Excerpted from Sept/Oct 2020 Essential Herbal Magazine
by Rebekah Bailey
An often overlooked part of the home remedy and self care
toolkit is the foot soak. Foot soaks can
serve a host of purposes, from simply getting feet clean, to helping with a
medical condition. They are easily tailored to meet a specific need, and well
suited to the use of herbs and common kitchen ingredients.
Foot soaks can be used for several reasons: to clean, to
ease pain and inflammation, to refresh and relax, to hydrate and exfoliate, to
cool off or warm up, or to treat a specific condition.
After a day of weeding in the garden, my feet are typically
filthy. Scrubbing my feet with a soapy brush or washcloth in the shower gets my
feet mostly clean, but still leaves a lot to be desired. A 15 minute soak does a much better job.
I have psoriasis on the bottoms of my feet, which, when not
properly managed, leads to painful cracked and peeling skin. In the past, I've tried salicylic foot
ointments and doctor recommended treatments with poor results. After a few years of experimentation, I
finally found some simple treatments that help keep the condition under
control. One of those treatments is a daily foot soak. Each evening I soak my
feet in warm water for about 10 minutes, followed by a generous slathering of a
cream that I make, and topped off with a comfortable pair of cotton socks. Most evenings it's simply plain warm water
scented with a small amount of rosewater and a lemon slice, as aromatherapy can
be a helpful component of a foot soak. Two or three times a week, I try to
change it up with different ingredients, depending on the type of day I've had.
A few simple guidelines for soaking feet are as follows:
1. Use warm water, not hot water. Hot water can dry and irritate skin. I only use hot water when dealing with
extremely sore painful feet. I have
found that a combination of Epsom salt and heat can sooth my feet like nothing
2. Limit soaking time to 10-15 minutes if you soak
frequently, as long soaking times can cause dryness. If you only soak occasionally, then longer
soaking times are fine.
3. Dry feet thoroughly with a towel, and apply lotion,
cream, or balm to seal in moisture.
4. When dealing with dry, cracked skin on the feet, put on a
pair of cotton socks after applying a nice thick layer of lotion, and sleep on
I'd like to add a little side note on the subject of
I've seen a lot of
recommendations to use a foot file or pumice stone in conjunction with soaking
It's something I used to do, but I
don't any more.
I used to do it
regularly, and began to notice that instead of less calloused feet, it seemed
like they were worse than ever.
light bulb went off in my head.
are the result of friction on the skin. In what universe would applying regular
friction (pumice stone or foot file) to skin result in less calloused
What I've discovered is that
regular soaking, followed by application of lotion keeps my feet in pretty good
shape, and callus removal isn't necessary.
The following common kitchen ingredients and herbs are among
my favorites for soaking feet, but the list is by no means comprehensive. Epsom salt
anti-inflammatory, good for pain and swelling, and can help sooth tired sore
feet. Epsom salt is also great for reducing stress due to magnesium's activity
on GABA receptors. Epsom salt can be drying, so it’s best to reserve its use
for treating a specific condition if you soak frequently like I do.
Recommended usage rate is 1/2 to 1 cup per
basin of soaking water.
Milk contains an
alpha hydroxy acid, lactic acid, which helps loosen dead skin cells and promote
new skin cell growth. Cultured milk
products like buttermilk and yogurt contain even more lactic acid than plain
milk. Whole, full fat milk is good for
moisturizing and soothing dry, itchy skin.
Usage rate is variable. I find 2 cups to every 1 1/2 gallon of water
Raw apple cider
vinegar contains alpha hydroxy acid also, so can be used for loosening dead
skin cells. Additionally, it is
antibacterial and antifungal, so a good choice when dealing with foot odor and
fungal infections like athlete's foot or toenail fungus. Recommended usage rate
is 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water.
extremely moisturizing, due to its hygroscopic property, the ability to draw
water to itself from the air. Honey is also antibacterial and can aid in wound
I’ve categorized the following herbs and kitchen ingredients
for easy reference:
Anti-inflammatory: Aloe, Calendula, Chamomile, Epsom salt, Fennel,
Ginger, Green Tea, Lavender, Lemon, Rose, Rosemary, White Willow Bark.Moisturizing:
Aloe, Buttermilk, Coconut Milk, Cucumber, Honey, Milk, Rose, Yogurt
Exfoliating: Buttermilk, Lemon, Oats, Pineapple, Milk,
Alpha hydroxy acids cause skin to be photosensitive, so be
conscientious of sun exposure after using exfoliants.
Eucalyptus, Lovage, Rosemary, Sage
Antifungal: Apple cider vinegar, Calendula, Cedar leaf, Cilantro,
Juniper berry, Lavender, Lemon, Oregano, Sage, Thyme, Rosemary
Antibacterial: Apple cider vinegar, Calendula, Cilantro, Eucalyptus,
Honey, Lavender, Lemon, Oregano, Sage, Thyme, Rosemary
Catnip, Chamomile, Epsom salt, Lavender, Lemon Balm
Eucalyptus, Lemon, Lemon Balm, Peppermint, Rose
Warming: Cedar leaf, Ginger, Horseradish, Lemon Balm, Mustard
My foot soaking basin is an antique enamel pan that takes 1
1/2 gallons of water to fill to ankle level, so all of my recipes are sized for
that amount of water. If you don't like
the feel of bits and pieces floating in the water, try placing your herbs in a
muslin drawstring bag or large heat sealable teabags. Another option is tying the herbs up in a
washcloth using a piece of string or a rubber band. Oatmeal Milk &
Honey Foot Soak
1/2 cup oats, ground to a fine powder (a coffee grinder does
2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup honey
Place ingredients in basin, and then top up with warm
water. The milk will most likely be cold
from the refrigerator, so you'll want to test the water temp as the basin fills,
so it's comfortable, but not too hot.
Fresh Herbal Foot
Stuff a quart jar full of fresh Herbs of your choice. A
couple of great combinations are peppermint and calendula or rosemary, or
chamomile and lavender, Cover herbs with boiling water and allow to steep for
at least 10 minutes. I like to do it in
the morning and allow it to sit all day for a strong infusion. Place the strained infusion in your foot
basin, and add enough warm water to bring the water level up to your ankles.
To use dried herbs, fill your quart jar only 1/4 to 1/3 of
the way with dried plant material.
Rosehip and Shea
For those of you who like to make your own creams and
lotions, I'll share my personal recipe with you. I formulated this one early in
my career as a soap/lotion making supplier, and over the years, it has remained
my personal favorite. Because this isn't an article about lotion making, I'm
not going to get into a detailed explanation of the process, and assume that
anyone attempting it has a working knowledge of the basic process. I will note that I currently use Jeecide
CAP-5 as my preservative, and have used Phenonip in this formula in the
past. The instructions on heating are
based on the use of Jeecide. If working
with Phenonip, heat water phase to approximately 150°F, and add the
preservative to the water phase instead adding it during the cool down phase.
8.55 oz Distilled
4 oz Rose
2 oz Shea
2.4 oz Rosehip
1 oz Glycerin
1 oz Emulsifying
0.6 oz Stearic
0.05 oz Citric
0.2 oz Preservative
0.2 oz T-50
Combine distilled water and glycerin, heat to approximately
Combine shea butter, rosehip oil, emulsifying wax, and
stearic acid. Heat until oils and waxes
are melted together. Add T-50 tocopherol
Add oil phase to water phase, blending thoroughly.
As mixture cools, add preservative with blending. Pour into jars, and allow to cool. Makes 20
ounces of lotion, or five 4oz jars.