Add as bookmark

Using Water as Medicine

by Samm Kweku Richardson(more info)

listed in water, originally published in issue 167 - February 2010

One of the most common substances in the world is water. It is also one of the cheapest things in the world. No plant or animal can live without water. Two-thirds of the weight of our body is made up of water, just as two-thirds of Planet Earth is formed with water.
When a man cannot secure a sufficient amount of water in his food and drink everyday, he quickly loses his strength. It is necessary to drink an abundance of water in order to help the skin and kidneys in eliminating from the body the poisons and waste products that are constantly being produced. Drinking plenty of water cleanses the body internally, just as bathing cleanses the body externally.

Wrapped with feet in a bowl

An adult should aim to drink about eight glasses of water daily. All drinking water should be boiled if necessary before being used. Water for drinking should not be ice cold. It is especially important that those who have fever should drink water in large quantities. In cases of upset stomach, with spitting up of sour fluid, drinking hot water may bring relief. Every infant should be given a small amount of warm water (that has been boiled) to drink several times a day. Oftentimes, when a baby cries; it is simply crying for water and not for something to eat. 

How Water is Used in Curing Diseases

It is the blood that heals. It is the blood that maintains the heat of the body, destroys disease germs and repairs the diseased or injured portions of the body. This being the case, the aim in seeking to cure any part of the body that is diseased should be to secure an active circulation of the blood through that part. The circulation of the blood in any part of the body can be controlled by the use of hot and cold water. By means of alternate hot and cold applications of water, the circulation of the blood in any part of the body can be markedly increased. The hot application, which should last for about three minutes, causes the blood vessels to dilate or enlarge in the part of the body where the heat has been applied. As soon as the blood vessels dilate, the blood rushes in from other parts of the body to fill them. If cold is then applied for one minute, the dilated blood vessels will contract. As they contract, the blood is forced out into the blood vessels in other parts of the body. Repeating these alternations of hot and cold constitutes a veritable pumping process which greatly increases the amount of blood flowing through the diseased part.

Let's now look at six different ways of administering hydrotherapy or water treatments, namely, fomentations, hot-foot bath, cold compress, sitz bath, alternate hot and cold immersions and sponging.

1. Fomentations – warm, moist medicinal compress;  poultice fomentations are one of the most effective means of using water in the treatment of disease.

For application to the spine, the fomentation cloth should be about six or eight inches wide and extend the entire length of the spine. Over the chest, stomach, liver or bowels, it should be folded so that it will be wide and short. If a fomentation is too hot, lift it up for a second – just enough to pass a towel between it and the skin to remove moisture from the surface of the body – and then immediately apply the fomentation snugly. The hot fomentation cloth should be left on until it begins to feel comfortable, then it should be changed by removing it from the folds of the dry cloth, reheating it by immersing it again in boiling water and then placing it back in position, after having wrung it dry as before.

Ordinarily, fomentations should be changed every three to five minutes, this being kept up for fifteen to twenty minutes. When applied for the relief of pain, it may be necessary to continue them for from thirty to sixty minutes. In all cases, the fomentations should be very hot.

Fomentation will relieve nearly all kinds of pain, and it is safe to use them except for pain in the lower right abdomen, which may be due to appendicitis. For such pain, an ice bag should be applied and a doctor consulted.
Fomentations are far superior to liniments and ointments of all kinds. The effectiveness of treatment by hot fomentations is increased in most cases by making a very brief application of cold after each hot fomentation. The cold can be applied by wringing cold water out of two thicknesses of some thin cloth, like a hand towel or any small towel, and applying this over the fomented part for a few seconds. Remove and dry quickly, then follow immediately with another hot fomentation.

How To Give Fomentations


  • Some sort of fire-place such as charcoal fire in sigri or primus stove;
  • A large deep pan of water which is kept boiling on the fire. A large cover (or lid) will be helpful in holding the heat;
  • A minimum of two fomentation cloths (four will be better). A mixed wool-and-cotton blanket cut into four pieces, each piece 30 to 36 inches square, is ideal;
  • A large Turkish bath towel;
  • Two small hand towels;
  • A bowl of cold or ice water.


Step 1: On a table, spread out a large Turkish towel, which is to be used as the dry covering. Then, fold the fomentation cloth or cloths into three thicknesses, making a long, narrow piece of about 8 to 10 inches wide. See Illustration 1. Twist this cloth as is done in wringing clothes and immerse the entire cloth, except the two ends, in the pan of boiling water. See Illustration 2. The ends may be held out of the water by applying the pan cover tightly, wedging the cloth between it and the edges of the pan, as shown in Illustration 3. Leave thus until thoroughly soaked with the boiling water.

