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What is that birch twig bundle in a Finnish sauna?

Ever heard of a sauna whisk, a "vihta" or "vasta"? This is a bundle of fresh birch twigs used to gently whip the sauna-heated skin, enhancing the overall sauna experience. Sauna whisking is both a physical and spiritual ritual, an integral part of traditional Finnish sauna culture and healing. Known in Finnish as a “vihta” or “vasta,” depending on the region —western Finns generally use "vihta" while eastern Finns say "vasta", the dividing line running roughly through Lake Päijänne, longitudinally bisecting Finland.


The ideal season for making sauna whisks in Finland is from Midsummer to early July. During this period, birch leaves reach their perfect texture — neither too soft nor prone to falling off easily — while also containing the highest amount of nourishing substances. Traditionally, all sauna whisks for the entire year were made during this time because, in late summer, branches and leaves become harder and less pleasant to the skin.

Silver birch and downy birch are the most commonly used woods for whisks, though they can also be made from other types like rowan, oak, and alder. Birch branches are widely considered the best option because they are flexible, durable, and release natural oils that create a pleasant aroma when heated. Moreover, birch leaves contain powerful antioxidants such as vitamins C and A, as well as saponins and tannins known for their skin-softening, nourishing, and antimicrobial properties. Silver birch is more popular than downy birch because it is more durable and thus does not make as much mess in the sauna, though downy birch gives off a stronger scent. For an even more invigorating experience, you can add a few sprigs of blackcurrant for scent and juniper branches to stimulate blood circulation.


Health Benefits of Sauna Whisking

Natural Saponins: Birch leaves contain natural saponins that act as a mild soap, removing dead skin cells and leaving the skin smooth.

Rich in Antioxidants: Birch leaves are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and tannins, which have skin-nourishing and antimicrobial properties.

Improved Circulation: Whisking invigorates surface blood circulation and promotes metabolism.

Pain Relief: Whisking eases joint and muscle pain.

Aromatherapy: The natural oils released by birch provide a wonderful aroma that enhances the sauna experience and boosts mood.

Relaxation: Whisking relaxes the body and mind, making you feel good!


How to Make a Sauna Whisk

Gather Materials: Collect about 35-40 young, thin birch branches, each about 50 cm long.

Strip Branches: Remove the leaves and side branches from the base up to about 10-15 cm. If there are smaller branches sticking out, remove them.

Arrange Branches: Arrange the branches into a bouquet with the smoother underside of the leaves facing outwards.

Tie the Bundle: Tie the branches together, creating a handle using a long, flexible branch stripped of leaves. If this is too difficult, use a string or a rubber band.


Tips for Use and Preservation

Using Fresh Whisks: Soak the whisk in a bucket of warm water before use. Do not use hot water as it spoils the leaves. Begin whisking once your skin has warmed up nicely. Gently whisk yourself and your fellow sauna-goers.

Reusing Whisks: A well-made whisk can be used several times. After use, rinse it with cold water, shake off excess water, and store it in a cool, dark place. Before the next sauna session, soak the whisk in warm water for about 30 minutes.

Preserving Whisks: Fresh whisks can be preserved by freezing or drying for later use. To freeze, wrap the whisk tightly in plastic wrap and store it in the freezer. To dry, hang the whisk upside down in a cool, dark place.


Sauna whisks, a staple of Finnish sauna culture, not only enrich the sauna experience with their physical and aromatic benefits but also foster a deep connection with nature. Discover the magic of Finnish sauna whisks!


Pictured: Happy guests enjoying a wonderful whisking treatment given by Tanja Pohjola, the sauna master from Pohjolan Pirtti & Kievari, in a Hetki sauna at the Embassy of Finland in Berlin. (Photo credits: Bernhard Ludewig)


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