly basis with a Myrhh Clay mask.
Try: Mastic Must £27; Victoria Health
Ancient: This Indian system classifies humans by three types of dosha (energies); vata, pitta and kapha. It’s a unique combination of the three that makes up your individual Ayurvedic constitution. According to ayurvedic science, if these are out of whack, it can play havoc with your health. So far, so mystic. But, according to a six-year study by the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, there is genetic evidence to support the theory, adding extra punch to the practice of personalising diet and lifestyle choices to obtain and maintain equilibrium.
Modern: Beauty and wellness brand Rituals has translated the traditional practice into modern products. The Ritual of Ayurveda collection offers nourishment, rejuvenation and balance. But the first step is to identify your dosha via a short online quiz then select the relevant oil from one of three new blends, apply to exfoliated skin and reap the rewards. Other brands based on the principles of Ayurveda include Pukka Herbs and Banyan Botanicals.
Try: The Ritual of Ayurveda – Balancing Ceremony, £65, Rituals
3. BIRCH TREE SAP
Ancient: Japanese forest bathing (essentially hanging out with trees) has been shown to improve mood and boost physical and mental wellbeing, according to an extensive study undertaken at Nippon Medical School. Alongside food for the soul, Scandinavian forests also have another, more tangible use; Birch tree sap tapping. Sap, the nutrient rich water collected from deep inside the birches, was originally a fast route to sustenance for remote dwellers in harsh weather and has been practiced for centuries.
Modern: But what was once only the nectar of forest foragers is now available globally, thanks to a drinks company making birch water more widely available. Tapped is an organic, low calorie drink, said to support liver function.
Try: Birch water, £9, Tapped Trees
4. ESSENTIAL OILS
Ancient: Traditional Chinese Medicine’s herbalism practices underpin modern aromatherapy. These days several essential oils have similar proven healing powers. A 2015 study by four Brazilian scientists suggests lavender, bergamot, bitter orange or sweet orange reduce anxiety, while a study by The National Research Foundation of Korea found that lavender, ylang ylang, marjoram and neroli all helped to lower blood pressure in patients with hypertension.
Modern: Acupuncturist Annee de Mamiel mixes bespoke oils, fusing Chinese medicine and aromatherapy. Long nights and cold weather are a great excuse to try the Winter Oil — traditional oils, including neroli, argan and rose geranium blended with fruit and plant extracts to lift spirits and soothe skin. Just in time for the December Equinox.
Try: Winter Facial Oil, £70, De Mamiel
5. BATHING IN SEA SALT
Ancient: Salt – a humble mineral lauded for its healing properties for millennia. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, was one of the first to advise bathing in sea salt to improve many ailments including skin diseases, and to clean bad ulcers. Thalassotherapy (using seawater for healing) was widely used in ancient Greek and Roman times. In the 17th century, pit salt therapy, also known as halotherapy, was seen as excellent for respiratory health.
Modern: For a more modern restorative salt water bath, Balance recommends adding Isla’s Apothecary Himalayan salts to your tub once or twice a week. Soak for up to 20 minutes, breathing deeply, to feel the effects of the health-giving minerals. Athletes, take note; a recent study by the University of Birmingham shows recovery-aiding magnesium sulphate is absorbed by the skin during a salt bath, so bathe immediately post-sweat and you will speedily replenish your mineral supplies.
Try: Himalayan Salt Soak, £26, Isla Apothecary