1. Fold fomentation cloth into three thicknesses on a table covered with a large Turkish bath towel.
  1. Fold fomentation cloth into three thicknesses on a table covered with a large Turkish bath towel.

2. Twist fomentation cloth and immerse in boiling water.
 2. Twist fomentation cloth and immerse in boiling water.

3. Cover pan tightly, leaving the ends of the cloth out and dry.
 3. Cover pan tightly, leaving the ends of the cloth out and dry.
Step 2: To wring, grasp the dry ends, twist the cloth tightly several times, then stretch out, as demonstrated in Illustration 4. This wrings out the boiling water without burning the hands.

4. Wring cloth by grasping the dry ends and twist tightly several times.
 4. Wring cloth by grasping the dry ends and twist tightly several times.
Step 3: Place the hot fomentation cloth on the dry Turkish towel, as in Illustration 5. Then, fold the edge of the towel over it, completely enfolding the wet fomentation cloth in the dry towel.

5. Place the hot fomentation cloth on the dry Turkish towel and unfold.
  5. Place the hot fomentation cloth on the dry Turkish towel and unfold.

Step 4: Roll the whole towel into a neat bundle to retain the heat while carrying it to the patient. Follow Illustrations 6, 7 and 8.

6. Fold the edge of the towel over it.
 6. Fold the edge of the towel over it.

7. Continue folding the towel lengthwise into a bundle.
 7. Continue folding the towel lengthwise into a bundle.

 8. To retain maximum heat, fold together and quickly carry the roll to the patient.
Step 5: After placing a small hand towel over the area of the patient's body that is to be treated, apply the hot fomentation cloths as in Illustration 9; then, to protect the bed-covers from dampness, place another dry towel over the fomentation cloth before covering the patient. On the head, place a cloth which has been wrung out of ice or very cold water and change whenever it becomes warm.

9. Apply fomentation treatment on the patient.
 9. Apply fomentation treatment on the patient.
Step 6: With a small dry towel wrapped around the hand, occasionally reach under the fomentation and towel already on the patient and wipe off all moisture. The patient can tolerate a hotter fomentation if the moisture is thus wiped off from time to time.  
Step 7: To change the fomentation: Have another hot fomentation rolled and ready to apply as soon as the former one becomes comfortable. Then, apply the fresh fomentation as the old one is removed. This process should be kept up for about fifteen minutes. When the treatment is finished, wipe off the area with a cold wet towel; then, dry with a dry towel. See Illustration 10. Three such changes are called a set. More may be given if necessary to relieve pain.

 10. After treatment, wipe off the area with a cold wet towel.
 10. After treatment, wipe off the area with a cold wet towel.

2. Hot Foot-Bath

For a hot foot-bath, a large pail, a wash-bowl or even a tub may be used. In the foot-bath, the water should reach above the ankles, and, to begin with, the temperature should be about 105 degrees Fahrenheit. The feet are quite sensitive to heat. Soon after the feet are placed in the warm water, the temperature should gradually be increased to a point as hot as can be tolerated. This is done by adding hot water a little at a time. The bath should continue from five to twenty minutes. In giving a hot foot-bath, a cloth wrung out of cold water should always first be placed on the patient's forehead, and this cloth should be frequently re-cooled. This cold cloth prevents dizziness and headache.

The hot foot-bath is a very effective means of producing perspiration, if prolonged to fifteen or twenty minutes. If such an effect is desired, surround the patient with blankets and have him drink hot water or lime juice during the time his feet are kept in the hot water. See Illustration 11. Keep the head cool. Then, put him to bed, cover well and allow the sweating to continue.

 To obtain a good sweat, surround patient's body with blankets. Also, place a cloth wrung out of cold water on forehead to prevent dizziness and headache.
 11. To obtain a good sweat, surround patient's body with blankets. Also, place a cloth wrung out of cold water on forehead to prevent dizziness and headache.
The hot foot-bath is excellent for relieving headache. It is also useful for treating inflammations of the pelvic organs, overcoming chilly sensations, producing perspiration and relieving sore, aching or cold feet. One or two tablespoonfuls of ground mustard, added to the water, will intensify the effect of the bath. If the patient is weak or has fever, give the hot foot-bath with the patient lying down.

