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A Spa's Odyssey

Bavarian bath herbs cross the Atlantic

By Dara Colwell

Years back, while watching The Incredible Lightness of Being (which my friends and I dubbed The Incredible Longness of Watching), the thing that struck me most was the spas. Forget Daniel Day-Lewis writhing in Spartan sheets, it was that gurgling mineral wash full of Czech men that held my cinematic attention. Famous for curing medical conditions ranging from cerebral palsy to psoriasis, spas have always been highly therapeutic. And across the border in neighboring Germany, the spa tradition has been equally strong, complementing a healthy lifestyle (except for the sausages).

One German priest, in particular, sought to take the spa experience deeper, and now we Americans can benefit--in our own bathrooms, no less. Devoted to natural medicine and in cahoots with a local pharmacist, Father Sebastien Kneipp developed herbal hydrotherapy more than a hundred years ago and his products, derived from the science known throughout Europe as "Kneippism," are now available in North America.

The Kneipp line of herbal bath and body-care products features the highest concentrations of herbal essential oils and extracts to invigorate and purify the body. The most commonly used herb baths (especially useful today) are stress-busters meant to calm frazzled nerves. Spruce and pine clear the chest, melissa helps relax and promote sleep, juniper soothes sore muscles, rosemary aids circulation and lavender combats fatigue. All smell as fresh as a lush spring forest and have a powerful healing effect.

Body-care products include an herbal foot soak combining rosemary, thyme, cooling menthol and camphor, and a stress-reducing orange- and linden-blossom bath oil, which works to soothe and benefit both body and mind. Kneipp developed over 100 different methods of using water as therapy, including rubdown treatments, wraps, water jets, baths and steam applications. Having but a modest bathtub and with no masseuse in sight, I opted for bath therapy and imagined I was in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps, soaking up the "Kneipp-Kur." Ah . . . easily achieved bliss .

Kneipp is available at Nordstrom's. Those fluent in German can access it on www.kneipp.com.

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From the August 30, 1999, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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