Medicinal baths 药用浴

The Yao has their own way to bathe. Members of the Yao(瑶 Yáo) ethnic group in Jiang County, in southwest China’s Guizhou(贵州 Guìzhōu) Province, usually bathe in medicinal water, an ancient and magical way to stay healthy. The Yao people developed the regimen in their nomadic and hunting lives and have passed it on from generation to generation.


In ancient times, Yao ancestors migrated to high slopes. Due to the altitudes, their settlements were shrouded in cloud all the year round with high humidity, which was prone to cause rheumatic disease, typhoid fever and other diseases. Over the years, the Yao people discovered and learned about the therapeutic properties of wild plants deep in the mountains and found ways to use these plants to prevent and cure diseases. They often picked medicinal herbs on mountainsides to boil in water and then they bathed in big barrels filled with the medicinal water.

For thousands of years, the Yao people continually improved their ancient recipes in practice, and only passed them on to female descendants. In addition, they traditionally never inter-married with people from other ethnic groups, so the time-honored therapies remained a big mystery to the outside world.

The medicinal bath possesses multiple functions. It not only helps stimulate the circulation of the blood, causes the muscles and joints to relax, wipes out fatigue and heightens resistance to colds, but also dispels wind, eliminates dampness and prevents and cures diseases. It is especially effective for treating rheumatic, gynecological and skin diseases, as well as typhoid fever.

According to preliminary estimates, there are 188 prescriptions for the medicinal bath. These are made up of more than 30 medicinal herbs and able to treat 47 different kinds of diseases.

A Story about the Medicinal Bath

The medicinal herbs and recipes were used as a tribute dedicated to the royal family during the Western Han Dynasty (202 BC – 9 AD). Ban Jieyu(班婕妤 Bān Jiéyú) (48 BC – 2 AD), a concubine of Emperor Cheng of Han(汉 Hàn) (51 BC – 7 BC), was in poor physical health, had a pale complexion and thus in the beginning was not able to win Emperor Cheng’s favor. By chance, Ban took one of the Yao medicinal baths. Her complexion then became soft and white as snow and her physique also greatly improved.

The word spread in the royal palace about her beauty and Emperor Cheng was also attracted by her charm. When he learned that Ban had benefited from a medicinal bath, Emperor Cheng was very happy and said, "All the people, from the emperor to ordinary people, should enjoy medicinal baths. "Since then, the medicinal bath has become a favorite beauty and fitness regimen.

Health Care Effects

The medicinal bath permeates the entire lives of the Yao ethnic group. It’s a common practice to take a medicinal bath before dinner, for they believe that one can’t eat well without eliminating fatigue from a day’s work. Thanks to the medicinal bath, the Yao people, old and young, seldom fall ill. During pregnancy, Yao women stick to taking a medicinal bath made from six anti-abortion herbal medicines every day until the lying-in. Nowadays, doctors usually suggest lying-in women take showers rather than hip baths so as to avoid bacterial infection.

Nevertheless, about 20 minutes after lying-in, the Yao women take a hip bath in a barrel of medicinal water made from 15 herbal medicines to protect the maternal reproductive system and quicken uterine contraction. After 10 days with daily bathing, the lying-in women are able to do non-strenuous work.

Even more amazingly, the Yao women usually give birth at home with the help of a midwife, but they seldom have any sort of gynecological disease, a miracle in medically-advanced modern society. The new-born babies are also given a bath with medicinal water made from four to five herbal medicines to prevent them from contracting common childhood diseases. Yao children usually bathe once or twice daily in their childhood. The Yao people also use a kind of medicinal water to cleanse bodies of the deceased.


The Yao people usually treat a guest from far away with local tea and a medicinal bath, regarded as the highest form of their etiquette for guests. Yao women put fresh herbal medicines into a boiler and heat up the medicinal water. After boiling them for about half an hour, a strong herbal fragrance spreads to every corner of the house. The hospitable Yao women pour the hot medicinal water into a large bathing barrel, about 70 centimeters in height and 60 centimeters in diameter, and then mix the medicinal water with cold water. Soon, the guest can take a medicinal bath. After more than 10 minutes, herbal extracts slowly seep into capillaries all over the body and one feels limp and numb, similar to being slightly drunk. After a bath, you could feel fresh and relaxed in high spirits.

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