3. The Cold Compress

In the case of an early sore throat, a tickle or laryngitis (i.e. infection of the vocal cords causing a loss of the voice), there is nothing so useful as the cold compress, or, as it is also known, the heating compress.
The compress is made by taking a piece of cotton cloth, long enough to go round the neck and wide enough to make three thicknesses about one to one and a half inches wide. The cloth is soaked in cold tap water and wrung, as dry as possible. It is put around the patient's neck, cold and wet. It is then covered with another piece of warm, soft, dry flannel. This dry cloth should be more than twice as wide as the former so that none of the wet cloth will be exposed. This is pinned firmly in place with two safety pins and left on all night. It can be renewed night and morning. In some cases, there are debilitated patients who cannot tolerate the wet cloth, so it should be left off and only the dry one applied. This is also the practice with small children.

4. The Sitz Bath

An ordinary tub may be used for the sitz bath. The hot sitz (temperature 105 degrees to 115 degrees Fahrenheit) is the most common and useful form of this bath. The duration is usually from five to fifteen minutes.
When taking a sitz bath, the patient sits in the tub with the feet in a smaller tub of warm water. Protect the upper part of the patient's body with a garment or a blanket, and keep a cool, wet cloth applied to the forehead.
The hot sitz bath is an excellent means of relieving pelvic pain due to inflammation of the uterus, ovaries, vagina or bladder. It is also very useful in relieving severe pain during the menstrual period, or just preceding it, or to bring about the menses. In the latter case, it may be necessary  to repeat the treatment several days in succession, even two or three times a day. It is also beneficial in relieving pain in the hips. After a hot sitz bath, the parts of the body that were in the hot water should be rubbed quickly with a cold wet towel and then dried thoroughly with a dry towel.

5. Alternate Hot and Cold Immersion

An excellent remedy for any infection of the hand or foot, such as an open sore or ulcer, is the application of alternate hot and cold as follows:
Provide one bucket of hot water and another bucket of cold water. Place the diseased part, whether hand or foot, first into the hot water for three minutes, then into the cold water for one minute, as demonstrated in Illustration 12. The hot water should be kept hot by adding hot water at each change.

 12. The alternate hot and cold immersion is one of the most effective means of building up life in the cells of the body.
 12. The alternate hot and cold immersion is one of the most effective means of building up life in the cells of the body.
If possible, put ice in the cold water. Alternate in this way for six changes, ending with cold water. This treatment, repeated three times a day, will produce marvellous results in the curing of an infected wound or an open sore of any kind. The efficiency of the treatment for infections will be increased much if one part of dettol is added to every two hundred parts of hot water, or if two tablespoonfuls of Epsom salt (magnesium sulphate) per gallon of water is added.
For sprains and bruises, this same treatment is very effective.

6. Sponging

Sponging consists of the application of a liquid by means of a sponge, a wash-cloth or hand, in which the chief effect is derived from the liquid itself, little friction being needed. Plain hot or cold water or water containing salt, soda, rubbing alcohol or vinegar and salt may be used.
In using cold water to reduce fever, a wash-cloth or a sponge should be used. It is squeezed out only enough to prevent much dripping, and considerable time is spent on each part of the body, going back and forth over the part until it is perceptibly cooler. Get the idea expressed in Illustration 13. Each part is dried lightly without rubbing. Hot sponging is used in fevers where there is chilliness, the same methods being followed with cold sponging. In sponging with weak salt water, soda solution, vinegar and salt, and in applying alcohol, the bare hand is best.

 13. Sponging after a hot foot-bath.
 13. Sponging after a hot foot-bath.
Saline Sponge: To prepare the water for a saline sponge, dissolve about four ounces of common salt in a basin or bowl of tepid or cool water. It is a mild tonic and circulatory stimulant for anaemic or weak persons.
Alkaline Sponge: Put two ounces of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) into a basin of cold water. This is useful in relieving the itching of hives. It need be applied only to the affected part.
Alcohol Rub: This is a very popular means of finishing a sweating bath or for quieting the patient at night. It might be used in place of a wet hand rub though it is less effective. Use equal parts of rubbing alcohol and water.  Caution : Wood alcohol is poisonous when applied to the skin and should never be used.


  1. No Article Comments available

Post Your Comments:

About Samm Kweku Richardson

The author is a 48 year-old Ghanaian male freelance writer based in Accra, the capital city of the Republic of Ghana in West Africa. Married with children, his hobbies include writing, cooking, gardening, playing the piano, watching the sea, listening to the BBC World Service on radio, reading novels and watching crime and detective films. His sporting interests are boxing, judo and table tennis. On the side, he operates a small restaurant in town. He can be contacted on

top of the page