Thai Herbal Medicine: Traditional Recipes for Health and Harmony

Chapter 3. Everyday Herbs

Food Therapy, or Everyday Medicine

According to a legend told in Buddhist scripture, when the “Father Doctor” Jīvaka was a young man, he was given his final examination by his master. He was challenged to go off into the forest and find a plant that could not be used as a medicine. After searching a large area, Jīvaka returned and declared to his teacher that everything he saw was, in fact, medicinal. At that point the master knew that Jīvaka had completed his training. It is with this philosophy that traditional healers have approached the world for thousands of years, and it is this philosophy that continues to form the backbone of traditional Thai medicine.

Because of the connections between the sense of taste and the medicinal effects on the body, everything we put in our mouths (even things that are tasteless) transforms our bodies and minds. Many medicinal herbs mentioned throughout this collection are ingested every day in the typical Thai diet. In traditional Thai cuisine, almost every dish is considered to be therapeutic in some way or another. In fact, the Thai herbalist traditionally will recommend modifications to the diet before recommending more powerful herbal medicines. An old Thai proverb says that all diseases originate in the food we eat. In the West, we also say “we are what we eat.” If we eat well, we will enjoy health, well-being, and longevity; if we eat poorly, we will become unhealthy, unhappy, and prone to illness.

The Six Tastes System

As mentioned in Chapter 2, one of the Taste classification systems in Thailand uses six flavor categories to explain the medicinal effects of food. It is important to understand that this is a completely different system than the Nine Taste system. For example, many foods that fall into the Oily Taste in the Nine Taste system in fact fall into the Sweet Taste category in the Six Taste system. This latter system is used when approaching the foods that we eat for nourishment, with the goal of eating for optimal health.

Ideally, a balanced meal will include all Six Tastes. Individual dishes have particular flavor profiles and should be combined with intention. (For example, Thai tom yum soup contains all Six Tastes, however it is weighted toward the Spicy/Hot, and is therefore balancing for Wind and Water. Eating sweet mango with sticky rice may be beneficial for someone whose Wind is amplified, while it is less so to one with amplified Water Element.) By combining the right flavors in the right combinations, a meal can balance the Elements and support the health needs of the eater.

While it is best to base these decisions on the individual who will consume the meal, one can also use seasons to aid in the choice. Perhaps the easiest way to get started with this approach to cooking is to simply decide if you wish for the meal to be cooling or warming. Cooling meals should be taken in hotter weather, and warming meals in colder weather in order to counteract the effects of the climate. If you wish it to be cooling, look for flavors that will subdue the Fire Element. If you wish it to be warming, look for those that amplify the Fire Element.

Examples of Foods Classified by Six Tastes




Bitter greens (arugula, kale, collards, dandelion), lime rind, radicchio


Black pepper, chilies, garlic. (Aromatic Pungents include cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger)


Unripe bananas, tea leaves, pomegranate skin, turmeric


Celery, seaweed, fish, seafood, salt


Lemons, limes, vinegar, yogurt, starfruit


Licorice, watermelon, coconut, dates, mango, sugar, honey, milk

In addition to taking Tastes into account, a knowledge of the health properties of individual ingredients is useful. Knowing that, say, nutmeg is good for the heart, or that licorice is good for the lungs, will go a long way toward creating meals that bring health to those who eat them. See Chapter 6 for more about the benefits of specific herbs.

Avoiding Toxins

In our opinion, Jīvaka’s motto that everything is medicine should be reinterpreted in modern times. Certain man-made foods that are available today are so toxic to the system that we would argue they don’t have enough redeeming nutritional or medicinal qualities to offset the dangers of eating them. Herbalists, natural healers, and traditional nutritionists the world over have warned that the following modern foods and additives should be on everyone’s list of items to avoid:

Highly refined sugars

The tendency in Western health communities to vilify all sugars does not fit with TTM theory. Natural unprocessed sugars are considered extremely useful medicines for hydration, and honey is used in countless medicines for a variety of purposes. This said, sugar intake should not be excessive, and highly refined sugars should always be avoided. The worst culprits include white crystalized sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, which are poisons to the body, overtax the metabolic system, and can lead to diabetes and liver or kidney problems. Use honey, grade B maple syrup, raw sugar, stevia, jaggery, or palm sugar as a substitute.

Bleached white flour

This over-processed food is extremely common in modern Western cuisine. Bleached flour not only can contain high levels of toxins but it has been stripped of almost all of its nutritional value (which then is added back in to make “enriched flour). White flour breaks down rapidly into sugar in the digestive system, and leads to the same conditions as excess sugar consumption. Furthermore, white flour is exceedingly difficult for the digestive tract to handle, leading to sluggish digestion, and depletion of the Wind and Fire Elements. Use unbleached white or whole wheat flour instead.


Milk is another case of an over-processed food. Much of the nutritional value in raw milk is neutralized by the pasteurization and homogenization process, and then has to be added back in after processing. The vitamin D touted by the dairy industry is usually an additive, and can just as easily be ingested through other foods or supplements. The dairy industry is also a leading user of hormones and antibiotics, which many health advocates believe can enter the human system and cause long-term damage to the endocrine and immune systems. Raw or pasteurized cream-top milk from grass fed cows is largely considered a better nutritional choice, although there are some concerns with its safety and local laws vary. You can also use kefir or yogurt, goat milk, or dairy substitutes such as homemade almond or rice milk.

Hydrogenated Oil

With a chemical composition close to plastic, hydrogenated oils are some of the most dangerous and non-nutritive substances in our foods. Hydrogenation is usually done for consistency or texture, as food companies believe it makes the food appear less greasy than whole oil. The process renders beneficial oils useless by the body, and hydrogenated oils are immediately stored as fat. Hydrogenated oils also lead to heart and circulatory disease. Look for hydrogenation-free products, as these are widely available.

