You might find it difficult as a farmer to fit “self-care” into your daily routine. When caring for animals, tending the garden and keeping up with family life, the self often falls far down on the priority list. However, in order to keep up with your land for the long haul, you need to take care of your body—and this often means more than a good diet and exercise. In fact, there’s a simple technique that you can incorporate into your everyday life that feels good in the short term and does wonders for your physical and mental health in the long-term: herbal body oiling.
The act of covering—or “anointing”—the body in oil is found in ancient traditions, including Judeo-Christian practices and Ayurveda, the Hindu system of medicine. As part of Jewish custom, anointing the head or body with oil was not only a sacred act for kings and priests, it was also a common form of hospitality and a medicinal practice. In Ayurveda, the warm body-oil massage known as abhyanga is practiced for health maintenance.
Today, we know that the benefits of body oiling go more than skin deep. The practice can nourish our inner organs, balance the nervous system, boost the immune system and increase circulation. When you pair this practice with a homemade oil infused with herbs from your own garden that help your body heal and relax, you can create your own sacred ritual that takes less than an hour of your day.
Make Your Oil
When creating your homemade body oil, it’s important to use whole herbs. While essential oils might offer an intense fragrance to your oil, they lack many of the nutrients found in the plant matter that can really benefit our bodies.
To get started, select a carrier oil. I like sesame oil, which is extremely healing and nutritive, though the olive oil found in your pantry is a great option because it’s inexpensive and readily absorbed by the skin.
Next, select the herb or herbs you want to infuse. Because the skin is the body’s largest organ, it will absorb the healing properties of the herbs in a powerful yet different way than taking the same herb orally via a tincture or tea. Some herbs to consider include:
- St. John’s Wort: nourishes and balances the nervous system; reduces pain; relaxes muscles; enhances immune function
- Calendula: brightens the mood; reduces inflammation in the skin; heals bruises
- Mugwort: soothes joint pain; offers deep healing for women’s organs
- Yarrow: heals wounds; reduces inflammation
(Note: If you are pregnant, nursing or planning to use herbal body oils on children, please research the safety of the herbs you plan to use before you make your infused herbal body oil.)
While there are many different ways to infuse an oil, one of the simplest ways is to grind the herbs to a fine powder with a blender and mix in the oil. Then allow the herb to sit for about a month in a cool, dark place before straining out the plant material.
Cultivate Your Practice
Once your oil is ready, let your self-care routine begin. Before getting started, find two towels that you don’t mind getting oily, and designate these as your body oiling towels; over time, they will accumulate oil buildup. Wash them separate from your regular laundry to avoid staining other garments. Herbal body oiling can take as little or as long as you’d like, but typically, the “oiling up” process takes 5 to 20 minutes.
Before applying the oil, dry brush your body to unclog pores, exfoliate the skin and stimulate circulation. Then set out one of your designated body oiling towels in the area where you will oil up. You can do this while listening to relaxing music or watching your favorite Netflix show—just find a place where you feel cozy and comfortable.
Starting at your scalp, liberally massage in oil and work your way down to your toes. Use long strokes for arms and legs and circular motions for joints. Give a little extra attention to areas that feel particularly achey, and remember parts that you wouldn’t typically think to massage, including ears, jaw, base of the neck, ankles and between the toes.
Allow the oil to soak in for about 20 minutes before showering. (You might want to also designate a body oiling robe, so that you can kick back during this time.)
Take a Little to Give a Lot
It might seem out of reach to take even this little time out for yourself when chores are weighing you down, but think of how many eggs you’ll collect, tomatoes you’ll harvest, goats you’ll milk and hay you’ll bale over the course of your lifetime if you keep your body and mental health in peak performance. If you can do this practice every day—or at least several days a week—your body will benefit in the long run.
You can consider this an agricultural challenge, as well. Identify the herbs you want to include in your herbal body oils, and learn what it takes to grow and care for those. Learn what else they offer your operation besides a healing ingredient in oil—maybe one of them naturally deters pests from the garden, offers nutrients to the soil or creates recipe possibilities in the kitchen. The simple practice of body oiling opens up a world of possibilities for your wellbeing—and for your farm.