Relaxing in South Tyrol's nature
The original "hay bathing" was probably already known for many centuries. It was first documented in 1871. After cutting the grass, the farmers used to sleep in the hay at 2,450 m of altitude at Schlern Mountain in the Dolomites, and despite their hard work the next morning they woke up fit and full of energy. Soon other people wanted to try this experience too. Initially only for refreshing, but shortly after also to sooth rheumatic complaints.
The people from Völs set the milestone for the later success of hay baths. Thanks to the experience of the farmers, from 1890 it was possible to enjoy hay baths in the hay barns in the village too. Cure guests from the region were soon drawn to the village: fruit and wine farmers with smaller complaints and rheumatic pains arrived. Fate was good to the inhabitants of Völs: The famous doctor Josef Clara (1872-1923) from Blumau in South Tyrol realised the first modern form of todays' so popular Völser hay bath.
Bathing in hay was however not that easy at the time: The mould contained in the hay activates strong fermentation processes. Hence, the temperature increases considerably. People were covered in hay up to the neck and sweated at temperatures of between 40-60 degrees for about 20 minutes. The healthy effect was soon explained with the strong sweating and the ethereal components of hay flowers. The bath attendant removed the sweat from the guests' forehead, kept the flies away, and gave them a glass of white or red wine. Afterwards guests were wrapped up in linen sheets for relaxation. Today, hay baths are much more comfortable.
So what's the secret of hay and its substances? The higher the alpine pastures, the more varied the flora of the meadows is. The hay of the Dolomites is known for being extra "fatty", which has to do with the special soil. Dolomite is mainly made up of petrified coral reefs. These reefs come from the sunken Tethys Sea, an ancient ocean dating from the geological Middle Ages (about 250 million years ago).
Dolomite hay, like hay from the high Schlern/Sciliar meadows and Seiser Alm/Alpe di Siusi, is characterised by leaf plants like lady's mantle, noble herbs, arnica, valerian, couch grass, ryegrass and fescue. Plants contain essential oils, coumarin-glycosides and tannins. This helps improve blood circulation and has an effect on inner organs via the reflex zones on the body's surface.
The therapy department was considerably re-designed and modernised in the 90's on the orders of Maria Kompatscher. Through the introduction of special techniques, the once so difficult hay treatments became an agreeable, therapeutic and demanding therapy form, which can be applied all year. The guest is wrapped up in hay, which is taken out of hot water, and then lies onto a waterbed. In the constantly 40 degree warm water the special effect of alpine hay from the nearby Seiser Alm/Alpe di Siusi can develop within 15-20 minutes. Afterwards the guest is wrapped up in linen sheets and can relax without first removing the entire hay and ethereal oils: the remaining active agents on the body are gently massaged into the skin.
Extract from the article "Heublumen:
Morphium der Kneipp-Therapie"
(Hay Flowers: Morphium of the Kneipp Therapy)
from the magazine "Naturarzt" No.4 2007
by Dr. Christian W. Engelbert