Artificial Colors, Flavors, Preservatives, and Other Additives

The typical Western consumer eats piles of chemical food additives in every meal. These unnatural ingredients are both unhealthy and unnecessary. Read the nutritional labels on your food purchases, and look for alternative, 100 percent natural foods. Remember that in TTM, everything you put into your mouth has a transformative effect on your body and mind. It is therefore essential that you eat mindfully, trying to maximize the natural, healthy ingredients in your diet and minimize the artificial additives.

When examining the typical American diet, you may notice that many of us eat items from the above list in every meal. In fact, some “American classics”—such as a hamburger, fries, and Coke from a fast-food chain, or Froot Loops and milk for breakfast—are almost totally made up of these items. Individuals should try to limit the amount of junk food intake, especially the very young and the very old, who lack the strength to deal with these toxins. According to the Thai theories of the Elements and Tastes, overeating these foods can result in serious disorders. Most of the above items are Sweet foods, which deplete the Wind Element, leading to depletion of digestion, sexuality, and mobility, and increasing the effects of aging. Because of their refined processing, these foods affect the body much more strongly than natural foods, which is what you should use if you are looking for the Sweet flavor.

Another consideration that we might keep in mind, although Jīvaka did not mention it and it is more of a modern concern, is the long-term global effects of our dietary choices for the sustainability and health of our planetary environment. For example, while they are not the health hazards that some of the foods above are, items such as palm oil, musk, shark’s fin, and so forth are directly related to environmental destruction and the endangerment of wild animals. We believe that foods that are environmentally unsustainable should be avoided as much as possible. This is not only a moral but also a health issue, as personal health becomes ever more difficult to maintain on a damaged planet.

There has been considerable controversy over the safety and ethics of genetically modified foods lately, which is an issue that deserves special mention. While GMOs are commonly sold in the United States, they are restricted in other countries with stronger food safety laws. Even if it is definitively proven that GMOs are safe to eat, there are considerable ethical problems that have yet to be worked out, including the environmental impact and social costs of corporate monopolies on seed supplies. For these reasons, we are currently of the belief that GMO foods should be avoided.

Dietary Regimen for Health and Longevity

While TTM provides guidelines for incorporating the Six Tastes into everyday dietary decisions, it is important to remember that some Element fluctuation is natural with seasonal shifts, time of day, and age. It is not recommended that anyone undertake extreme dietary change in reaction to these natural shifts. In general, it is also not suggested that you undertake a wholesale change all at once, as this will lead to further Elemental imbalances. Instead, you should lean slightly away from certain foods and slightly toward others on a seasonal basis, or to accommodate for an imbalance. For instance, it is normal and appropriate that most people become slightly more Fiery during the summertime, slightly Windier in the fall, and slightly more Watery in the winter. We are living organisms, not static objects, so movement in our Elemental balance is simply a side effect of being alive. The following guidelines are therefore suggestions for incorporating certain Tastes, not rigid rules.


•  Children up to age 16 should consume more Sweet, Bitter, and Sour foods to ward off childhood illnesses, colds, and coughs.

Recommended herbal supplements for children’s diet: anise, honey, gooseberry, lemon, licorice, lime, longan, milk, pineapple, tamarind.

•  Young adults aged 16−32 should consume more Astringent, Salty, Bitter, and Sour foods for vitality, healthy blood, and bile.

Recommended herbal supplements for young adult diet: aloe juice, bitter gourd, chrysanthemum, gooseberry, green tea, lemon, lime, orange rind, pineapple, pomegranate, seafood, tamarind.

•  Adults aged 32 and older should consume more Spicy/Hot, Bitter, Salty, and Astringent foods.

Recommended herbal supplements for middle-age adult diet: aloe juice, basil, bitter gourd, black pepper, cardamom, cayenne, chrysanthemum, cinnamon, clove, garlic, ginger, green tea, jasmine, lemongrass, lotus, orange rind, pomegranate, seafood, turmeric, all bitter greens.

•  Adults aged 50 years and older are recommended to use special herbs as part of their diet for strength, longevity, and the heart.

Recommended herbal supplements for older adult diet (in addition to suggestions for those aged 32 and up): asafoetida, honey, jackfruit, papaya, safflower, sesame.


TTM includes a number of different ways of connecting the seasons of the year with the dietary changes and herbal remedies one should consume. The most common of these systems counts three seasons. The advice for the three seasons are as follows:

•  In the hot season, individuals should consume more Bitter, Astringent, and Sweet foods, which are cooling to the system and relieve Fire Element diseases.

•  In the rainy season, one should ingest more foods of the Salty, Spicy/Hot, and Sour Taste, which alleviate the effects of Wind.

•  In the cold season, Spicy/Hot (including the gentler Aromatic Pungent herbs) foods are recommended to stimulate the Fire Element.

Since most of the West has four, rather than three, seasons, some reinterpretation will be necessary if we are going to apply these principles to our own yearly cycles. TTM does have a Four Season System based on the lunar calendar, and the adventurous herbalist can attempt to correlate these dates with the Western calendar. In our opinion, however, it is easier to start by modifying the Three Season System for use outside Thailand. The hot season and cold season clearly correspond to our summer and winter, and many areas of the United States and Europe have what could be considered a rainy season in the springtime. Of course, some flexibility and judgment will be required when using these recommendations outside of Southeast Asia.

In addition to these dietary recommendations, there are traditional herbal remedies associated with each season as well. These are described in detail in the list of medicinal recipes in Chapter 5.

Time of Day

A further breakdown of Taste recommendations can be given according to the time of day as follows:

MORNING: Eat more Sour foods, as they dissolve phlegm

MIDDAY: Eat more Bitter and Sour foods to calm Fire

EVENING: Eat more Spicy/Hot and mild foods to assist with digestion

Daily Dietary Supplements for Elemental Balance

There are certain Taste recommendations for daily intake depending on your core Elemental constitution (or which Element is agitated within you, if different). A little of the following should be consumed each day.

Excited Element

Eat a Little Every Day


Ghee, nuts, healthy oily things


Bitter things, such as bitter greens (kale, collards, dandelion, arugula, and so forth) and bitter melon. Also, cooling foods such as watermelon.


