Thai Herbal Pharmacy is an important element of Thai Traditional Medicine, alongside Thai Massage. (The other elements are Medical, i.e. diagnostics and treatment, and Midwifery.) While at Wat Po School in Salaya I learnt a little about Thai Herbalism, and the preparation of compresses, which we then used in massage.
The main ingredients are:
- Kassumunar (Plai in Thai) - a member of the same family as ginger, and the main ingredient in Tiger Balm. This is skin nourishing, eases muscle pain, fatigue and bruising, and is anti-inflammatory.
- Lemongrass – this is antiseptic and a digestive tonic that alleviates nausea and eases pain.
- Kaffir Lime Peel – a general skin tonic, and can help with dizziness.
- Natural Camphor – brown camphor, derived from the bark of a tree, rather than chemically produced. It aids indigestion and relieves coughs.
Other herbs such as turmeric, acacia leaves and tamarind leaves can also be used.
The wet ingredients are pounded to break them down and release the beneficial substances they contain.
Next is the tricky bit – tying the herbs into a muslin cloth, so that they are held firmly, and creating the handle to hold the compress when it is hot. It took several goes and a lot of help from the experts to get this right!
Compresses can also be made from the same ingredients but dried. These need to be soaked before their first use. They have the advantage of being transportable and of keeping for a long time.
The compresses I use are therefore dried, and come either from the Wat Po school shop, or were made for me by my Thai Herbalism tutor at the school, Teacher Nang.
To use the compresses, they are steamed. This heats and moistens them, and releases the herbs’ properties (and wonderful smells!). The compresses are then used to massage the body, either directly on the skin or through clothing or cloths. Initially the compress can only be touched briefly onto the skin, but as the compress cools, longer and deeper massages can be used. When the compress is no longer warm, it is swapped with another in the steamer and the massage continues.
As the compress is so gentle, it is ideal for situations when normal massage is too strong, such as injuries, painful or damaged joints, or in elderly clients. It is very soothing, and in cold weather, a warming, comforting treat.