Interview with Leena Larva

Pia Lindman

Leena Larva: Our company “Suomaa” (Swamp Earth) has its headquarters in Valkeakoski, Finland. There, we have my reception and both the peat saunas and another sauna designated for traditional Finnish sauna bathing.
It is a lot of work. We are about to change the name to Valkeakoski Health Village.

The major role of peat in saunas is the fact that peat stimulates the lymphatic circulation in a human body. We combine the peat treatment with visits to an infrared sauna we have here and the administering of vibration to the body. And then cold treatments, i.e., a customer should go from a cold pool to a pool with a moderately warmer water. And then – rest.

Pia: The questions we are putting to you are compiled by my collaborator the Icelandic anthropologist Tinna Greatrsdottir. Tinna and her husband Sigurjon Baldur Hafsteinsson, also an anthropologist, have studied Icelandic peat houses. On Iceland, the traditional home was constructed with peat. In fact, entire villages were usually constructed underground, including saunas, barns for domesticated animals, smiths, among other things.

Tinna and Sigurjon have together with architects and biologists explored the peat houses as a habitat of multiple organisms each participating in creating a healthy living environment for everyone.

Leena: Were these buildings made of peat bricks? What kind of peat was used?

Pia: they used the peat that is there in the ground.

Leena: if you use what we define as treatment peat, you can make really hard bricks, because  when peat is sufficiently rotten, it can become as hard as cement.

Pia: these Icelandic peat houses are quite unique and their main task has been to protect the organisms and humans from the cold and wind. According to Hannes Larusson They are built with inner walls (usually of wood) after which there is a fairly large air gap, with a second wooden wall upon which a pretty thick layer of peat was laid.

Leena: Is the peat they used this sufficiently rotted peat?
Pia: I cannot answer that, since I am not an expert. However, I have visited some of the turf houses that are still remaining on Iceland, and from what I could see, the houses seemed to be covered with the same mass of earth and peat as if they were underground. In other words, the earth is mainly wetland grass, and the bricks of peat comprised the full layers of the land so that it included the grass and the rhizome from which that grass grew.

Leena: OK, so all the layers are involved.

Pia: I believe so.

Leena: the deepest part of the brick might be as hard as cement – it’s the most rotted part of the peat. When that rotten part mixes with it the rest of the brick, it probably makes a harder network of rhizome and mass.

The history of peat is really old. Healing peat has been used in hundreds of ways and indeed already in ancient Egypt, as well as everywhere else, where there have been bogs. However, in Finland, culturally, the bog has been perceived as a nest of evil. Therefore, here in Finland, peat seems to not have been used. Some hearsay exists, evidence of which I have not seen myself, claiming that rheumatic feet would have been soaked in swamp water. Further, sore and infected hoofs of race horses are treated by having the horses run in a  swamp.

During the Napoleonic Wars, peat treatments became common in Central Europe. Soldiers of Napoleon’s army gathered in Austria nearby a swamp that was known to contain healing peat. Commonly, Central European swamps are deep pits, quite small, but deep. I believe the deepest swamp in the world is in Greece and being a pit-like swamp, it is around a hundred meters deep.

In Finland, this kind of treatment by healing  peat has not existed before this century. But some twenty years ago, Professor Emeritus Riitta Korhonen (Helsinki University, Department of Geology) spent some time in the Czech Republic as a swamp researcher. At a researchers’ meeting, she visited a local spa and realised that the material used for treatment is the same kind of peat that can be found in Finland. This particular peat is decayed (rotted) from 6 up to 8 degrees (maatumisaste). This degree of decay of the peat makes the best peat for healing. Riitta Korhonen made a study of ten swamps in various parts of Finland. She analysed the consistency of peat samples from each swamp and came to the conclusion that should the peat have any healing effect, it must be of the degree of decay that makes the peat feel soapy in your hands. Riitta Korhonen found that the swamps in Finland contain large amounts of very good healing peat, the same kind that has been used in Central Europe for hundreds of years. Thus I created “Suomaa” (Swamp Earth) a “sauna village” where we give sauna bath treatments and swamp water treatments.

