Medicated Baths, Ethnic Yao Style

Medicated baths are popular not only in areas inhabited by what is known as the Ban Yao, ba branch of the Yao ethnic group, in Guizhou Province. Ethnic Yao people in some parts of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and the Hua Yao branch in Hunan Province have also been fond of taking medicated baths since ancient times.

Herbs used to prepare bath liquids with fall into scores of species, and if
necessary, sometimes herbs of more than 100 species are used. People like to collect medicinal herbs while working in the fields, or pick them up from their own courtyards or gardens where medicinal plants are grown as a rural sideline. Herbs of different species produce different durative effects – eliminating toxic wastes in the body, reducing fever, expelling cold stimulating the circulation of the blood, causing the muscles and joints to relax, etc. Bath liquids differ in preparation from person to person, depending on the physical conditions of each, and also from season to season.

Ethnic Yao people take a medicated bath almost every day, especially after they are soaked in rain. A woman is bound to take a medicated baths right after a normal delivery. Aged people like to enjoy medicated baths capable of making them stronger. At any rate, such baths of the ethnic Yao style have proved effective in helping people of shoulder pains, rheumatism, osteo-proliferation and sciatica.

In the following a time-honored tradition, all the people, men and women, old and young, take a medicated bath on festival occasions. May 5 by the lunar calendar is the day for collecting medicinal plants by ethnic Yao people in Xicheng, Shanglin, Mashan, Du’an and Jinxu counties in Guangxi. On that day, whole families will turn out in the wilderness to collect leaves, flowers, fruits, roots or barks known to have a medicinal value, except those that are poisonous or stinging. As local people call it, this is the “day for collecting a hundred medicinal herbs” – in China, the number “100” is regarded as auspicious.

Collection of a “hundred medicinal herbs” must take place in the morning, the best time of the day with the rising sun and fresh air. When back at home, people will wash what they have just collected in clean water, and then the herbs will be dried at a place with proper ventilation. At about five in the afternoon, the eldest male member of the family will cut the herbs into pieces about three inches long, to be boiled in a cauldron for about 15 minutes after the water comes to a boiling, sometimes with a little salt added. After the boiled herbs are dredged out with a strainer, the whole family will gather to share the liquid for bathing, one basinful for each, in the order of seniority. In some areas – at Gaohua Village in Guizhou Province, for example – wooden tubs, about 70 centimeters high and 70-80 centimeters in diameter, are used for medicated baths.

The origin of medicated baths, ethnic Yao style, is attributed to man in a legend passed down from ancient times. The man took his first medicated bath on May 5 of the lunar year when he was 15. Beginning that day, he bathed himself in self-prepared medicinal liquids every day. The baths were so effective in protecting his health that he was able to enjoy a life span of 139 years and suffered no pain before death. The day before he died, so goes the legend, the man was still tending his sheep on the mountain slope. Neighbors followed his example and as time went by, more and more people became fond of medicated baths. In the end, May 5 by the lunar calendar became a festival, the Bathing Day, which has been celebrated until now by people of some ethnic Yao branches.