You've probably at least heard of Epsom Salt. I don't think I have a body part that hasn't been soaked in an Epsom salt solution at one time or another.
Mama's Mama knew that it was good for a lot more than soaking sore feet so she made sure she always had plenty of it on hand.
When I started researching Epsom salt, I was hoping to find the definitive answer to the burning question: is it salt or salts? Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be an answer to that although the Epsom Salt Council (yes, it's important enough to have a whole council devoted to it) uses "salt" (singular) so I will too...unless I forget. A good portion of the information here comes from their website at www.epsomsaltcouncil.org.
With that cleared up, let's dive into what it is and, more importantly, what it does.
Epsom Salt is really magnesium sulfate, the name comes from the town of Epsom, outside of London. Epsom had bitter, salty water that was terrible for drinking, but became very popular for healing. People came from all around to soak in the water or drink it on an empty stomach out of stoneware mugs. One of the people who came to Epsom was a chemist named Nehemiah Grew who published a book about the "bitter purging salts" in 1695. He was granted a royal patent which gave him the exclusive right to manufacture and distribute it throughout England.
The two components of Epsom salt, magnesium and sulfate, are essential for good health. Without a healthy level of magnesium our heartbeat becomes irregular, we have painful muscle spasms, insulin can't do its job so blood sugar ranges out of control, bones weaken, arteries stiffen causing blood pressure to rise and blood clots to form and, in general, we experience more pain.
When our magnesium level is good, we enjoy strong bones, fewer headaches (half of migraine sufferers are magnesium deficient), sounder sleep, reduced risk of heart attack or strokes, and less overall pain.
Magnesium is lost by drinking alcohol or taking diuretics. It's also "leeched" out of the body by calcium we need 1mg of magnesium for every 2mg of calcium we take in either through diet or supplements. Pumpkin seeds are one of the best sources of magnesium at 150mg /oz. Sunflower seeds are close behind at 100mg/oz. Sadly, magnesium is not very "bioavailable" so it can be difficult to get enough of it through diet alone and even supplements don't do a very good job of delivering enough of it. It is, however, easily absorbed through the skin, so including it in your bath is a very good idea.
Sulfate is found in every cell in the human body. It's essential for producing collagen for healthy hair, skin and nails. It helps the body flush toxins like heavy metals, and it stimulates the pancreas to release digestive enzymes and to increase absorption of nutrients.
Here are some of the ways to use Epsom Salt
For Health and Wellness:
Sore muscles, aching feet, bruises, sprains, and strains can all benefit from an Epsom salt soak, but you don't have to wait until you're hurt to enjoy the health benefits of a soak, Dr. RH Waring from the Univeristy of Birmingham recommends doing it three times per week for overall health purposes.
To prepare a full bath, add 2 cups of Epsom salt under (tolerably) hot, running water for a standard-sized tub. For an oversize or garden tub, use 4 cups.
Hot water increases absorption of the magnesium and sulfate, but be careful to test the temperature of the water carefully, water that feels tolerable to your hand may be uncomfortably hot when you sit in it. Be especially careful about the temperature for children or elderly people. It's usually easier to increase the temperature of the water once you're in it and adjust to it. Instead of filling the tub all at once, get in and add increasingly warm water every few minutes.
Do not use any soap in your Epsom salt soak. Some people like to add baby oil, I usually don't because it makes the tub too slippery. I might add a few drops of essential oil if I want an aromatherapy soak.
Soak for 15 minutes or more.
Cold and Flu Soak
Some doctors, like Dr. Theresa Ramsey, author of Healing 101: A Guide to Creating the Foundation for Complete Wellness,and Dr. Margaret Philhower, a regular contributor to naturopathicexperts.com, recommend an Epsom salt soak when you feel a illness coming on. Epsom salt alkalizes the body and boosts the body's white blood cell count to help fight off colds and flu. It has the added benefit of reducing body aches and helping you get a good night's sleep. Dr. Philhower advises using 4 cups of Epsom salt for your immunity-boosting bath.