Two glasses of hot water with lime, honey, and ground black pepper each morning before meals. Also eat sour, slightly diuretic foods such as roselle or hibiscus tea.

All Elements

Seven black peppercorns each morning, swallowed whole like pills. Some say this was the Buddha’s medicinal recommendation for all people, and maintains general health regardless of your Elemental balance.

Thai Recipes for Health and Harmony

Rich in spices and covering a wide gamut of flavors, Thai cuisine is noted for its often surprising combination of tastes. A Thai curry will be Spicy/Hot, Sour, and Sweet. A dessert may be Sweet and Salty at the same time, with a Fragrant/Cool twist. This interesting and unusual combination of flavors makes Thai food one of the most sophisticated cuisines in the world.

There are several reasons why tropical cultures around the globe usually develop more flavor-laden cuisines than their temperate counterparts. One reason is simply that a wider variety of food is available year round. Another reason is food preservation. All pre-modern societies used such techniques as smoking, pickling, fermenting, and drying to preserve food, but in hot climates where food spoils quickly, these methods of preservation were elevated to a high art form. Throughout the equatorial regions of the world, where spices are more plentiful, one still finds the frequent use of such herbs as garlic, ginger, and chili to aid in food preservation. In Southeast Asia, a wide range of fermented and pickled foods is still consumed, especially in rural areas, where refrigeration is a more recent development. The Thai diet includes many such foods, including mangoes pickled and rubbed with chili, dried bananas preserved in honey, fermented fish paste, and other strong-tasting delicacies that are highly stimulating, bizarre, and sometimes even distasteful to the Western palate.

Another reason for the liberal use of spices may be their medicinal qualities. In the tropics, where the climate is more conducive to bacterial, fungal, and viral infections, it seems only natural that the cuisine would include larger quantities of antibacterial herbs and spices. Not only do many herbs prevent bacteria from spoiling the food, but they are a type of daily “food therapy” to ward off illness. To give an example, Thai tom yum soup is an excellent remedy for intestinal trouble and the common cold. The main ingredients in the soup (galangal, kaffir lime leaves, garlic, and chili) are herbs that are known for their decongestant and antibacterial properties.

The following are recipes for Thai dishes that particularly embody the principles of “food therapy.” These dishes are common throughout Thailand, and unless otherwise noted these recipes come from our own kitchen experimentations.

In all of the recipes below, you can feel free to experiment and make substitutions for unavailable ingredients. For vegetarian/kosher, use tofu, tempeh, or seitan instead of meat, and vegetable stock. Instead of fish sauce and shrimp paste, use soy sauce, salt, or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos. In recipes that call for palm sugar, use evaporated cane juice or raw sugar as a substitute if unavailable. Before you decide that an ingredient is unavailable, though, be sure to check and see if there are any Asian grocery stores in your neighborhood. The ingredients used in our recipes below should all be available with a little bit of detective work.



A favorite appetizer in Thailand, this is a cornucopia of medicinal herbs, a fun hors d’oeuvre, and an instant “taste of Thailand.” It is a perfect example of a dish that truly uses all six Tastes and that can balance all the Elements in the body. Amounts for individual ingredients for this dish are not given, but a handful of each should suffice.

Use any or all of the following. (Asterisks denote core ingredients):

*  Peanuts, roasted and salted

*  Coconut, shredded and toasted

*  Lime, chopped into 1/8-inch segments, including the rind

*  Shallots, chopped small

*  Fresh Thai chili peppers, minced (remove seeds for milder spice)

*  Garlic, minced

–  Ginger, shredded

–  Raisins

–  Starfruit, diced

–  Cashews, roasted and salted

–  Wild pepper leaf (use culantro, sesame leaf, chard, or spinach as substitute)

Dipping sauce ingredients:

–  1 part honey

–  1 part water

–  Cilantro, diced

–  Dried cracked red chili to taste

Typically, this dish is served by placing smaller bowls with each individual ingredient around a central plate of betel or lettuce leaves. Allow your guests to make their individual creations by wrapping the leaves around any or all of the other ingredients.

• • • • •


This tasty snack is sold by street vendors all over Thailand. It is excellent for dissolving phlegm and has blood-purifying properties.

–  1 unripe mango, peeled and sliced into ¼-inch thick, long slices

–  2 tbs (30 ml) sea salt

–  2 tbs (30 ml) palm sugar

–  2 tsp (10 ml) dried chili flakes

Mix sea salt, sugar, and chili flakes. Dip your young mango slices and enjoy!

• • • • •


The pandanus palm is used in herbal medicine as a heart tonic, a fever-reducer, and a diuretic. In this dish, the leaves are not eaten, but their use in the cooking process infuses their medicinal qualities into the chicken. (This recipe is used with permission from the Chiang Mai Cookery School.)

–  7 oz (190 g) chicken breast, cut into twenty 2-inch pieces

–  20 pandanus leaves (nori seaweed may be used as substitute)

–  4 tbs (60 ml) roasted sesame seeds

–  1 tsp (15 ml) ground black pepper

Sauce Ingredients:

–  1 tbs (15 ml) light soy sauce

–  1 tbs (15 ml) tapioca flour

–  1 tbs (15 ml) sesame oil

Marinate chicken in sauce ingredients for half an hour. Add sesame and black pepper, and mix well. Wrap each piece of chicken in pandanus leaf, and secure by tying a knot with the leaf. Heat oil on medium heat in wok. Fry chicken or tempeh or tofu pieces for 5 min, until cooked. Drain on paper towels, and serve with chili sauce below.


A great accompaniment for some of the dishes above, or any time you long for a spicy tangy dipping sauce. Being sweet and spicy, this sauce good in moderation for Wind Element. (This recipe is from the Chiang Mai Cookery School.)

