While Romans were lounging in the herbal scented air of their heated bathing areas, the rest of the world still lived in mud huts. It is this affinity for social bathing two millennia ago that brought lavender into cultivation. Such an old idea reminds us to turn your shower or tub into a Roman bath with fresh cut Mediterranean herbs from the garden.
We often refer to flower scents as fragrant, while the oils of certain foliage plants makes them aromatic. During dry times between rainfall seasons, these plants utilize their internal oils to keep from withering. The oils of selected plants are what makes them taste good, too.
Most bathing products contain essential oils of these plants to lend natural fragrance. For those who want an authentic taste of the way it was in ancient times, bring your culinary herbs into a new role for bathing. You can be sure the aromatic stem will be free of preservatives, additives or extenders that may be the case with prepared essential oil products.
When you use plant material fresh cut moments before, they begin losing oils to evaporation so use them immediately. Oils infuse into the water rather than naturally evaporating. That means all of the beneficial elements are put in direct and universal contact with your skin in a safe, diluted way. A garden full of many different aromatic plants means you can change your preferences at a moment’s notice.
Whenever you use plant material in association with plumbing, beware of any parts going down the drain. To be safe, use cheesecloth or fine netting to tie your herbs up into a bundle, or secure the pouch with a strong rubber band. Crafters can easily stitch up a few small reusable cheesecloth or net bags for more tidy preparation in advance.
Often clippings and cuttings of herbs are difficult to dry for winter in bundles. A better option is to find an old window screen. Scatter your bits and pieces in a thin layer over the surface and place in the shade to dry away from breeze. This allows you to dry large quantities for sachets and teas too, which are big money savers as holiday gifts.
Many of these may already be in your garden. If not, start collecting the many varieties and species to fill out your yard with beautiful, useful plants.
Try aromatic landscape plants available in large 2 or 5 gallon sizes. These are more immediately usable than starting with a small quart herb start that won’t give you much. It’s more pricy, but you’ll be glad to have the extra material for cutting and small bouquets to hang. Most aromatics ask for little more than full sun, regular water and good drainage.
Rome’s favorite aromatics
Lavender: Named from the Latin lavo, to bathe, the Romans ensured we have many species and varieties of this favorite Mediterranean plant to scent our homes and baths.
Rosemary: A woody shrub that grows large and is tough as nails for difficult dry sites, slopes and rural homes.
Thyme: This small culinary herb has a lemon scented variety as well as others that mimic well known fragrances.
Sage: Salvia officinalis, garden sage, is just one of many sage species that are highly aromatic and related to moisture lover, mint.
Santolina: Though not edible, these knot garden beauties offer gray foliage that was used to cloak unpleasant smells in medieval castles as “strewing” herbs.
Cistus: Rockroses of the Mediterranean are ancient oil plants harvested for the perfume trade, valued in lieu of whale ambergris and worn by pharaohs.
Begin with these common plants, then expand your choices into less common aromatics as you discover them.
From fresh eucalyptus wands to bundles of native pine needles, ultimate bathing experience is just one new plant away.
Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at www.MoPlants.com.