Please welcome Billy to Saunatimes. Billy is enjoying his own authentic sauna in the hills of North Carolina. He has recently become interested in the care and storage of vihtas. We are pleased to share with you his research, and welcome Billy!
Even if you are new to sauna, you are probably aware of that crazy-looking practice of switching oneself with bound tree branches while in the sauna. This article deals with those bound tree branches and, before setting out, we need to settle on a name for that bundle of branches.
Naming is not as easy as it may seem. Every nation with a sauna history has a name for that bundle of tree branches. Here are some examples:
- Finland: vihta or vasta
- Estonia: viht
- Lithuanian: vanta
- Russian: venik
- English: bath broom or whisk
The guys at Saunatimes seem to have settled on calling it a “vihta.” Since this is an article written for Saunatimes, we’ll use that term here. Having settled on the name “vihta,” let’s move on.
Use of a vihta in sauna has a long tradition and health benefits. There is a lot of information on the internet on how to make your own vihta, how to use it, and the health benefits. So, do a little research on the recommended species of tree, how to prep your vihta for use, how to use it, and the health benefits. This article will not address those topics.
There is not, however, a lot of information out there on the care and storage of your vihta. This article will answer your questions.
How often should I make vihtas?
Let’s start with the traditional practice. Ideally, folks would make a year’s supply of vihtas at one time: preferably when the leaves are just right, typically early summer. (Again, read more on the internet about that.) Yes, you read that right. A year’s supply.
What is a year’s supply for you? Well, that depends on the number of folks enjoying your sauna and the frequency of use. If you are using your sauna one or two times a week, then a rough rule-of-thumb is one vihta per person per week: 50 vihtas per person annually. If you figure on four people using the sauna regularly, then that comes to 200 vihtas per year, all made at one time when the leaves are right.
Traditional sauna etiquette tells us to offer an unused vihta to guests. So, figuring in some extras, you’re into some big numbers.
Once all of those vihtas are made—a year’s supply—you have to decide how you’re going to store them until use. More on that below.
A year’s supply of vihtas? is there another solution?
Okay, so there’s a time of year in which the tree leaves are considered ideal for vihta construction. But, as long as there are leaves on branches, then you can make a vihta. Of course, you’ll be limited by Fall and Winter (no leaves on the branches). And, you’ll be limited, too, owing to the number of uses recommended. More on that in the next section.
How many times can I use a vihta?
Let’s say that you’ve blissfully switched yourself with a vihta in a sauna session. Now what? Can you reuse that hard-won (and now hard-used) vihta?
The quick answer is “yes.” The longer answer is . . . traditionally a vihta is a one-use item. Yep, one and done. (That’s why a year’s supply is made at one time of the year.) Nothing compares to using a fresh, green vihta. However, they can be reused as many times as you wish. There is not a magic number of uses, but generally we find that about three uses is the limit. (Or, until the leaves have fallen off too much for further use.)
To reuse your vihta after a sauna session, first take a look at the leaves. Are there still enough leaves on the vihta? You don’t want to brush yourself with bare twigs! If there are enough leaves, then we suggest hanging the vihta upside down in the sauna room to let it dry. Before your next sauna session, prep the vihta for use. When it has lost too many leaves, it’s time to retire it to the burn pile.
And, remember, it’s not good form to offer a used vihta to a guest. That would be like offering them a bath towel that you’ve used several times.
How do I store new and unused vihtas?
Say you’ve made a year’s supply of vihtas in early summer when the leaves are at their best or just a few at whatever time of year. Now you have to store them. You’ve got some options. You can freeze them if you’ve got ample freezer space. You can also hang them upside down to dry out and then leave them hanging (if you’ve got the room) or, once dried, store them away in a box.
So, I have to do some planning otherwise resign myself to a vihta-less life?
Unfortunately, the answer is “yes.” (We are aware, however, of some vendors who sell dried vihtas year-round.) But, this makes perfect sense when you think about it. Vihtas are nothing more than tree branches with leaves. In Fall and Winter the branches are bare. Sometimes the leaves are too young or too old (if you’re being picky about leaf quality in the traditional sense). If we were dealing with another crop—say, apples—then it would be easy to see that the apples ripen in the fall, and only in the fall. If you want apples all year long, then you’re going to have to preserve and store them.
Editor’s Note: for basic instructions on how to make your own vihta, please note this post here. published in 2010. And this article here, published in 2014.