Being located close to the two cradles of Asian civilization, China and India, makes Thailand a melting pot where the three cultures, languages and foundation of knowledge blend and are passed on from elder to younger within families and through education.

The traditional practice of Herbal Medicine in Thailand is a mix of Ayurveda, ancient Chinese Medicine and the healing wisdom of indigenous tribes.

The Thai traditional healing system, though indigenous, is drawn mainly from Ayurveda. With the arrival of Chinese migrants to Thailand, aspects of traditional Chinese Medicine have also been integrated into traditional Thai Medicine, along with healing practices of the indigenous hill tribes of neighboring Burma, Laos and Cambodia. This wide ranging blend of local healing tradition has much to offer for the Western lifestyle aswell.Thailand herbal medicine

The earliest known work on Asian herbs appeared in China as early as 100 B.C.E. Li Shih-chen’s (1386–1644) chronicle of herbal medicines (1578), which has been used for the last four centuries, consists of 52 volumes, cataloging 1,898 herbs or substances and a total of 11,096 separate prescriptions.

In herbal medicine, there are four main diagnostic methods: visual inspection, inquiry, auscultation and smelling, and pulse diagnosis. The pulse reveals specific aspects of a person’s health. Taking a pulse is, therefore, one of the diagnostic acts of an Asian herbalist doctor.

The doctor tries to identify the psychosocial, environmental, and dietetic causes of symptoms, and prescribes remedies, including advice on psychosocial issues.

A firm belief is that the use of medicines must be assisted by nourishment of the body. Herbal therapies often provide nutrients for the body to overcome illness and to build up the body’s defense against disease. Good medicines and nutrients replenish and strengthen the essence of “Qi.”

When Qi, which flows through channels and collaterals (jing and luo) in the body, is blocked or out of balance, illness or pain ensues.

Traditional Thai medicine is adapted from the Chinese wisdom and the practices which Thai people have inherited from their ancestors and passed down from generation to generation.

A Holistic Approach

In Thai philosophy, a life is seen as a combination of body, mind, and spirit. These echoes the Ayurvedic principal that man is a three-part comprise Shareer (body), Manas (mind), and Chitta (consciousness). Holistic medicine follows a balanced approach to healing through a combination of therapies designed to strengthen the body’s own defenses, instill a sense of mental and physical harmony, and eradicate disease from the root by promoting a naturally healthy lifestyle.

When thinking about traditional Thai healing, perhaps the first thing that comes to our minds is the Thai massage pronounced Nuad Boran in Thai. However, more than being just a spa therapy for relaxation, Thai massage is a medical treatment used to treat diseases and disorders of all kinds, especially stress, sore muscles and back pain. The underlying tenet of the Thai massage routine is the theory of the sen, or the energy lines.Thai Energy Lines

Although at first glance there seems to be some similarity between the Thai and the Chinese systems, these meridians are quite different. The sen, like the Ayurvedic nadi, do not correlate with any organ system the way the Chinese meridians do.

The Thai meridians all begin at the navel and end at the extremities of the body. Rather than correspond to a single organ, the Thai meridians may be used to treat any organ system through which they pass along their course. Traditional Thai massage also utilises medicinal herbs in its’ practice.

For some time, the scientific community in the West looked upon traditional remedies in the East with suspicion. The former could not accept the claim of the latter without objective scientific evaluation. In recent decades, however, there has been a healthy crossover from Western biomedicine to Chinese traditional medicine. Pharmacologically, the cross-fertilization came earlier.  Aspirin one of the West’s popular pain-relieving compounds, for instance, has its origin in a tree bark.

Biomedicine is increasingly looking toward traditional medicines for possible solutions to some of the intractable chronic illnesses. As life expectancies lengthen, chronic illnesses will increase. As environment-related diseases increase and lifestyle-related illnesses become more prevalent, Chinese traditional medicine, which takes a more holistic view of health and has had thousands of years of empirical successes, should offer different approaches to the treatment of diseases and advice for health preservation and promotion.

At the end of the twentieth century there was an explosion of interest in herbs as food supplements for better health. The trend of self-help for better health fueled this interest. Ginseng is an example of an herb that is widely accepted as an agent to help fight cancer as well as to add vitality to life.Ginseng

While many Chinese herbal medicines have proven to be effective, however, quality and dosage control remains a serious concern. Pharmaceutical companies have to comply with governmental regulations on the production of drugs, but food supplements are not subject to similar review and control for quality and proper dosage.

The perception that all herbs, because they are natural, have no side effects is erroneous and some herbal substances are toxic. It is important therefore to be educated about herbs before consuming them.

An Easy Introduction to some Basic Medicinal Herbs of Thailand.
Most of these herbs are also used in food preparation so included here are both medicinal and cooking usage.

Black pepper

Black pepper, like many eastern spices, has historically been used as both a seasoning and a medicine. Long pepper, being stronger, was often the preferred medication, but both were used, for such illnesses as constipation, diarrhea, earache, gangrene, heart disease, hernia, hoarseness, in digestion, insect bites, insomnia, joint pain, liver problems, lung disease, oral abscesses, sunburn, tooth decay and toothache.