Common practice in Austria, for example, is to submerge yourself in swamp water by way of going into a tub. About half a kilo of peat is mixed with the bath water. After twenty minutes you get out of the tub and rest for approximately ten minutes. You do not wash the peat off, but you leave it on the skin. In the German peat treatment practice, the peat is heated almost to the point of steaming. Two-thirds of peat is added to one-third of water. This is awful. I personally cannot be in this kind of hot bath at all. You are floating around in this hot grub. There is a spa east of Oulu in Finland, in Rokua, that offers these peats baths.
The textile designer and felt maker Papu Pirtola, who has passed away, made textiles in the 70’s at a workshop. When after a day of work, all the workers went sauna bathing, as a joke, they covered themselves with mud and then went inside the sauna. Afterwards they experienced a most wonderful feeling. This put me and my collaborators on the right track.

Riitta Korhone began to promote the use of peat in the sauna. Compared to the Central European practices, this practice is quite unique. As far as we know, nowhere else is peat used in connection with sauna bathing. Usually peat is used as wraps or baths. This practice we now do in Finland is much more ecological. We consume far less peat, when we smear it as a layer on the skin while going into the sauna.

Juha Heikkinen from Ähtäri and his brother are burners of healing peat and own very good ores in Ähtäri and Alavus. You can dig directly into the swamp and as long as you go deep enough (at least one meter), you will find the right kind of peat. In Central Europe, the right kind of peat can be found in quite shallow earth surfaces, because there, organic matter rots faster. In Finland, you have to go deeper than one meter. In these depths, there are almost no bacteria, due to lack of oxygen. So, the peat is sterile when lifted. All bacteria emerges into it from the air and this is why the peat is soaked and kept in airtight containers, so that it does not come into contact with air.

Pia: What are humic acids?

Leena: Humic acids are broad water-soluble organic acids. I am not a chemist and I am not familiar with these substances on molecular level. I am focused on peat’s effect as a treatment. Previously, the effect of the treatment was believed to come from the heat of the peat. It is now common belief among researchers, that it is precisely the humic acids that go through the skin that gives the healing effect. Humic acids are isolated in Germany, Russia – in many places. In Finland, I don’t think anyone can isolate them at the moment.

Peat treatments have slowed down herpes and the HPV virus. I think it could also work on the corona virus, but of course, no one wants to look into this, since currently, research is funded only in the service of synthetic medicine.
Humic acids act to improve blood circulation and in that sense act like heparin, a drug that prevents blood clotting.

These treatments are categorised in the subgroup of physical treatments, i.e., keloid treatments. This signifies all the creams and mixes that are applied to the skin, including clays, etc. Peat differs from other mixes in that it contains almost no minerals.

In Crimea, there is a similar deep pit-lake as I mentioned before, and there, you will find some black and blue clay containing a lot of salt. People gather for treatments and the practice is similar to others in Central Europe, i.e., baths or wraps, without sauna bathing. People smear the black clay on their skin and let it dry in the sun.

Pia: What surprises me is that the history of the therapeutic use of peat is so young, especially in Finland.

Leena: In Finland, there has been a machination in place – as you can see from public discussions, culture, and entertainment. We are driven by medical business, prosthetics, molecular medicine, high end technology and surgery – and everything else is made to be a hoax. And we are not allowed to talk about any alternative forms of medicine – this is considered heretic.

Pia: Yet, at the same time, Finnish sauna and  Finnish peat are very much now used to market Finland for tourists, they are presented as exotic and romantic features of our country.

Leena: Yes, and the International Sauna Club, for example, has started commodifying the sauna. So, there, money drives the work and the effort has been to bring people to Finland to bathe in saunas and to sell saunas abroad. I would also want to sell my “Suomaa” (Swamp Earth) concept.

Pia: The lack of research is surprising, because you would think that research could feed the markets.

Leena: Money decides, of course … I have researched this, but by no means have I been oriented towards making publications. The single essay I wrote was the study on menopausal women. I have also bathed athletes to research the effects, and now I have just completed the manufacture of potable peat, something designed to reduce swelling.

