“Balneology is the Art and Science of baths and bathing in natural mineral waters for health and wellness.”

Buckstaff Bathhouse, Hot Springs Arkansas
Buckstaff Bathhouse, Hot Springs Arkansas

The knowledge and practice of Balneology in North America is comparatively recent, even though these regions possess thousands of natural mineral water sources and sites spanning from our northern continent to southern Mexico. Many of these sites have revealed archeological and anthropological findings that suggest they were actively used for healing purposes and were revered as sacred healing sites by generations of people.

Both the temperature and mineral composition of natural spring waters have been validated for their specific healing qualities. Research has demonstrated that natural mineral waters refresh oxygen levels within the body, revitalize the skin, calm the nerves, and are beneficial to the functioning of body systems. Naturally heated mineral waters are also known to contain a high concentration of negative ions, which contribute to good health.

Through research and education, BANA’s initiatives are to bring the practice of Balneology to the forefront of wellness and healthcare in North America.

History of Balneology in North America

Natural mineral waters have always provided benefits to living creatures on earth.

Developed over the centuries, the study of the sciences, arts, and cultures of baths and bathing has origins in ancient Egypt, Greece, Roman, Germany, France, Russia, Arabia, China, Japan, as well as numerous indigenous cultures around the world. Hippocrates, the “Father of Modern Medicine,” was the first to reference healing with water in 500 B.C. and the Romans were famous for building bathhouses and bringing thousands of its citizens to the waters for exercise, theatre, study, and socializing in addition to bathing.

At the time of the founding of the United States of America in 1776, President George Washington established the public mineral water spa at Berkeley Springs, in what is now Bath County, West Virginia. Originally named “Medicine Waters” on a map drawn by Thomas Jefferson’ father, Washington recognized the curative and healing powers of the waters and visited frequently with his family.

Over half a century later in 1832 during Andrew Jackson’s presidency, the first national public land grant was set aside at “Hot Springs” in what is now Arkansas.  This was the first congressional act of conserving and recognizing the value and benefits of the natural mineral waters. Four decades later in 1872, the National Park System was formed and “Yellowstone” was established as the first park set aside for preservation due to both the extraordinary geothermal waters and their natural environment. During the decades following the Civil War up through the beginning of World War II in 1941, hundreds of thousands of American’s regularly visited and utilized natural mineral waters sources across the continent for their wellness, health care, therapy and rehabilitation.

At the beginning of the 20th, through the Roaring 20’s and into the Great Depression, Saratoga Springs in Upstate New York became one of the largest and most popular wellness resorts and health spas. With funding from the New Deal, Saratoga Springs developed into a world class destination resort spa and research facility. During the same time and on the other coast, California attracted many visitors and patients seeking solutions to their health and medical problems because of its numerous active geothermal mineral water sources and pleasant climate.

After World War II and during the following four decades (1950s – 1980s) numerous public health and social issues like polio, segregation, and scientific advances in pharmacology influenced mass media and public perception, which led to the abandonment of natural mineral waters for health and healing.  Formal medical attention and training turned elsewhere during the atomic and electronic information ages.

21st Century Waters

Once forgotten, the wellness, health and healing benefits of the natural mineral waters of North American are now being rediscovered, reclaimed and revisited.

An ever-increasing North American population has led to huge demand and dependence on health care services, particularly surgical, pharmaceutical, and technical bio-medical interventions that are extremely costly. While current medical systems are primarily based on these therapies, multiple research studies have now shown that long-term drug therapies applied to chronic disorders and pain can often result in serious negative medical consequences and complications that threaten the patients’ quality of life.

In other cultures around the world, Balneology is recognized as a complementary and integrative health care method that supports wellness, self-care and healing practices, which are much less extreme and more restorative and regenerative. Less use of pharmaceuticals leads to a reduction in the flow of strong drugs into our water supply and helps minimize negative bio-chemical environmental impacts on the waters of earth. Recent extensive studies have shown the harmful impacts of excessive amounts of pharmaceutical drugs appearing in our water supplies and oceans that is leading to unforeseeable changes and possible biological mutations in all living species.

Today, Balneology includes scientific research into the methods and applications of bathing, drinking, steaming and inhaling natural thermal and mineral waters for wellness, health and medical benefits, including their associated natural gases and peloids (organic muds). As a wide and interdisciplinary field, it encompasses not only site-specific analyses and clarifications of natural mineral water sources, but also their local and regional geography and geology, mineralogy and chemistry, bio-molecular nature and structural forms, and climates and seasons.