–  3.5 oz (100 g ) cilantro root, chopped finely

–  9 oz (250 g) garlic, chopped

–  7 large red chilies, finely chopped

–  24 oz (700 g) palm sugar

–  5 oz (150 g) daikon or white radish, sliced in thin strips

–  1.5 cups (375 ml) vinegar

–  ¼ (2 ml) tsp salt

Put all ingredients into a saucepan, and simmer on low heat for 20 min, until the sauce is thick, stirring occasionally. Once cooked, the sauce can be bottled and stored for up to one month in the refrigerator.

Main Dishes


One of the most popular dishes in Thailand, tom yum soup is the quintessential therapeutic dish, calling for a blend of spices that consists of many herbs recognized around the world as powerful tonics and antibiotics. This soup subdues the Water Element. It is a very soothing meal for intestinal trouble, and is especially beneficial for those suffering from congestion or cold without fever. Tom yum soup becomes tom kha with the simple addition of a ½ cup (120 ml) of coconut milk at the end. (This recipe is used with permission from the Chiang Mai Cookery School.)

–  10 oz (280 g) prawns, washed, peeled, and de-veined

–  3 cups (700 ml) chicken stock

–  6 cloves garlic, crushed

–  6 shallots, sliced

–  2 stalks lemongrass, white portion only, sliced into 1-inch pieces

–  10 thin slices of galangal, skin removed

–  7 oz (190 g) straw mushrooms, cut in half

–  8 cherry tomatoes, halved

–  20 small green Thai chilies, halved lengthwise (use less for milder spice)

–  3 tbs (45 ml) fish sauce or soy sauce

–  2 tbs (30 ml) lime juice

–  5 kaffir lime leaves, de-stemmed

–  2 tbs (30 ml) cilantro, chopped

Put stock, garlic, shallots, lemongrass, and galangal in a large stockpot and bring to a boil. Add mushrooms and tomatoes, and bring back to a boil. Add chilies, fish sauce, and kaffir lime leaves. Cook over medium heat for 2 min. Add prawns, and cook for 1 more minute. Remove from heat, and add lime juice. If adding coconut milk, add at the very end, after heat is turned off, to stop the lime juice from curdling it. Garnish with coriander before serving. (Serves 4.)

NOTE:When serving this soup, one typically includes pieces of the lemongrass, galangal, and chilies that were used in cooking, but these should not be eaten.

• • • • •


A spicy, rich curry that is 100 percent Thai, and one of the country’s most distinctive dishes. To simplify this recipe, buy green curry paste from any grocery that sells Thai food. Green curry is a good example of a Thai dish that incorporates all six medicinal Tastes. It is a well-balanced meal that is beneficial for all of the Elements, as long as it is not made overly spicy or sweet. (This recipe is from the Chiang Mai Cookery School.)

–  10 oz (280 g) chicken breast

–  3 tbs (45 ml) green curry paste (use only 2 tbs, if store-bought)

–  1 cup (240 ml) coconut cream

–  1 cup (240 ml) coconut milk

–  3 eggplants, cut into ½-inch pieces

–  2 tbs (30 ml) palm sugar

–  1.5 tbs (25 ml) fish sauce

–  2 kaffir lime leaves, de-stemmed

–  1 cup (240 ml) sweet basil

–  1 green chili, sliced

–  1 red chili, sliced

Green Curry Paste Ingredients:

–  1 tsp (5 ml) coriander seeds, roasted

–  1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) cumin seeds, roasted

–  1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) black peppercorns

–  1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) salt

–  1 tsp (5 ml) galangal, chopped and skin removed

–  3 tbs (45 ml) lemongrass, white part only, chopped

–  1 tsp (5 ml) kaffir lime leaf, chopped

–  2 tbs (30 ml) cilantro root

–  2 tbs (30 ml) shallots, chopped

–  1 tbs (15 ml) garlic

–  1 tsp (5 ml) shrimp paste

–  1 tsp (5 ml) turmeric, chopped and skin removed

–  20 small green chilies

–  1 cup (240 ml) sweet basil leaves

To make the curry paste, grind the dried ingredients into a powder with a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder. Mash all other ingredients with a mortar and pestle or in a food processor. Mixed the dry with wet ingredients, and set aside.

Put all but a couple of tablespoons of coconut cream into a wok, and simmer on medium heat for 3−5 min, stirring continuously. Add the green curry paste, and simmer for 1−2 min. Add chicken, and cook until white.

Add palm sugar, thin coconut milk, and eggplant, and bring to a boil. Cook 4−5 min, until eggplant is slightly soft. Add kaffir lime leaves and half of the basil leaves. Remove from heat. Garnish with chilies, remaining basil, and remaining coconut cream. (Serves 4.)

• • • • •


Green curry’s sister dish, the equally famous Thai red curry. Again, to simplify preparation, you can buy red curry paste from any store that sells Asian foods. (This recipe is from the Chiang Mai Cookery School.)

–  9 oz (250 g) fish or butternut squash, cut into bite-sized pieces

–  3 tbs (45 ml) sesame or peanut oil

–  4 tbs (60 ml) red curry paste (use only 2 tbs, if store-bought)

–  3 cups (750 ml) coconut milk

–  2 large eggplants, cut into bite-sized pieces

–  4 oz (100 g) bamboo shoots, cut into bite-sized pieces

–  2 tbs (30 ml) fish or soy sauce

–  3 kaffir lime leaves, de-stemmed

–  2 large red chilies, seeds removed and sliced

–  Basil leaves

Curry Paste Ingredients:

–  1 tsp (5 ml) galangal, skinned and grated

–  2 tsp (10 ml) lemongrass, white part only

–  1 tsp (5 ml) kaffir lime peel

–  1 tsp (5 ml) coriander root

–  1 tbs (15 ml) coriander seeds, roasted till brown

–  2 cardamom pods, roasted till brown

–  1 tsp (5 ml) salt

–  1 tsp (5 ml) black pepper

–  3 tbs (45 ml) chopped shallots

–  3 tbs (45 ml) chopped garlic

–  1 tsp (5 ml) shrimp paste

–  10 large dried red chilies, seeds removed and soaked in water for 10 min.