Pia: Drinking peat?

Leena: Peat is a nutrient. I applied to register peat as a nutritional substance in Finland. And the application went through. Peat can be eaten.

Pia: Where can one buy it? This peat drink?

Leena: You cannot get it anywhere yet, because I only have a test batch and I have to find swollen people to test it on. It would be good if they had a family history of swelling. I plan to have them drink peat drinks for three weeks and another group would not drink any peat as control.

You can make peat drink yourself: mix a teaspoon of ordinary healing peat in water and drink.

For example, the peat drink will alleviate pain in the upper abdomen, if you have your abdominal acids all mixed up.

Pia: Is this one of the effects of the humic acids?

Leena: Probably. But now there has also been talk of hemicellulose (one particular chemical form of hemicellulose) that might be somewhat of an anti-cancer substance. Hemicellulose has been mainly studied by the cellulose industry and people who research resins. Healing peat contains 15% hemicellulose.

In ancient Rome, peat was probably used as a treatment, but there is no documentation of this, so we cannot know for sure. It is the same in Finland, if there are no records, no mentions of these treatments, for instance in the Kalevala poems, then what can be known about them? If there has been knowledge about this, it has been in the form of oral tradition, transferred from generation to generation without any written record remaining.

Pia: I wonder. After all, what I have come across recently, for example in Lapland, the swamp has been written and sung about for a long time. The swamp has been the source of food and other needed resources.

Leen: However, in Finland it has been seen as scary and it has been a very negative thing.

Pia: But perhaps not always?

Leena: Finnish proverbs tell losers to go sink into the swamp or are actively being drowned in the swamp. And it has been associated with frost.

Pia: Yes, swamps are believed to emanate frost…

Lee: Swamps are cold and one sinks into them.

Pia: there may be differences between the North and the South of Finland in this respect. And the influence of Christianity – it has changed so many of our perceptions! Many things that have been positive have been transformed into demons by the priests!

Leena: I don’t think the swamp is scary only because of Christianity. It is still scary today. The swamp is such soft, unstable ground, and the frost comes from there.

Pia: Like the painting by Hugo Simberg, “Halla” (Frost). (Actually not on swamp…)

Leena: I have not made any treatments geared specifically towards gynecology and women’s health. In both Russia and Germany, as well as in the Baltic countries, you can purchase various tampons containing peat. They help against infertility and pain from infections.

I am a regular gynecologist, I use peat only as a cosmetic treatment. In Finland, it is not worth trying to launch peat as a medicine, because it will become too expensive to produce a healing peat that is verifiably sterile and pure. If one uses peat as a substance in cosmetics, you will be ok. But if you inject it into your vagina, it becomes medicine, and then it is really hard to market it and get the necessary permits for it.

Pia: but if you make it into a drink it is ok?

Leena: Yes, of course, it works just fine!

It is precisely this effect of humic acids on the mucous membranes of the vaginal walls and further on to the muscles that reduces swelling in, and most importantly, relaxes the Iliopsoas.

Pia: So, the relaxation of the Iliopsoas removes the swelling?

Leena: I am doing the same with laser treatment now. I can get rid of these kinds of vague pelvic pains typical for older women by simply loosening the Iliopsoas.

Bathing in a peat sauna, or with other peat treatments, the same loosening of muscles can be achieved. I have been doing my own research on back problems all this time.

Leena Larva tells me that she has not had the practical opportunity to do more detailed research on the possible differences between the effects of a regular sauna and a peat sauna, but has focused on implementing the treatments in practice.

In her treatment concept “Suomaa”, she starts the treatment with a regular sauna. Every sauna treatment requires also a “cold treatment”, either by going into a cold bath, or rolling in snow – also always a part of a traditional Finnish sauna. It is important to always finish a sauna bathing session with a cold shower or by submerging oneself in cold water.  If you do not do that, many ailments and pains might increase due to the heat of a sauna.

The effects of a peat sauna is: reducing swelling, muscle relaxation, and the stimulation the lymphatic circulation – also the lymphatic circulation in the brain, resulting in a calm and contented state of mind.

