© 2011 Bryon



Venik is a word that doesn’t translate well into English. A venik (VYE-nik) is a broom, or whisk broom. It also is a bundle of leafy twigs.

Veniki, the plural, are the most important accoutrement in a banya. They are the subject of at least a half dozen sayings, such as, “In the banya the venik is everyone’s boss,” and, “In the banya a venik is worth more than money.”

They are used to maneuver the steam, to massage the skin, to treat ailments and to simply infuse the air with aroma. They bestow spirit, or dukh, to the steam.

Bundles of leafy birch twigs are the living symbol of the banya. They are far and away the most popular veniki. But veniki can be made from the twigs of nearly any tree or bush that is supple, as long as it does not have large thorns, or secrete harmful or overly sticky substances.

(watch a version of a decent veniki massage – they vary! – here)

Their leaves momentarily cling to the skin, absorbing sweat and drawing out toxins while, at the same time, imparting essential oils, tannins, and even vitamins C and A.

Their essence makes the skin smooth, elastic. It strengthens hair, and gets rid of dandruff. It eases aches and pains in muscles and joints. It cleanses rashes and abscesses on the skin, and accelerates the healing of cuts and abrasions. It causes bronchi to expand, too, making it easier to breathe.

In the morning bathers might choose a venik from the rowan tree, or stinging nettles, to invigorate the body. In the evening they might choose oak tree, to bring on quiet.

Other times they might choose one of the conifers – softwoods such as fir, pine, spruce, or cedar – for the aroma, and to chase off skin conditions, like acne. They might seek out eucalyptus to treat colds by breathing through the long, wispy leaves, and to accelerate healing of bruises and sprains. They might turn to the sweet-smelling linden tree to get rid of headaches, and to treat skin inflammation.

Sometimes banya connoisseurs will slip fragrant sprigs of currant into a birch or oak venik. They also will add cuttings of bird cherry, a plant whose soft leaves harbor a powerful antiseptic, and smell of freshly-ground almonds.

Cincopa WordPress plugin

Veniki are cheap in Russia, about $3 to $4. They are expensive in the States, about $15 to $25. It’s a scandal, really. But if you take care of your veniki, you can use them two, three (or more) times. You also can make your own, like a lot of Russians.

I like to use two veniki, one for each hand. I also like to massage others with veniki more than I like to massage myself. Ideally, the person with whom you steam will massage you, too!

For, as they say, “A banya without a bundle of leafy twigs is like a flower bed without flowers.”

One Comment

  1. Bryon
    Posted November 12, 2017 at 9:13 PM | #

    Lovely, Emily: “I had never steamed when it was at the freezing point outside, or when it was so dark outside you could see the milky way. My steams had never been that kind of magical… My mind went blank in the best possible way.”

One Trackback

  1. By An Ode to the Banya – Emily on October 19, 2017 at 8:08 AM

    […] tinge of birch circling through the air – on account of the birch wood benches or the birch veniki that will help massage your body after a good sweat has been worked […]

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>