There are many different ways that this book may be approached. If you are a trained herbal medicine practitioner, it will be a rough manual, an herbal reference compendium, perhaps an inspiration to try new things. If you are a Thai bodywork practitioner, then this book introduces you to practices that can support Thai bodywork, such as incorporating hot herbal compresses, heating balms, and liniments into a massage practice. If you are a novice herbalist, someone who likes the do-it-yourself approach to life, it will offer you simple formulas for household herbal products, treatments for mild conditions such as lice and the common cold, and the contents of a Thai herbal first-aid kit. For those with a love of the kitchen, it presents Thai cooking as a delicious way to maintain health, with an understanding of how what we eat affects our internal balance. And for those interested in history and culture, it provides a glimpse into ancient traditions still being practiced in one corner of the world.
Regardless of which sort of reader you are (and indeed you may be more than one), here are a few bits and pieces of guidance to help you to wade through:
• Before you dive straight into the recipes or formulas, we encourage you to read about the Elements, as this will bring greater understanding of the system as a whole before you get into its specifics.
• In this book, as is typical in discussions of herbal medicine, the word “herb” may apply to any substance ingested or absorbed into the body though skin, inhalation, eyes, or suppositories. This includes plants, animals, clay, stones, insects, and antlers.
• Measurements, whether they are for culinary recipes, household products, compresses and balms, or teas and pills, are rarely exact. When it comes to culinary recipes we encourage you to play. Taste, add more of this; taste, add more of that. Herbal compresses also have lots of room for experimenting. With herbal medicines such as balms and internal formulas, you should stick more closely to the formula, but even here it is usually okay if you have slightly more or less of something than asked for. In fact, this is how one can use the recipes given here as a basis for customizing individualized treatments.
• When making Thai medicinal formulas, it’s best to use earthenware containers and to mix the herbs in a clay bowl or pot. Glass or ceramic containers are also acceptable. Stainless steel is okay, too, although it is not preferable. Aluminum and plastics are considered toxic and should not be used for medicine or food.
• Traditional Thai medicine is never neat and tidy, and often it is quite messy. In researching and writing this book, we have gathered information from a combination of historical texts, modern papers, and direct transmission from teachers—but regardless of the sources, we have stuck to presenting information as it was recorded and taught to us. Thus, the information for individual herbs presented in one part of the book sometimes strays outside of the codified lists that are presented elsewhere.
For example, “chum” is a Thai word used to describe a strong, musky, odiferous taste that is often considered unpleasant, such as associated with the resinous rhizome asafoetida or the fruit durian. (In the West, this word could describe truffle oil or certain extra-ripe cheeses.) This word, which appears from time to time in the compendium, is not to be found in the Taste chapters. Since we are passing knowledge along and not inventing it, we ask our readers to roll with these inconsistencies, as we ourselves have learned to do.
• In the back of this book there is a translation of a traditional Thai medical text, the Wetchasueksa Phaetsatsangkhep, translated by Tracy Wells. The perceptive reader will likely spot some subtle differences between this translation and the information presented in the main text of this book. Most of these differences are simply matters of wording. While Tracy’s goal was to provide an accurate translation, our job in the rest of the book was to present the teachings in a way that could be best understood by a newcomer to Thai medicine. Some of the differences, on the other hand, are the result of the fact that different texts and teachers in Thailand do not always match up perfectly. Since none of the differences are dramatic and the basic teaching is consistent, we have left them as they are.