Bush baths offer wildly soothing experience

The Bush Bath is one of the signature treatments at the Fern Tree Spa in Montego Bay, where Stella Gray is the Spa Elder.


One of the biggest trends in the spa world today are signature treatments that offer a sense of place.

Spas in Arizona, for instance, feature treatments inspired by the Native American culture. On the B.C. coast you’ll find spas with seaweed wraps and therapeutic marine baths.

Mexican spas offer chocolate-based treatments and Tamascal (steam lodge) ceremonies. The list goes on.

But the Fern Tree Spa at Half Moon Resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica, has upped the ante by hiring a Spa Elder to consult with guests to assess their personal issues and objectives — anything from relaxation to health issues — and to bring the local culture into the spa experience.

Of European descent, Stella Gray was born and raised in Jamaica, trained in the U.K. and has been offering massages and facials to guests at the historic Half Moon since the ‘70s.

When Fern Tree Spa —which is probably the largest and certainly one of the most luxurious spas in the Caribbean — opened late last year, Gray, with her local experience, insightful nature and gift of healing energy, was the natural choice for the unique-to-the-industry position of Spa Elder.

She tells me that following consultations she’s suggested such things as reflexology for someone having difficulty conceiving, and a customized blend of local ingredients to treat a skin condition.

Ginger and other local spices, dried orange peel and lemon grass are just a few of the local ingredients used in signature oils, scrubs and wraps, and in the Bush Bath. No, it’s not a bath you enjoy out in the bush. The “bush” here, is actually collected and brought into the bath.

Jamaica, she explains, has a long history of using the word “bush” when referring to any types of grasses or plants that grow wild, and using these “gifts from the wilds” for medicinal purposes. Fever Grass in a bath, for instance, calms a fever. It’s also cleansing, healing and detoxifying.

Incorporated into the spa environment there is plenty of “bush” from which many of the ingredients for the signature treatments are cultivated. We take a tour and Gray explains that herbs, grasses and flowers not only work as they are absorbed into the skin but, like aromatherapy, they work on the emotions to sooth or stimulate.

She points to a tamarind, explaining that it can be used to soothe afflictions such as the itch of measles. Locally-named plants such as Match-Me-If-You-Can can help draw out a cold. Ram-Goat-Dash-a-Long is considered good for the reproductive system.

The Leaf of Life is boiled to treat colds, and used to stop the itch of mosquito bites. Comfrey, aptly called Knit Bone, is an herb used to treat for sprains. The mature Bread Fruit is blended to make a body masque, and the leaf is also used to treat headaches.

All plants and herbs used in treatments are usually collected fresh. In the Bush Bath they are rolled into a ball and wrapped with muslin to scent and flavour the therapeutic bath. The ball is also used by the therapist as a tool to “sap” the body and stimulate the lymphatic system.

Mixed in with the gardens other features of the Fern Tree Spa include a labyrinth for walking meditation, several comfortable outdoor lounge areas an open-air pavilion for yoga and Pilates classes and a water feature designed to resemble the country’s singular Dunn’s River Falls.

By the time our walk around the property concludes, my Bush Bath is drawn and waiting. It’s so much more than just a relaxing, therapeutic bath in a beautiful hard-carved marble tub; this is soaking up a little Jamaican culture.

Anne Dimon is a spa and wellness travel writer and founder/editor of www.traveltowellness.com

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