To the uninitiated, the Sauna Whisk looks like some form of self torture or punishment, however this couldn’t be further from the truth.
In eastern Finland known as the Vasta or Vihta elsewhere in the country, the whisk adds an extra dimension to your sauna. In Finland and Russia using a whisk is pretty much compulsory, even in winter when there are no leaves on the trees and the land is bare.
Typically made from young birch twigs and leaves and held together with twigs that have been stripped of bark and twisted to form a string. There are many videos online of older people, painstakingly crafting whisks, with traditional techniques. For those of use not so time rich, I am assured by Finnish friends that a simple cable tie will suffice!
PRO TIP: In spring, when the Birch tree is coming into leaf, allow the leaves at least 4 weeks of maturation before picking.
Other woods used to craft whisks are Oak, Linden and Eucalyptus. As New Zealand has very little Birch forests (although 1960’s and 1970’s urban housing developments often feature birch lined streets), Eucalyptus is common and easily sourced. Some people with sensitive skin may find too much Eucalyptus can irritate, so ii may be advisable to mix the leaves with Birch as well.
Sauna whisks enhance the sauna experience by releasing lovely smelling oils. This can be achieved in two ways. Dried whisks can be soaked in warm water beforehand to rehydrate the leaves, or a damp fresh whisk can be placed very briefly onto the sauna stones (probably something to avoid if you use an electric heater). As mentioned in a previous post, our favourite aromas in the sauna are Birch and Eucalyptus, which can be achieved by using oils.
Gently beat or lash the whisk against legs, backs and torso to massage tissue, promote circulation and cleanse the skin. Whisks made from leaves that are serrated or irregular are excellent as the leaves will stimulate nerve fibers in the the skin, emitting a tingly sensation like no other. After trying a sauna whisk, you will never want to pay for a massage again!
Over hundreds of years the clever Finnish people have worked out ways of storing the whisks over winter, when no fresh leaves can be found. I have observed Finns hanging the whisks in roof trusses upside down to dry out, ready for re-hydration later. Modern life has given us another option: freezing! Fresh whisks are prepared, wrapped in clingfilm and stored in the freezer. These can then be brought back to life with wart water and if using a wood burning heater, briefly warmed over the stones to release more aroma.
If you have access to Birch or Eucalyptus leaves, try making a whisk and enjoy a traditional Finnish Sauna like a pro!