During the height of the COVID-19 outbreak here in China, we adopted a new habit to counteract the stress of the epidemic – a daily foot bath.
Foot baths have long been a part of Chinese culture, and a constant in my husband’s family household. During long stints where we resided with Jun’s parents, pulling out those plastic washbasins just for cleaning feet was as much of an evening ritual as lining up the toothbrushes and toothpaste as well as the terrycloth towels for your face. Bathing the feet of your elders has also endured as a gesture of filial piety in China, which is perhaps why Jun’s grandmother — who stubbornly refused our gifts or envelopes of RMB, telling us “Don’t waste your money” — never turned down my offers for a soak and massage.
For years, we’ve owned a washbasin made just for foot baths — deeper and sturdier than those typically used for washing up. And at home, we’ve always kept a stash of foot bath powder, usually something made from mugwort (wormwood or Artemisia vulgaris, 艾草), said to have a warming effect on the body. Foot baths weren’t necessarily a nightly ritual for Jun and me, but something we did to stave off the chill of winter evenings and unwind after long days.
But when COVID-19 shook up our lives in late January, as the world around us snapped into a “new normal” and news reports day and night focused on the emerging war with the virus, we found ourselves longing for anything that could offer a respite. On top of it all, being at the office felt more and more like a marathon effort with an unprecedented workload of news stories prompted by the coronavirus outbreak, which left me heavy with fatigue most days after returning home.
The last thing I needed was overexhaustion, which can lower your immunity and leave you more vulnerable to infection. But I remembered we had something in our arsenal of bath products ideal for stress relief — foot baths with mugwort powder.
When I returned home from work every day, we would break out the washbasin, fill it to the brim with steaming water, and add in a couple bags of mugwort powder. It brought some much-needed comfort amid unsettling times, and was so enjoyable that we would repeat it later that evening just before bed, something Jun’s family would definitely approve of.
Adding foot baths to your daily routine can be a soothing way to counteract the stress of a COVID-19 outbreak — and it doesn’t require a pricey “foot spa” or even the same mugwort powder we use. Any plastic receptacle or bucket in your house big enough to hold feet that can also withstand warm water will do. Epsom salts also make for a relaxing foot soak, and you can even build on those to make some cool and inexpensive DIY foot soaks on your own. Don’t have anything on hand specifically for a foot bath? Just sinking your feet into warm water with a few drops of an essential oil or a squirt of your favorite body wash will help wash away your worries for a moment.
If you’re interested in mugwort for foot baths or other Chinese herbal foot baths, you can explore the options on Amazon, where your purchases help support this blog. And wherever you are, stay safe and healthy.
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P.S.: The featured photo shows a view of the actual mugwort plant, the base of the powder we used to bathe our feet.