Clever H
Summer 2016 - Complementary Approaches

Father Kneipp and his treatment with water

 Father Kneipp and his treatment with water


drops-of-water-578897__180Water alone, as a curative element for the diseases of mankind? Such statement may arouse some skepticism! Ok, we drink to hydrate our bodies, we wash for hygienic purposes, and we swim because exercise is good for us. Yet, albeit essential, and paired with positive effect to our health, these uses of water are not understood as curative of diseases alone. Father Kneipp though, cured illness and diseases of the sick by subjecting them to treatments with water. He left to the after-world a ‘cure’ that does impact disease and brings about healing for many.


Sebastian Kneipp was born in 1821 on May 17th, as the 4th child of a weaver. He grew up in rather poor conditions and from an early age wanted to enter the church. Pursuing this venture he began his theological studies in 1849 when he contracted pulmonary tuberculosis. Seeking relief and recovery he came across a book by Dr. Johann Siegmund Hahn from 1743 describing the healing properties of water. He experimented with the treatments described and achieved amelioration of his diseased state. This experience of regained invigoration and recovery marked the birth of the treatment approach known as Kneippism, ‘water cure’ or the so called Kneipp hydrotherapy [1].


This approach refers to a warming exertion of the physique, which is followed by short immersions of the body into cold waters. Left undried, the body is then re-exerted to be warmed again and the procedure is repeated. Such alternations of warm and cold, so Kneipp believed, would restore health in the sick [1].


The water treatment is not always applied to all of the body at once, as Kneipp did to treat his own illness. Water-stepping, cools in hot weather and has a generally invigorating effect. Alternate foot-baths, are indicated for circulatory problems and headaches. Alternate arm-baths regulate high blood-pressure and angina pectoris. The arm rinse is known to relieve of headaches, while the hip rinse aids in menopause and helps with circulation [5]. There are numerous methods of applying Kneippism, and Germany is probably the leader in practicing the water-cure. There are some 600 Kneipp associations with approximately 160 000 members. The German health care system even expends on the Kneipp-cure as it helps prevent illness and as such is cost effective [5].


Father Sebastian Kneipp is remembered and praised for the creation of this holistic treatment approach that is aimed at harmonizing the equilibrium of the body, mind and soul [4]. The cold rinse, water-stepping, alternating baths and application of wet packs or compresses though, Kneipp for articlewere only part of his ‘cure’. His approach to treatment encompassed 5 elements, the “health-enhancing power of water, balanced nutrition, medicinal plants, exercise and properly balanced lifestyle” [4]. The water cure and his thoughts on healthy living, Kneipp collected in various publications that have lost little of their up-to-datedness and value.


Kneipp, who was ordained as a priest in 1852, began treating patients that had not the means to see a doctor, or that the medical discipline had rejected because of the inability of treating their state or disease [1]. Due to his successes and because of the fact that he treated free of charge, he increasingly earned opposition from the established medical sphere [1]. Many voiced their antagonism, as did Wilhelm Schüssler, the founding father of the bio-chemic tissue salts. He was but one who vehemently objected to this practice and argued that Kneipp himself was a layman stepping into the medical field, and that the underlying theory of his treatment approach lacked validity [2].


Kneipp kept on developing his hydrotherapy, and improved and refined his method, and eventually not only treated humans, but also achieved respectable results treating cattle [1]. He achieved papal recognition when he was appointed ‘Monsignor’, papal chamberlain, in 1893. He died at 76 years on June 17th in 1897.


The art of Kneippism, the practice of the ‘water cure’ received further recognition, when in 2015, on December 4th, the German UNESCO-commission declared Kneippism as immaterial cultural heritage [4]. In its declaration the commission stated that the naturopathic treatment according to Kneipp, aims to “preserve and restore human health” [4].




[1] Kneipp-werke (2006) The life of Sebastian Kneipp, Available at: (Accessed: April 2016).


[2] Schüßler, W. (n.d.) Kneipp’s Wasserkur – Gedanken darüber, Available at: April 2016).


[3] Kneipp-bund (n.d.) Kneippen ist immaterielles Kulturerbe, Available at: April 2016)


[4] UNESCO (2015) Kneippism – traditional knowledge and practice according to Sebastian Kneipp, Available at: April 2016)


[5] Bergel, R. (n.d.) The healing Power of Water, Available at: April 2016).





Recommended reading:

Kneipp, S. (1894) Thus shalt thou live : hints and advice for the healthy and the sick on a simple and rational mode of life and a natural method of cure.  [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: April 2016).


Kneipp, S. (1898) My water-cure [electronic resource] : tested for more than 35 years and published for the cure of diseases and the preservation of health. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: April 2016).




About the author:

Profile picUta Mittelstadt, BSc & MSc in homeopathic medicine: I am a homeopath, an artist, a writer and a vegegan, a traveller, and adventurer. I’m a crab born in June. I am passionate about homeopathy. I blog at Clever Homeopathy.  My specialty is ‘sports-injuries’, more info at: SPORTSHOM.  


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