–  10 small red chilies

To make the curry paste, grind the dried ingredients into a powder with a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder. Mash all the other ingredients with a mortar and pestle or in a food processor. Mix the dry with wet ingredients, and set aside.

Fry the curry paste in oil in a wok over high heat for 3 min. Add coconut milk, and boil. Add eggplant and bamboo shoots, and simmer for 4 min. Add fish sauce, kaffir lime, and fish. Cook for 2 min, until fish is done. Serve garnished with large chilies and basil leaves. (Serves 4.)

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A tonic widely recommended by Thai herbalists, bitter gourd is beneficial for those with excited Fire Element, including fevers. The bitter gourd is accompanied in this dish by spicy herbs that encourage digestion and detoxification. However, if you are using this dish medicinally to treat Fire, you should omit or decrease the chilies. (This recipe is from the Chiang Mai Cookery School.)

–  7 oz (190 g) bitter gourd, chopped into ½-inch pieces (chopped zucchini, squash, or green beans may be substituted if you do not need the Bitter Taste)

–  3.5 oz (100 g) extra-firm tofu

–  4 tbs (60 ml) sesame oil

–  1 small onion, diced

–  6 cloves garlic, chopped

–  1 tbs (15 ml) shredded ginger

–  2 red chilies, sliced

–  ½ cup (120 ml) chicken stock

–  2 oz (60 g) spring onions

–  2 tbs (30 ml) light soy sauce

–  2 tbs (30 ml) fish sauce

–  3 tbs (45 ml) oyster sauce

–  2 tbs (30 ml) sesame oil

–  4 tbs (60 ml) chopped basil

Prepare the tofu by boiling the slab in water for 10−15 min, until firm. Let cool, and crumble by hand. Heat oil in a wok or sauté pan over medium-high heat.

Fry garlic until brown. Add onion, and cook until soft. Add ginger, bitter gourd, tofu or scrambled eggs, sauces, chili, and 2 tbs water, and cook until bitter gourd is soft. Garnish with basil before serving. (Serves 4.)

• • • • •


Som tam, also known as “pok-pok” for the sound of the mortar and pestle when making it, is the most popular street-vendor meal in northern Thailand and is wonderful for stimulation of the digestion. The recipe calls for unripe papaya, which is a rich source of digestive enzymes, but this dish is delicious with unripe mango, raw zucchini, carrots, summer squash, or cucumber. When ordering this dish in Thailand, it may come garnished with fermented soft-shelled crab.

–  7 oz (190 g) unripe papaya, peeled and grated into thin strips (carrots and cabbage may be used as substitute)

–  3 cloves garlic

–  10 small green chilies

–  ¼ cup (60 ml) green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces

–  2 tbs (30 ml) dried shrimp

–  2 tbs (30 ml) fish sauce or soy sauce

–  2 tbs (30 ml) lime juice

–  1 tsp (5 ml) palm sugar

–  4 cherry tomatoes, halved

–  2 tbs (30 ml) peanuts, roasted

Put the garlic, chilies, and beans into a mortar and pound with a pestle. Add papaya, and bruise. Add dried shrimp, fish sauce, lime juice, and palm sugar, and stir well. Mix in tomatoes and peanuts. Serve cold with sticky rice on bed of lettuce or cabbage. (Serves 2.)

• • • • •


This spicy traditional northern dish is considered good for stimulating digestion and increasing appetite. Jackfruit is used to calm diarrhea, and many of the ingredients are considered beneficial for lower digestive tract issues, such as flatulence and indigestion. (This recipe is adapted from the book Food for Health, by the TTM Development Foundation.)

–  1 fresh young jack fruit, or two 10 oz cans young jackfruit (if using canned, be sure it is in water or brine, not syrup)

–  1 cup (240 ml) diced tomato

–  1 cup (240 ml) cha om (Thai acacia) leaves, finely chopped

–  9 betel leaves, chopped

–  7 oz (190 g) chopped pork ribs

–  4 c (950 ml) fresh water

Chili Paste Ingredients:

–  5 dried chilies soaked in water

–  1 tbs (15 ml) fermented fish

–  4 slices galangal

–  5 shallots

–  3 cloves of garlic

–  1 tbs (15 ml) salt

In a large mortar and pestle or food processor, grind all chili paste ingredients until a smooth paste is formed. Set aside.

If using fresh young jackfruit, smash lightly until soft. Peel and cut into small pieces, removing core and seeds. Soak jackfruit in lime juice to prevent discoloration. Set aside.

Boil water over high heat. Add pork ribs or bouillon. Add chili paste mixture and jackfruit, and simmer until well done, about 30 min. Stir in tomato. Add betel leaves and cha om just before finishing. Season to taste with salt or fish sauce.

• • • • •


This delicious green dish is beneficial for not only the iron and calcium in the greens but also as a medicinal food that promotes good sleep and has a detoxifying effect on the body. Stir-fried morning glory is a popular dish throughout Southeast Asia.

This recipe is fairly standard throughout Thailand, with possible variances including using oyster sauce instead of mushroom sauce, chicken broth instead of water, and pounding the garlic and chilies together into a paste first for a stronger flavor. Note: The name “morning glory” is used for many plants. We are here referring to Ipomoea aquatica, which is available at many Asian groceries.

The Thai name of this dish translates as “red fire fried morning glory,” named because of the flames that often leap up around the hot wok as the leaves are added.

–  6 oz (170 g) fresh morning glory, washed and cut into 2-inch pieces (use spinach as a substitute)

–  12−15 cloves garlic

–  ½ (120 ml) cup raw cashew nuts

–  4 fresh small red Thai chilies

–  1 tbs (15 ml) palm sugar syrup (see instructions in compendium entry)

–  3 tbs (45 ml) soy sauce

–  3 tbs (45 ml) mushroom sauce

–  4 tbs (45 ml) vegetable oil

–  3/4 cup (180 ml) water

This dish cooks very quickly, so be ready! Gently crush the whole garlic cloves so that they are still whole but slightly mashed. Put oil in a wok or pan over very high heat. When oil is very hot, but not yet smoking, add garlic and cashews and quickly fry until garlic is golden brown. When garlic turns brown, add all the other ingredients and flash-cook over high heat for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat, and serve with rice.

