Balneology: the study of bathing in water; Recrystallization of alkali mineral salts collected from a secret hot spring

in naturalmedicine •  2 months ago  (edited)

Hot springs have been regarded as sacred healing grounds by cultures across the globe throughout the ages.

it may not look like much, but- woah, it was amazing

Entire bath houses have been erected around hot springs to allow for people to enjoy the benefits of the springs with modern comforts of the time. This concept is so deeply ingrained in our experience here that empirical science has decided to start an entirely new field of study: balneology, the study of bathing (usually in water with minerals).¹ While balneology is still a relatively new field of study, there are promising results emerging from its depths.

One study, conducted by Şaş, et al, concluded that, "Balneotherapy may be effective for improving peripheral cardiopulmonary responses in patients with musculoskeletal disorders."¹ The researchers found that after just one therapy session that there were clear improvements with the involved systems.¹ Another study, published in "BioMed Research International", showed that lasting benefits of balneotherapy were maintained a year out from treatment in patients with osteoarthritis.² Patients spent three weeks, 120 minutes a day, in balneotherapuetic treatment. Follow ups were conducted after three months and at one year which concluded that the majority of patients continued to see improvements from balneotherapy.²

Generally, there are two types of mineral springs: acidic, and alkaline. Both of these are relatively safe in regards to the mineral contents, though temperatures can vary from cool/cold water all the way past boiling (100C).

One geyser in Yellowstone National Park has recorded temperatures of 237.2C³, that is over twice the temperature of boiling!
Grand Prismatic Spring - Yellowstone.jpg
Grand Prismatic Spring - Yellowstone National Park, Source

Some of these pools can be so dangerous that taking a dip could literally dissolve your body as one young man found out in 2016. The young man bent over to check the temperatures of the pool to see if he could soak and ended up falling into the boiling, acidic waters.⁴ Officials attempted to retrieve his body but recovery efforts were postponed due to a thunderstorm. The body had reached substantial levels of dissolution by the next day when officials returned and could not recover the boy's body.⁴ With that said, its important to note that while there are extremely dangerous springs, there are also many which are completely safe for soaking. So, before you go jumping into a hot spring, be sure to check with local information and perhaps dip a toe in first (just be careful not to fall in).

My partner and I recently took a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada to recover some of her items from when she used to live there.


As luck would have it, we had forgotten to book a hotel for the night we were in town and everything was booked up. After much contemplation, we decided to stay at a hotel in a town about 3 hours outside of Vegas where we returned the same night we arrived and left from Vegas to get her belongings. My partner and her ex, when their car broke down in the past, had discovered a hidden hot spring on private property an hour out in the middle of nowhere in the desert of Nevada. The owner allows people to stop and soak as long as they are respectful of the grounds and others. So we made it our new journey to rediscover this spring and spend some time relaxing and enjoying ourselves for what little time we could on our short trip.

desert (2).jpg

We set out upon our journey the following morning. Our minds anxious with excitement as we began our search for the secret hot spring. We turned off the main highway and were greeted by a yellow open range sign and a metal cattle guard lining the street as we began down an empty two lane road that traveled into an immense span of emptiness, open desert. We were surrounded by some of the harshest terrain on the planet, where the lack of water and life sustaining resources has force selected organisms which are prepared for war at a moments notice. The road was movie-esque with its camel-back hills and heat radiating giving the illusion that the road disappears in certain areas.

Though we were surrounded by what to some would seem as lifeless landscapes, I could sense the extraordinary power in the life that exists in such harsh terrain. An overwhelming feeling of freedom began to settle in despite that it looked as though we were driving into absolutely nothing, or was it the experience of nothing which set this off?

We had encountered just one lone vehicle during the entire hour drive out to the hot spring. We were truly secluded. We spent nearly five hours enjoying ourselves at this unique hidden gem. We spent some time doing yoga and meditating in the wilderness. The only sounds were those of the trickling and splashing from the spring as it flowed into the desert, and the occasional braying of nearby mules who hand wandered close. The experience was flawless.

hot spring nevada 3-19.jpg

My partner noticed some white stuff collecting along the edges of where the spring was running through the desert and evaporating, and upon closer inspection we found it to be mineral salts from the spring which had been precipitating! This quickly turned into a discussion of what we could do with them at home. Two ideas proposed were to use them in a bath tub like we do with Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom salt), and to individually bottle them in spray bottles as saturated water solutions to target specific muscle groups which are sore or achy. We gathered a large amount of mineral salts as we decided to depart, thrilled that we had discovered something so cool and useful!

desert salts (2).jpg
Salts collecting where the spring water evaporated

collect start (2).jpg
Salts Collected

collected start close up (2).jpg
Close up of the crystalline mineral salts

The salts that we collected were riddled with soil, sand, and brush grass, so I had to put in some work if I wanted to end up with a more pure product. I began enthusiastically working on cleaning the salts up the morning after we got back home. My laboratory may be confined to a work bench situated in the kitchen for now, but working with natural medicines in a lab setting is a deep passion of mine.