Wounds / Infections
When my daughter, Heather was about eight-years old she was sitting on the top rail of an old wooden fence. When she went to get down, instead of just dropping to the ground as usual, for some reason, she slid down, filling the backs of her thighs, backside and part of her lower back with splinters. I pulled splinters out of that poor child "until the world looked level" as my dad would say. I got most of big ones out, but there were tiny ones deeply embedded under her skin that I couldn't see. I watched her carefully and sure enough a couple of days later, I saw little pus-pockets popping up all over her. I started her on hot Epsom salt soaks three times per day. As the splinters worked their way out, I'd put antibiotic cream on the wounds. Within two days all the splinters were gone and so was the infection.
Wounds can either be soaked or you can use a spot treatment if the area is small or hard to submerge.
As nice as it is to settle into a nice warm tub for a long soak, that isn't always possible. You can still get the benefit of Epsom salt by applying it just where you need it.
Mini soak - to soak a small area of the body, use an adequate-size container (depending on what you're soaking) and add 2 tablespoons of Epsom salt for every cup of warm water. This is a good method to use for splinters.
Compress - Add 2 tablespoons to a cup of warm water, soak a cotton washcloth in the solution then apply to the area
Paste - Add enough water to a small amount of Epsom salt to make a paste, refrigerate for 20 minutes then apply to clean, dry skin.
The pure mineral compound that makes up Epsom salt is perfect for gently exfoliating skin and volumizing hair.
Mix equal parts of Epsom salt and your favorite hair conditioner (warm the conditioner first). Work into hair and leave for 20 minutes before rinsing.
Add 1/2 tsp to your cleansing cream, then gently wash your face and rinse with cool water. You can also make a paste of Epsom salt and water for an exfoliating massage.
As it turns out, plants need magnesium and sulfate as much we do. Magnesium is essential to germination, it increases chloraphyll production and helps plants use nitrogen and phosphorus (two of the primary components of fertilizer). Sulfur helps plants grow well and produce vitamins. Using Epsom salt in your garden can help your plants set more blooms and need less fertilizer. It helps break down fertilizer build-up in the soil and make it easier for the plants to absorb it. Sprinkle 1 cup of Epsom salt over every 100sf of your garden and work into the soil before planting.
Peppers of all types should be sprayed with a solution of 1 tablespoon of Epsom salt to 1 gallon of water when they first bloom and again ten days later.
Tomatoes love to be treated to an Epsom salt treatment every two weeks. Use a solution of one tablespoon of Epsom salt in 1 gallon of water for every foot of height per plant.
Trees absorb it best at the roots, dilute 2 tablespoons per every 9 feet of root zone and treat your trees three times per year. Use the same dilution for shrubs, but apply it every 2-4 weeks.
Houseplants do well with an Epsom salt treatment every month, 2 tablespoons to 1 gallon of water.
Oddly enough, sage doesn't like Epsom salt, so don't use it on your sage or in your garden where you plan to plant sage.
If you want a craft project to have a "sugared" or "frosty" look, use Epsom salt. The large crystals look great and hold up well. Over time, they will develop a more white color unless you use some kind of sealant.
Purchasing and Storing Epsom Salt
You can find boxes and bags of Epsom salt at virtually every pharmacy. I found online sources as well, but with shipping costs, I would definitely try to find it locally first. You probably noticed that most of the uses above call for a lot of Epsom salt...often several cups at a time....so a little bag won't last very long. I found 8 pound bags at Walmart at one time, but haven't seen them lately. If you're stuck buying small amounts at a time, I've found I like the bags better than the boxes since they are moisture proof.
Epsom salt isn't usually expensive, I usually pay an average of $1 per pound for the no-frills stuff. Target sells a four pound box under their Up&Up brand for just over $3. If you get the kinds with someone's name on it, the price goes up a lot. I also don't pay more for the ones with essential oils in them since I'd just as soon add my own oils.
Once you have it, it's not hard to store as long as it doesn't get wet. One of the lower cupboards in my kitchen has several feet of unaccessible space at one end (very poor design, you would literally have to crawl into the cupboard to get to anything back there), so I filled it up with 50 bags of Epsom salt. When I need some, my 10-year old doesn't mind crawling back there for me.
This is certainly not a complete list of Epsom salt uses...in fact, it's barely a good start. As you use it more, you'll find new uses for it. When you do, we'd love to hear them. Leave a comment below and tell us about your favorite uses for Epsom salt!