NOTE:The speed of cooking is very important with this dish, as it can overcook quickly. Once the morning glory goes into the wok, it should not cook much more than 60 seconds at a maximum.

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Spicy dips (nam prik) are a traditional staple of northern Thai food. They are so common that one can find pre-roasted eggplant, garlic, shallots, and chilies sold skewered on sticks in the open markets, ready to be taken home and mashed together.

Often a meal will consist of one or two nam priks served with sticky rice, steamed vegetables, and pork skins. This recipe for green chili dip increases appetite and stimulates the body to sweat. (It is adapted from the book Food for Health, by the TTM Development Foundation.)

–  7 Thai long mild green chilies (you can substitute Anaheim chilies or any other long, light-green or yellow chili with some heat to it)

–  1 Japanese eggplant (optional)

–  5 cherry tomatoes

–  1 clove of garlic

–  5 shallots

–  2 tbs (30 ml) fish sauce

–  1 tsp (15 ml) salt

–  1 tbs (15 ml) scallion, cilantro leaves, and banana leaves coarsely chopped

–  Lime juice to taste

Traditionally, the chilies, eggplant, garlic, and shallots are wrapped in a banana leaf and roasted. For modern preparation, first dry-roast the chilies by placing them in a very hot, dry cast iron pan.

Cook, pressing down on the chilies with a spatula, until blackened. Remove and set aside. Add the garlic, eggplant, and shallots to the pan, and repeat the process. Deseed the chilies, then mash all the ingredients together in a large mortar and pestle until you have a chunky thick paste. Serve with sticky rice, plenty of vegetables, and other items.



An easy dessert, and a soothing relief for sore throat, laryngitis, fever, and flu. A great substitute for ice-cream, and an instant refresher on a hot day. Not recommended for those with depleted systems or diseases of mucus. Also not recommended during cold weather or when women are menstruating, due to the depleting properties of chilled foods. At such times, a warming variation of this dish can be made by heating coconut milk, palm sugar, salt, and toppings, and eating hot.

Main Ingredients:

–  Coconut cream (unsweetened)

–  1 tbs (15 ml) palm sugar, melted in 1 c (240 g) of water

–  Shaved ice

Toppings (any or all of the following):

–  Corn, cooked

–  Barley, cooked

–  Bananas, chopped

–  Cantaloupe or honeydew melon, cubed

–  Dates, de-pitted

–  Raisins

–  Taro, cooked and cubed

–  Sweet potato, cooked and cubed

–  Pumpkin, cooked and cubed

Prepare small bowls of shaved ice by adding 2 tbs coconut cream, 1 tbs of palm sugar water, and a pinch of salt. Top with any or all of the toppings.

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There is a whole category of nourishing Thai desserts called gaeng buat. All of them involve cooking legumes or vegetables in sweet coconut milk. These desserts are nourishing for depleted bodies, young children, and the elderly. They are also healthy for those with agitated Wind or Fire Element, but should be eaten sparingly if you have agitated Water Element, including diseases of mucus.

–  ½ (120 ml) cup coconut milk

–  1 cup (240 ml) water

–  2 cups (224 g) Thai pumpkin, skinned and cut into large bite-sized pieces

–  ¼ cup (60 ml) palm sugar

–  ½ tsp (2.5 ml) salt

–  ¼ (cup 60 ml) coconut cream (optional)

Put coconut milk, water, salt, and sugar in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Lower heat, and simmer while stirring, until sugar is dissolved.

Add pumpkin, and cook until done, being careful not to overcook the pumpkin, as it is not as nice if it is mushy. Turn off heat, and add coconut cream. Serve warm or cold. The milk will thicken a bit as it cools, so the dessert is thicker served cold.


When making a tea drink, unless otherwise noted, it is best to use water that has had a moment to calm from boiling, or use water that was just brought to a simmer. Water at a high boil is too hot for some of the more fragile flowers in the recipes below.

• • • • •


This warming drink stimulates digestive Fire. It is beneficial for colds, indigestion, menstrual pain, and nausea.

–  10 stalks of lemongrass

–  6 cups (1 liter) water

Bruise the lemongrass by gently hitting the lower 2/3 of the stalk with a heavy object such as a pestle. Cut the lower 2/3 of the lemongrass stalks into 2-inch lengths, and place in a pot with the water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 15−20 min, adding water as needed to compensate for evaporation.

Turn off heat, strain out lemongrass pieces. Sweeten as desired with a natural sweetener, such as palm sugar, evaporated cane juice, raw sugar, or honey. In Thailand, this drink is generally made very sweet. It can be drunk hot or cold.

• • • • •


This green drink benefits conditions of the heart-mind—that is, the heart and the mind, which are considered a single function in TTM. It benefits both the physical heart and the emotional heart, as well as the brain and the mind. Asiatic pennywort can be found in many Asian food markets.

–  2 bunches Asiatic pennywort

Juice the Asiatic pennywort in a juicer and drink. Sweeten as desired with a natural sweetener, such as palm sugar, evaporated cane juice, raw sugar, or honey.

BUTTERFLY PEA FLOWER TEA (NÁM AN CHAN น้ำอัญชัน) … with magic!

Butterfly pea tea is sold by market vendors throughout Thailand. It is a beautiful blue- or purple-colored drink made from the dried butterfly pea flowers. It is said to treat depression, soothe the heart-mind, relieve stomach and menstrual cramps, and is known to be beneficial for healthy hair growth. In the West, you can grow your own butterfly pea vine, or you can order the dried flowers online.

–  1 handful dried butterfly pea flowers

–  2 cups (680 ml) simmering water

–  1 slice lime

Pour simmered water over the dried flowers and allow to sit for about 5 min. The water will turn a deep rich blue. Strain out the flowers, and squeeze the lime juice into the tea.

