Phyto-thermotherapy is a treatment consisting in immersing oneself in baths of self-heating alpine grass, to benefit of the heat and rich aromatic components released by the process. The aim of this study was to characterize the bacterial and fungal diversity of three phyto-thermal baths (PTB) performed in three different months, and to compare the data with the profile of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) of the process. All the data collected showed that PTBs were structured in two stages: the first three days were characterised by an exponential rise of the temperature, a fast bacterial development, higher microbial diversity and higher concentrations of plant aliphatic hydrocarbons. The second stage was characterised by a stable high temperature, shrinkage of the microbial diversity with a predominance of few bacterial and fungi species and higher concentrations of volatiles of microbial origin. Erwinia was the dominant microbial species during the first stage and probably responsible of the self-heating process. In conclusion, PTBs has shown both similarities with common self-heating processes and important peculiarities such as the absence of pathogenic bacteria and the dominance of plant terpenoids with health characteristics among the VOCs confirming the evidence of beneficial effects in particular in the first three days.
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