Thai herbal medicineCinnamon is an evergreen tree native to Sri Lanka. Cinnamon has been known from the earliest times. In medicine it acts like other volatile oils and once had a reputation as a cure for colds. It has also been used to treat diarrhea and other problems of the digestive system. Cinnamon is high in antioxidants. The essential oil of cinnamon also has antimicrobial properties, which can aid in the preservation of certain foods. It is principally employed in cookery as a condiment and flavoring material.



Cloves are used in Ayurveda called Lavang in India, Chinese medicine and western herbalism and dentistry where the essential oil is used as an anodyne (painkiller) for dental emergencies. Cloves are used as a carminative to increase hydrochloric acid in the stomach and to improve peristalsis. Cloves are also said to be a natural antihelmintic. The essential oil is used in aromatherapy when stimulation and warming are needed, especially for digestive problems. Topical application over the stomach or abdomen are said to warm the digestive tract. Cloves can be used in cooking either whole or in a ground form, but as they are extremely strong, they are used sparingly.


Coriander in herbal medicine

Coriander seeds have medical value for problems with the teeth and in the mouth. Thai people gargle the boiled Coriander seeds with water in the mouth to help release toothache. Rubbing whole fresh coriander into a rash helps to relieve the associated symptoms.





Galangal in Thai herbal medicineGalangal is a herbaceous plant and its’ roots are generally used in Thai kitchens. The taste is dull spice and bitter and it is one of the main ingredients in Tom Yam and in many curry pastes. Galangal helps release flatulence and the feeling of a bloated stomach. It also cures urticaria, hives, nettle rash, ringworm, and eczema. Application of fresh ground Galangal root and juice on the symptomatic area will result in a cure.




Ginger in Thai herbal medicineGinger root helps fix symptoms of vomiting, flatulence, bloated feeling, coughing, gastritis, inability to defecate. The stems and flowers also help you cope with gastritis, bloat, flatulence, bowel motion problems, and help with expulsion of parasites, worms, and diarrhea.





Holy basil or Sacred basil

Holy BasilHoly basil or Sacred basil helps release flatulence, bloat, heartburn, coughing, fever, expells parasites, and cures ringworm. Crushed holy basil leaves will repel mosquitos.






KaempferEating Kampfer roots helps relieve stomach ache, flatulence, bloated feeling, suffering from strangury, gives energy, and helps to boost your libido. Also, it can be externally used to cure ringworm and eczema. Kaempfer roots or ‘Gra-Chaay’ in Thai, is used in many spicy dishes with coconut milk, such as ‘Hor Mok’ or without coconut milk, such as Jungle curry and has a unique pungent taste.



Kaffir lime

Kaffir limeThe skin helps aid digestion and helps vitalize your heart. Traditionally the juice from the fruit is used as an aromatic shampoo to treat dandruff and it is really effective. Kaffir lime leaves are also widely used for aromatic purposes in the Thai kitchen, such as in Tom Yam and green curry. Kaffir lime fruit tastes like lime but it’s not as sour and a bit bitter. Its skin is a main ingredient in many curry pastes, for example, green curry paste and red curry paste.




LemongrassLemongrass stems help relieve cold symptons, headaches, coughing and flatulence. Also, it helps release the gas in your stomach, diarrhea, aching, suffering from strangury, and asthma. Lemongrass roots have the capacity to release heartburn, gastritis, suffering from strangury, and ringworm. The leaves will relieve fever and reduce blood pressure.
Lemongrass is one of the main ingredients in Thai dishes. The cure is in the food so eating Tom Yam is obviously good for your health.




LimesLime juice and fruits have the medical value of Vitamin C, nourishing your skin, hair, voice, helps to expel parasites, releasing gas in your stomach, flatulence, bloat, fever, cough and curing of allergic rashes and spots. A common use in Thailand is as a drink lime juice plus the seeds with a little bit of salt mixed in will help relieve cold symptoms and expel phlegm.




Siam Cardamom

siam cardamomSiam Cardamom, or Camphor seed grows in Thailand, Sumatra, Java, and other East India islands. Cardamom has a strong, unique taste, with an intensely aromatic fragrance. Dried fruits are used as carminative and for anti-flatulence.
It is a common ingredient in Thai dishes where the recipe is influenced by Indian cooking.




Sweet Basil

sweet basilThe leaves of Sweet Basil help relieve headaches, cold, flatulence, bloated feeling, and period pains. Crushed leaves are used to cure bruises and rashes. Sweet Basil is a good for digestion and will help relieve ‘red-eyes’ and conjunctivitis. Its seeds swell and become glutinous when mixed with water making it a good staple ingredient for puddings or mixed with syrup or juice as a dessert.




TamarindTamarind is a great natural laxative, aids digestion and produces a swift result after eating. It is a tropical tree, native to Africa and grows to a very large size. The fruit pulp from mature fruit is edible and popular but the hard green pulp of a young fruit is very sour and acidic and cannot be consumed directly, but is often used as a component of savory dishes. The ripe fruit is edible, as it becomes less sour and somewhat sweeter, but still very acidic. It is used in desserts as a jam, blended into juices or sweetened drinks, or as a snack. In Thailand, there is a cultivated sweet variety with little to no tartness, grown specifically to be eaten as a fresh fruit. It is also sometimes eaten preserved in sugar with chili as a candy.


TurmericTurmeric has the medicinal value of releasing flatulence, bloated feeling, diarrhea, gastritis, and skin diseases like ringworm and dermatitis. Turmeric is used in some Thai dishes like Yellow curry.