This is where the magic happens; your deep blue drink will turn vibrant purple. Add honey or palm sugar to taste (most Thais like it very sweet), and drink warm or chilled.

• • • • •

MULBERRY TEA (NÁM DTÔN MÒN น้ำต้นหม่อน) or


Mulberry tea is beneficial to drink when you feel dehydrated or feverish. If you live where mulberries grow, you can harvest the leaves and berries and dry them to be used as needed throughout the year. Roselle tea or juice is beneficial for kidney stones and urinary tract infections. They are both delicious! If you cannot get roselle flowers, you may substitute dried hibiscus flowers as they are closely related.

–  1 handful fresh or dried mulberry leaves and berries or dried roselle flowers.

–  2 cups (680 ml) simmering water

Pour water over the leaves and berries, and steep for 10 min. Add a pinch of sea salt (especially if you are in a hot climate) and a natural sweetener. Drink hot or chilled.


While most people do not have the equipment needed to press the juice out of sugar cane, it is possible to purchase it in the West in many Asian and Latino grocery stores. Sugar cane is extremely beneficial for those suffering from dehydration resulting from heatstroke, fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. The Sweet Taste is medicinally rejuvenative, and fresh sugar cane juice will hydrate the body faster than simply drinking water.


Fruit shakes can be tonics for health, strength, and vitality, with a stimulating effect on the digestion and a detoxifying effect on the body.

–  1 cup (240 ml) fresh pineapple

–  1 cup (240 ml) fresh longan

–  1 cup (240 ml) fresh papaya

–  1 tsp (5 ml) papaya seeds

–  1 fresh mandarin orange

–  ¼ cup (60 ml) unsweetened coconut cream

–  ¼ cup (60 ml) fresh sugar cane juice, honey, or palm sugar syrup (see instructions in compendium)

Squeeze juice from orange. Liquefy all other ingredients in blender. Drink cold.

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A tasty and unusual drink found in Southeast Asia, an avocado shake will surprise you with its sweet, rich flavor, and it is packed with vitamins and beneficial fatty acids. At the street stalls, this is made with condensed milk. We prefer to use more healthful substitutes. If you omit dairy ingredients, it makes a great vegan milkshake.

–  1½ cup (360 ml) plain soy or almond milk

–  ½ cup (120 ml) chipped or shaved ice

–  1 avocado

–  1½ tbs (22 ml) palm sugar, cane juice, honey, or raw sugar

Combine milk, ice, sugar, and avocado in blender. Serve immediately.

• • • • •


Bael fruit is sliced and dried for making tea. It is balancing to the Elements, and soothes the stomach. It also is said to calm sexual energies. Bael tastes slightly like persimmon.

Simply pour boiled water over dried bael fruit and allow to steep for approximately 10 min. Drink hot or chilled, adding a natural sweetener, as you please.

Herbs in Cosmetics

While most of this chapter has concerned food, some mention should be made of the traditional place of herbs in cosmetics. Medicinal herbs are commonly used cosmetically for their natural tonifying, rejuvenative, and skin-cleansing properties. Even today, in the largest cities in Thailand, some of the following traditional recipes enjoy more popularity than modern brand-name items. We recommend trying these natural recipes for a period of a few weeks, while abstaining from commercial products, in order to compare results. While a few of these recipes may take some getting used to, in a short time you will easily see the benefits of using home-made natural remedies instead of the massed-produced chemical alternatives. All of these preparations are 100 percent natural, and by using them you will lessen your exposure to the unnatural chemical compounds that are common in today’s health and beauty preparations.

The following recipes are a mixture of traditional formulas and new discoveries inspired by Thai uses of herbs. In most of these recipes, we have purposely left out the proportions of the active ingredients in order to encourage experimentation. Have fun mixing your own products, and keep a log of what works (and what does not)!

• • • • •


Coconut, raw sesame, and olive oils are great moisturizers. (In fact, their main use in Thailand is cosmetic, and they are commonly sold in Thailand at the pharmacy as opposed to the grocery store!) Use olive oil for moderate to dry skin, coconut oil for severely dry skin, and sesame for severely dry skin that is also cold. Coconut oil has a cooling effect, and sesame oil has a warming effect, so you can also choose your oil based on the climate you are in.

Add 1 part fresh aloe gel to 2 parts oil, and apply thinly to the body. Allow 20−30 min for the nutrients to soak into the skin. Rinse off with warm water in the shower (don’t use soap), and towel vigorously. For best results, an oil rub should follow a full-body dry-brush with natural fiber loofah or body brush.

• • • • •


Make the above recipe, substituting light olive oil. Add a splash of tamarind juice or kaffir lime juice and a dash of cider vinegar. Apply as above. The astringent action of the fruit juice in this recipe will cut through grease and cleanse the pores, while the cider vinegar helps maintain the skin’s natural pH balance.

• • • • •


An effective hair wash can be made by adding 2 handfuls of eucalyptus leaves (freshly mashed with mortar and pestle) to a quart of cold water along with one of the following ingredients:

–  Jasmine

–  Ylang ylang

–  Rose

–  Champaca

Let stand overnight, strain, and use as a rinse for hair. You will have to experiment with the quantity of eucalyptus. Use smaller amounts for dry hair, more for oily. Either mixture will keep up to 7 days, if refrigerated.

Eucalyptus is the cleansing agent in this shampoo, but Thai shampoos can also be made with kaffir lime, soap nut, neem, pomelo leaf, and other herbs. Try these if they are available in your area.

• • • • •


Cold-infused flower water is also perfect as a cleansing face and body mist. Soak any fragrant flowers (such as jasmine, rose, or ylang ylang) in cold water overnight, and strain. A standard spray-bottle is ideal to deliver an even mist to the face and body. When making mists, use distilled water for longer shelf life, and if using essential oils, be sure to use a moderate concentration to avoid irritation of face.

