Using a sauna whisk during sauna bathing is an ancient practice and a part of the sauna heritage. Until the end of the Middle Ages, it was a common custom throughout Europe.
Even today, the use of a whisk in the sauna is a part of Finnish, Estonian, Russian and Latvian sauna culture
What does a sauna whisk do?
Sauna whisk is used for cleansing the body, removing dead skin cells and relieving muscle and joint pain. Whisking invigorates surface circulation and promotes metabolism. It is natural heat therapy, where heat from the sauna and compounds released from tree leaves are transferred to the skin.
Sauna whisk can be made from birch, rowan, juniper, oak, alder, aspen, linden or even maple branches. You can also bolster the fragrance of the sauna whisk by adding for example peppermint, fennel or eucalyptus. Eucalyptus also relieves flu symptoms and opens the airways.
Different types of sauna whisks
In Finland, a sauna whisk is almost always made from birch leaves. The essential oil in birch leaves prevents inflammation, relieves pains and brings a wonderful aroma to the sauna. In Russia, oak is the preferred material for the sauna whisk. Oak leaves also aid in the treatment of oily skin and are more durable. Further south in the Baltics, it is common to use also several different types of wood branches.
The use of juniper branches in the whisk can seem like a painful idea. However, when the branches are brewed well (soaked in water) before use, the whisk softens and the needles no longer sting. Juniper branches invigorate blood circulation better than birch.
In the old days, people with rheumatism also used sauna whisks made of nettles. Herbal medicine recommended the sauna whisk to treat joint pain and stiff joints. The nettle whisk definitely needs some getting used to and is recommended to try it only at your own risk.
How to make a sauna whisk:
1. About 30-40 branches are needed to make the sauna whisk.
2. To create the handle the leaves should be torn off from a distance of about 10 centimetres from the lower parts of the branches.
3. One branch is needed for tying/binding the whisk. The whisk can also be tied with string.
4. Any dead leaves and blossoms are removed from the branches
5. When using leafy branches, bundle them by placing the shiny side of the branch’s leaves downwards. While adding branches also continuously turn the whisk to make it nice and symmetrical.
6. All leaves are removed from the binding twig. Traditionally, the bark is broken with a knife to be able to twist it into spirals. This causes the grains of the wood to separate from each other. It is then either tied directly around the handle or bent into a loop and threaded around the handle. As said before, a string can also be used for tying the whisk.
7. Finally, trim the branches of the handle to be of similar length with a knife (to make it pretty).
How to use a sauna whisk:
Before use, the whisk is soaked in water until it softens. This is often done by soaking the whisk in a bucket of cold water before going to the sauna and when in the sauna placing the whisk in a bucket of warm water. However, by Russian traditions, the whisk should always be soaked in cold water.
In order to get the best benefits, there should be a lot of humidity in the sauna (in other words, throw water on the sauna stove to create steam or löyly).
The skin should be warm when you start to use the whisk. The whisk can also be utilised by just pressing it on the area of the body that requires treatment for example legs or the neck.
To store a whisk for the winter, it can be dried in a shady, dry and airy place or it can be frozen wrapped in plastic film. The frozen whisk is defrosted before use and the dried one is soaked in water.
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