Pia: But also specifically, the effects of peat: as far as I understand, you have emphasised that the peat has to have a certain level of fermentation (decay or rot – maatuminen) and a certain degree of humic acidity. And to be sure, it should not be in contact with oxygen.

Leena: all water that is brown (in nature), means that there is humic acid present. The level of decay should be at levels 6 to 8. If it is at 10, there are no longer any substances that have an effect on the body. This kind of water turns black when it comes into contact with oxygen, due to the high levels of melanin. When you dig out peat from deep underground, where there is no oxygen, (at least one meter deep in Finland), it is whitish yellow – like butter. As soon as this peat comes into contact with air above ground, it turns black (oxygenates). I have noticed when I have had raw peat stored in big barrels for a long time, in darkness and with no access to oxygen, the yellow color returns.

This means that there should not be any microbes there. Healing peat is an alkaline (emäksinen) mixture and contains no microbes, this is why it feels like soap between your fingers. Any microbes that come into peat, comes from the air. Peat is also a detergent (pesuaine).

Peat on Iceland is probably very different, since it contains ash from volcanoes. In Siberia, the swamps are very shallow, and the peat is alkaline.

Leena Larva has registered peat as food substance (in Finland). But the problem arises from the high levels of heavy metals found in peat in many parts of the findings in Finland, especially Cadmium and Led.  This is why the food-peat is diluted, so that a person does not overdose on heavy metals. The approach to solve this problem will probably be to separate the humic acid from all peat, and that way also separate the heavy metals. It is possible to buy humic acid as additive to animal fodder. It is commonly used to feed domesticated animals, since it boosts immunity and “productivity”.
In cosmetics, the use of peat is less problematic, and very helpful. Especially to treat older skin and skin that is often swollen. Swollen skin inhibits blood circulation, due to the liquid packing into the skin cells and blocking the capillary blood vessels. After a peat fascial you have an appearance of a glowing face, because the swelling is gone and the increased blood circulation gives you a vital shine.

Pia: On the website Pajunvarsi, I read that humic acid boosts the growth of a plant, because it transports nutrients and vitamins through the walls of the cells.

Leena: Yes I believe, although I have not yet had resources to research this, that vegans and vegetarians might have healthier metabolism exactly because they have a higher density of humic acids in their digestive system – thanks to the amount of vegetables in their digestive system. Nobody has yet checked how much humic acid occurs in humans excrement, for instance.

Pia: Does it matter what kind of plants are rotting to form peat? Such as the plant species Tinna Greatarsdottir mentions: Carex or Sphagnum?

Leena: there is some research from Germany suggesting that Carex peat would increase hormone levels. But I have a hard time believing in hormone treatments done in this way. For one, the research does not specify whether this treatment has been tested on older persons. In my research paper on menopausal women, I was able to show that by simply reducing swelling with the peat treatment, the functions of the ovaries were stimulated. In my research I x-rayed all the ovaries of my test persons. For instance, one menopausal woman in her fifties, whose ovaries had stopped functioning altogether, by the peat treatment, her ovaries started to function again. Traditionally, this treatment has indeed been used to overcome frigidity.

Pia: and this German research is saying that in addition, Carex peat would increase hormone levels?

Leena: In Finland, the peat we have is a mixture of both Carex and Sphagnum, and some other plants – whatever might have been growing in the swamp at that time. So it is impossible to distinguish effects. But I personally believe that the effect comes from the density of humic acids. Riitta Korhonen and myself have been lobbying to get the Finnish authorities to establish common criteria for healing peat (based on a set percentage level of humic acids in peat), but this has not yet happened.

This is why I wonder if I could help women reduce swelling and digestive problems by this humic acids drink, because the intestines are the largest lymphatic organ in a human body (%75 of the entire system).

Pia: I should come as one of your test subjects!

Leena: Well, welcome to my peat sauna!

Pia Lindman will visit “Suomaa” on the 17th of November, 2020, and will report back on the healing effects of peat in sauna.

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