Vietnam: Herbal Baths
Self-care secrets - the Red Dzao traditional herbal bath
The knowledge of traditional therapeutic medicine was developed in Vietnam thousands of years ago, and even nowadays, traditional treatments are often preferred over modern medicine by the older generations.
One such popular traditional treatment is that of the herbal baths derived from the Red Dzao ethnic minority, found in the northernmost regions of Vietnam. Easily recognized by their indigo garments with heavy hand embroidered designs and red handkerchiefs covering the women’s hair, the Red Dzao are renowned for their flora and fauna knowledge as well as their expertise in concocting different remedies for a host of illnesses and maladies.
Red Dzao history
The Red Dzao are believed to have migrated from modern-day China to northern Vietnam as early as the 12th century. After suffering droughts, failed crops, and the pressures of conventional society at the time related to feudalism during the Minh dynasty, they settled in present-day provincial areas of Cao Bang, Lang Son, Ha Giang, and Lao Cai, Vietnam.
Nowadays, the Red Dzao are Vietnam’s second largest minority group, totaling to around 700,000 people scattered throughout small villages, usually founded in hilly areas near their terraced rice field crops and tending their farms. Their language is a mix of H’mong – Dzao dialect, using adjusted Chinese characters for written form and religious beliefs a mixture of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism.
Dzao comes from the traditional Chinese character “瑤”, meaning ‘precious jade‘.
Each gatherer (typically a woman), is able to recognize between 50 – 200 different types of plant and herb species by sight only. Of these herbs, there are 10 which are considered the most essential in any herbal bath. The recipes are created by passing down the “secret knowledge” from generation to generation within the same family, meaning no two herbal baths are exactly alike!
Usually, the main ingredients for Red Dzao medical treatments have been locally foraged in bamboo forests and jungle areas. One of the most essential herbs, Chu Du, is a plant belonging to the mint family, used to enhance breathing and relieve sinus blockages. It’s harvested with a careful cut at the stem and can easily be regrown by sticking a new cutting back into the mud.
Other plants help in treating fevers, relieving headache pain, or to help aid in recovery after child birth. In fact, Red Dzao women who give birth are able to return quickly to work after a couple weeks of daily soaks in these herbal baths!
Interested in the Red Dzao?
Topas Riverside Lodge is found right in the midst of a Red Dzao community, making it the perfect place to learn more about this fascinating culture and the group’s way of life. Add it to your itinerary today!
Step 1: Gather the plants and herbs
First and foremost, the gatherer must collect an assortment of plants from their natural habitat. She harvests the plants armed with nothing but her knowledge and a single blade, putting each one carefully into her basket. Some grow high on trees while others are covered in the underbrush or have fallen off the main vegetation already. Once she has collected enough in her basket, she returns home to continue the process, as gathering the herbs is only the first step.
Step 2: Prepare the plants and herbs
Once the herbs are gathered, the woman must chop them up into smaller pieces and then typically, lay them out to dry for a couple of weeks. In some rare cases, such as at Topas Riverside Lodge the herbs are picked and then used immediately in the herbal bath (2 hour prep time).
Whether or not the herbs are dried first or used immediately, once they are cut up into smaller pieces, they are boiled to create a “magic potion” over a hot fire, a reddish-brown liquid full of therapeutic and medicinal properties. This process can take from anywhere to 1 – 4 hours, typically.
Step 3: Mix it all together and enjoy
Once the herbs are boiled, the bath can be completed. The red-tinged boiling hot medicinal water is mixed with a regular bath water at a ratio of 2/3% and 97/98%. Once mixed together, the temperature of the bath must remain between 30 – 37 degrees Celsius (86 – 98.6F) in order to unlock the benefits for your body.
Sometimes the bathtubs look like large whiskey or wine barrels, while other properties may have more western-style bathtubs – either way, they are always made of solid wood to enhance the herbal remedies, and situated within a closed space similar as a sauna would be to keep the steam within the room longer.
Depending on the reason you want to take the bath and your health condition, the time you soak is strictly regulated from 15 to 30 minutes.
Bathing for too long can lead to a feeling similar to having one too many glasses of wine or whiskey, accompanied by shortness of breath, especially for people with blood pressure issues, or a history of cardiovascular and/or other similar diseases.
Don’t miss out on this must-do experience when visiting Vietnam, especially the Sapa region. Whether you’re staying at Topas Riverside Lodge or Topas Ecolodge, you can book this treatment while enjoying a backdrop of magnificent blue mountain views or the wild rugged green jungles and rushing rivers, all enjoyed from the comforts of a hand-carved wooden bathtub and steaming hot water. Which one will you choose?
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