I dissolved the salts in room temperature DI water (deionized water: water that has been distilled to remove ions; follow link for more info) to initiate the process of cleansing these mineral salts. I used a glass rod to agitate the solution to quicken dissolution.

IMG_1889 (2).jpg

After all the salts were dissolved into solution, I began filtering the solution through unbleached coffee filters (I should have a Buchner filter set up soon...) using gravity filtration.

Side note
While waiting for the solution to filter, crystalline structures began nucleating on the side of the glass where water was evaporating from the dish.

IMG_1890 (2).jpg

Side note con't
Due to the lack of an adequate filtration system, a large amount of product (a rough estimate would be close to half) was lost due to having to frequently change clogged filters. Shown in the photograph below is one of the filters that was clogged. When left out to dry, large crystals formed in and on the filter. Attempts were made to redissolve these salts and filter again, but still much product was lost.

IMG_1906 (2).jpg

I poured out the filtrate into a large pyrex dish and set it in the oven at 177C to allow the water to evaporate and the salts to crystallize.


The salts began to form to sheets of crystals, one on the bottom of the glass and one on the top of the water. They were able to crystallize independently in many areas due to the top sheet having formed against the sides of the dish to act as support from collapsing. The bottom crystal structures were clearly different than those of the top layer. None of my photographic equipment could capture a satisfactory image to compare the two, but you might be able to make out the differences in these two photographs:
Side note: the crystals take on a slight tan colour due to soluble components in the sand/soil/grass which remained in solution regardless of any filtration. These could perhaps be removed by a calcination, but as the soil and such is an hour into nothingness, I felt safe leaving it in solution for this first time (yes, I plan on collecting more in the future! :D )

IMG_1917 (2).jpg

IMG_1920 (2).jpg
Just to clarify, these are two separate sheets that formed and not a front/back image comparison.


After I showing everyone I knew, and some I didn't, my stunning creation (okay, it's not all that amazing, but its probably the coolest thing I've made visually in the lab), I then ground them all up into a fine powder that will easily dissolve.



In the end, I wound up with just over a half pound of mineral salts. After some experimenting with the spring water I collected at the hot spring, I found that the salts are dissolved in a 1:1 ratio; 300mg of salts were collected from 300ml of spring water. That said, I ended up with enough salts to recreate a hot spring in my bathtub once, or make a bunch of spray bottles to distribute. Leaning more towards the spray bottles... ;)

Overall, the trip was amazing and I had an incredible amount of fun going through this whole process. I hope you all enjoyed the story and the process as much as I did. Also, I had never heard of balneology until starting this project - so I learned quite a bit even!

Literature Cited

¹: Şaş, S., Çelenay, Ş T., & Kaya, D. Ö. (2016). The effects of balneotherapy on acute, process-related, and cumulative peripheral cardiac responses and pulmonary functions in patients with musculoskeletal disorders. Turkish Journal Of Medical Sciences, 46, 1700-1706. doi:10.3906/sag-1505-31
²: Zwolińska, J., Weres, A., & Wyszyńska, J. (2018). One-Year Follow-Up of Spa Treatment in Older Patients with Osteoarthritis: A Prospective, Single Group Study. BioMed Research International, 2018, 1-7. doi:10.1155/2018/7492106
³:Holden, C. (2011, July 12). Norris Geyser Basin - Yellowstone's Hottest, Oldest, Tallest. Retrieved from
⁴:Gajanan, M. (2016, November 16). Yellowstone National Park: Man Dissolved in Hot Spring Acid. Retrieved from


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Do you know the composition of the minerals? Could you bottle some of the water to harvest crystals?

I’d love to get your take on magnesium sulphate v. Magnesium chloride...

I’ve tried to understand it from TCM classification system, and at present I’m thinking that sulphate would be ‘cool’ while chloride will be ‘warm’.... but curious to hear your take on it.