• • • • •


Coconut oil, almond oil, or extra-virgin olive oil can give body and life to dry, brittle, or damaged hair. Mix in a splash of lime juice and mashed watermelon rind. Apply to the hair, making sure to rub the oil into the roots and scalp as well. Stand outside in direct sunlight for 10−15 min, allowing your hair to drink in the oil’s nutrients and richness before rinsing off in the shower (but don’t shampoo).


To soften skin, eliminate acne, combat wrinkles, and ease topical irritations, the Thais use powdered ginger, a natural antibacterial and skin toner. Mix 2 tbs powdered ginger with 4 tbs of either:

–  honey (for dry skin)

–  kaffir lime juice (for oily skin)

Stir to a paste-like consistency. Apply to the face, taking care to avoid mouth and eye areas. For best results, let the mask sit 15 min. While rinsing with warm water, gently scrub for a mild exfoliant.

• • • • •


Ripe papaya is a natural exfoliant and skin softener. Use fruit pulp, or apply the rind directly to the skin. Let stand for 15 min before rinsing.

• • • • •


Lemon juice and tamarind juice can both be used as natural astringents, are safe to apply to the face, and confer the benefits of vitamins and minerals to the skin at the same time as they cut through grease and grime. A teaspoon of cider vinegar may also be added to help maintain the natural pH balance of the skin.

• • • • •


While it may be initially strange for those of us who grew up on commercial toothpaste, natural tooth powder can be made that is just as effective, and it is 100 percent chemical free. Here are a few options:

Tooth Powder Recipe No. 1

–  3 parts neem powder

–  3 parts toothbrush tree powder (if available)

–  3 parts betel leaf powder

–  1 part clove powder

–  1 part salt

–  2 parts alum powder

Mix the powders together and store in air-tight container. Wet toothbrush, and dip in powder, then brush as normal.

Tooth Powder Recipe No. 2

–  8 parts neem powder

–  8 parts toothbrush tree powder (if available)

–  8 parts triphala powder

–  4 parts cinnamon powder

–  4 parts clove powder

–  2 parts star anise powder (optional)

–  1 part licorice powder

–  ½ part salt

–  ½ part alum powder

Mix the powders together and store in air-tight container. Wet toothbrush, and dip in powder, then brush as normal. This formula can be used as a mouthwash or gargle as well.

• • • • •


Heat 1 part beeswax and 3 parts coconut oil over a low flame until melted. Remove from heat, and let cool in a metal or glass container. Use as necessary for dry, chapped lips, nose, and hands.

• • • • •


Many of the herbs in this collection may be used as a light antiseptic mouthwash for combating oral bacteria, mouth sores, and bad breath. The following herbal teas can be used as a gargle after brushing teeth. Any combination of these may be used and may be mixed with other herbs or flowers (such as peppermint, jasmine, or lotus) for enhanced flavor:

–  cinnamon

–  ginger

–  eucalyptus

–  sea salt

–  senna

–  cloves

–  paracress

–  toothbrush tree

–  galangal

• • • • •


A perfectly safe and non-irritating insect repellent that actually works!

–  ½ tsp (3 ml) citronella oil

–  1/8 tsp (1 ml) jojoba oil

–  1/8 tsp (1 ml) tea tree oil

–  1/8 tsp (1 ml) neem oil

–  ½ cup (150 ml) distilled water

Mix all ingredients in a spray bottle. Shake well before using.

• • • • •


A remarkably easy and useful recipe:

–  1−2 drops aloe gel

–  2 tsp (10 ml) saline solution

Mix well. Will keep in the refrigerator up to 7 days.

Herbs in the Household

Household products are among the most pervasive sources of harmful chemical toxins in our daily lives. The following are natural alternatives inspired by Thai herbal approaches, but not necessarily recorded in TTM texts.

• • • • •


White distilled vinegar is a cheap and natural alternative for cleaning and disinfecting counter-tops, tables, and bathroom surfaces. Dilute 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water in a spray-bottle for easy application. Use a stronger concentration for problem areas, and add essential oils such as lavender or eucalyptus for added antibacterial action and a pleasant aroma. Pure vinegar may be used on carpets and upholstery to remove stains and odors, even from pets. Also try soaking fruits and vegetables in a light vinegar and water solution for 30 minutes to an hour before cooking to remove sediments, waxes, and pesticide residues.

• • • • •


Lemon and lime juice are quite effective for removing tarnish and grime from copper, silver, and other metals. Cut fresh lemons or limes into wedges, dip into salt, and rub vigorously on tarnished surfaces. For particularly stubborn stains, scrub with a coconut husk or rough cloth. Rinse with water.

• • • • •


Put a drop or two of effervescent essential oil on a handkerchief, and drape over a lamp for 2−3 minutes. Small rooms will quickly be filled with a pleasant aroma without chemical perfumes or aerosol sprays, and you will benefit from the healing powers of aromatherapy at the same time. Perfect for freshening up the bathroom or creating a bit of ambiance in the bedroom. (For best results, try using thick musky or woody scents, such as patchouli or cedar.)

• • • • •


For an herbal alternative to the unpleasant odor of mothballs, make a sachet with dried cedar chips and lavender in a thin cotton cloth or cheesecloth. (A handkerchief with a few drops of essential oils may also be used.)

• • • • •


A popular method of keeping away mosquitoes in Thai villages is to keep a few handfuls of fresh citronella grass under the bed. The same principle can be applied in a modern setting. Use a few drops of essential oil of citronella in a diffuser or on a handkerchief, and you will sleep undisturbed.

• • • • •


Baking soda is the perfect natural cleanser for almost any surface. Use it on stainless steel, silver, other metals, and porcelain. Works well in toilets, in ovens, and for unclogging drains. (Of course, it also cleans your teeth!)

• • • • •


While not an herb, we present the following window-cleaning option as an alternative to chemical cleaners, and as a point of interest. Newsprint is an effective cleansing agent; it can clean windows and other glass surfaces as well as any name-brand product, and without streaking. Spray water directly onto glass, and wipe dry with newspaper. It’s that easy!