© 2011 Bryon

Veniki

 

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.

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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. Noelle Stiles
    Posted December 3, 2014 at 6:18 PM | #

    I am a scientific researcher at Caltech studying devices to restore sight to the blind. I used the image at the top of this webpage in a behavioral experiment and now need approval to publish the image in a scientific journal as a part of a data plot. Please let me know if you can provide approval for the image’s use.

    Best regards,

    Noelle Stiles, Ph.D.

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