Oh, yes you can harvest the water to collect the crystals. I did such an order to get the ratio of salts to water.


I do not know the exact composition of these mineral salts, but some of the formations definitely remind me of my work with magnesium sulfate. When collecting these salts they dried my hands out significantly, so they are very alkaline. Thus, the composition is going to be mainly of those of the alkaline metals in their salt form.

I would say that both of them are warm simply because they are both bases and will steal protons given the chance. However, I am an extreme novice with TCM. Magnesium chloride can be taken internally for the magnesium content, where magnesium sulfate acts as a laxative and should be avoided otherwise.


Generally, a laxative effect suggests ‘cool’.... the only time something ‘warm/hot’ will do that is in presence of a virus or bacterium or something along those lines.

The idea is that cool/cold substances damage the body’s yáng properties, which hold and warm substances in the body.

Cool/cold substances can also be ‘drying’....



Ahh, yes - that makes sense.. I didn't even think about it very much before responding. Warm is moist, cool is dry - at least in an alchemical frame set. So, then I would assume them both to be cool.


There are four states: warm, cool, dry, moist. And therefore each can be combined.

Magnesium chloride can’t be drunk right?

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Balneology! Man, that's a new word for me - wow! I've been enjoying a bath every day this week - it seems luxurious whilst I'm on holidays lol! Learnt a lot with this post - and it's super cool that I got to see the 'behind the scenes' working of this from the moment you excitedly collecting the salts!

It's so lovely to see a picture of you and your girl - caught in a moment of perfect happiness that makes my heart melt!!!

This is the best post I've ever read of yours because it has that lovely personal touch blended with science too! Science and emotion - a perfect blend for me. Pure poetry.

We went to hot springs in Tuscany on our honey moon at midnight - they were called 'Saturnia' I think - very sulphuric and everything smelt of eggs afterwards, but it was tres romantic!

I'm going to fire up the outside bath again this week - balneology under the stars seems a great idea.


Super cool, right? I had never heard of the term myself either! Baths truly are a luxury, and wow - they are so helpful. When I have a fibro flare up, I'm more akin to a fish than a squirrel! XD

Aw, ty! This post was a very dear one to me for all the reasons you mentioned, and more. So much love in this article, in the experience. <3

Mmmm. Hydrogen Sulfide! H2S! A very common compound found in the more acidic springs. Which, from the little research I've done, tend to be the commonality. Hot springs for a honey moon sound definitely romantic! We are thinking of taking a trip to some local ones for her birthday in July:)

I'd like to be a Professor - a tenured one please! - at the new University of Balneology! We have loads of hot springs here in Northern Thailand and I, too, am doing lots of thinking about and working with salt. I'm thinking luxurious footsoaks a-plenty at your house, no? Super cute pic of you and your partner. :) x Please keep posting about the salts....!

  ·  last month (edited)

Oh, foot rubs! That is a great idea for these salts. I think I’ll do that for my lady tonight :-)

That’s awesome about the Hot Springs in Thailand! Definitely keep us posted

You’ve been visited by @nateonsteemit on behalf of Natural Medicine!

I guess my wife is a balneologist then. Wonder how she'll look at me when I call her that and tell her that bath scientists are a thing. She may wanna go back to school...

Are salt accumulations like that common with hot springs? Seems like it'd happen a lot with the water being warm and evaporating quickly. I guess that's kinda the effect you're going for with an Epsom salt bath, huh? I'm not a balneologist, haven't had a bath in years. What's a shower scientist?

We are also running our fortnightly competition for steem rewards, where you can explore a plant medicine. This fortnight's plants are mullein, ginseng and alder... Plus a wild card where you can choose your own!

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Haha! You should definitely get her involved in this new field!

I've only been to a handful of springs, and it does not seem to be very common. I'm wondering myself if it is more common at desert hot springs though? I've only been to one desert hot spring - well, two technically, but the other was in a forest grove in a desert.


That might be the case. As it's mineral precipitation, and desert soil is almost purely mineral. Wonder if that's a consideration...

Sorry, thought I resteemed this post sooner, but I did just now :)

very interesting article @alchemage


tyvm, @claudiaz :)

Lovely to have found such a secluded hot spring! So cool- making your own bath salts! Did you ever do an analysis of what minerals were in it?
Thanks for sharing!

Just WOW @alchemage 🙏🏼

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Cracking have always wanted to visit a hot spring, one day hey. Bonus on the salts, looks like a process free salts; great work 💯🐒

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