Thai Herbal Medicine: Traditional Recipes for Health and Harmony

CHAPTER 6. A Compendium of Traditional Thai Herbal Medicine

How to Use the Compendium

In this compendium, you will see an entry for each herbal medicine with the following information:

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Phonetic Thai transcription | Royal Thai transcription


TASTE: The medicinal Taste(s), mainly according to the Nine Tastes system (but sometimes with additional information drawn from other systems, from a range of teachers and texts)

PART USED: List of parts used medicinally.

Internal Application

•  How TTM texts and/or our teachers claim the herb should be used. This information is sometimes supplemented with additional points from our research in cultural or historical books, scientific papers, government websites, and comparative herbal traditions. Our sources are listed in Appendix 2. (This section is omitted when there are no known internal applications.)

External Application

•  Based on the same sources as mentioned above. (This section is omitted when there are no known external applications.)

Notes on cultural practices, availability, and cautions, based on our own observations as well as the sources mentioned above.

Herb Names and Language

Each entry provides an English common name (sometimes several), as well as the Latin botanical name, the Thai name in Thai script, and the Thai name in two different transliteration systems.

While several different systems exist to transliterate the Thai language into the Roman alphabet, no one method has emerged as the clear favorite. As a consequence, newcomers to Thailand are often mystified by differences in spelling. The two systems that we find most useful are the royal transliteration system (as given in the software available from and a phonetic transliteration system (as given by The royal system is useful when looking up Thai herbs in Thai herbal texts. However, the phonetic system will be more useful in attempting to pronounce the word (for instance when asking for an herb at a Thai herb shop).

When using the phonetic system, the tone marks described below are indispensable in helping you to pronounce the words properly. Thai is a tonal language, with five possible tones. Hence one word spoken with varying inflections can have up to five different meanings. For this reason, when using Thai words, you cannot ignore their tone.

The five tones are as follows:

1.  MID TONE: Spoken in a normal voice, without inflection. These words have no tone mark in the transliteration.

2.  HIGH TONE: Begin normally, but rise up at the end. Think of how you might say “Yes?” High-tone words are marked here with a ´ mark, above the word.

3.  LOW TONE: Said deep in your throat and belly rather than in your mouth. This gives them a deeper, lower tone. Low-tone words are marked with `.

4.  RISING TONE: Begin with a fall, then rise up. Think of your word as traveling through the U of a roller coaster. Rising-tone words are marked with ˇ.

5.  FALLING TONE: Sound a bit annoyed. Think about saying “come on!” for about the fifth time to someone who is making you late. Think of how the word “on” would sound, with a slightly long O sound, and bit of a whine that takes the word up, then down. Falling-tone words are marked with ˆ.

Note for the Second Edition

The following compendium has been altered from the first printing of this book to reflect a more traditional understanding of Thai medicine. Hence it is now missing some herbs such as eucalyptus (introduced to Thailand in the 1950s), ginseng (imported relatively recently from China), and lemon (non-native and rarely found in Thailand). We have also removed a few herbs listed in the first edition for ethical reasons, such as musk, which comes from deer that are in some places endangered, and datura, which is a particularly dangerous plant if used unskillfully. We have also added several herbs not found in the original edition. With few exceptions, we have made sure that the herbs included in the second edition are: (1) mentioned in TTM texts we have read or been taught by our teachers, (2) able to be obtained readily outside of Thailand, and (3) found in a recipe, formula, or remedy mentioned elsewhere in this book. Or, they were simply so amazing that they had to be included.

The information we have read or been taught about the individual herbs that follow has been supplemented by our research in a variety of herbal reference books and other materials, all of which are listed in the bibliography at the end of the book. Please review the warnings in the beginning of the book before using any of the herbs in this compendium.

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Aloe barbadensis/vera

wâan hăang jor-rá-kây | wan hang chorakhe


TASTE: Cooling, Bitter

PART USED: Leaves, gel

Internal Application: Traditional texts state that aloe is beneficial for treating ulcers in the stomach, and pulls out toxins from heat in the body. Aloe also strengthens the body. Among currently practicing traditional doctors, aloe is used for constipation and general weakness. Aloe has beneficial effects on the liver, spleen, uterus, and blood.

The gel of the aloe leaves is taken internally to regulate menstruation, for detoxification, for clearing up persistent lingering illness, for liver disease, and for chronic constipation. As it is a gently detoxifying laxative, aloe is a common adjuvant in the treatment of any infectious disease.

External Application: As is true the world over, aloe is used in Thai medicine to treat all kinds of topical burns. Traditional texts say that aloe nullifies the toxins or poisons from heat, and it assists in the healing of wounds. It is mixed with alcohol to treat abscesses, and it is protective to the skin. Aloe purges the tissues, is drying, and is also purifying. Yadam, the latex of the aloe plant, is used for constipation and bowel regularity.

The Thai name for aloe translates to “alligator tail plant.” It is used by some Hill Tribes to combat epilepsy, seizures, and rabies. In internal Thai medicine, the form of aloe most frequently used is the dried powder. This can be obtained at some Chinese herb shops and well stocked herbal suppliers in the West.

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Potassium aluminium sulfate

săan sôm | sansom


TASTE: Sour, Astringent

Internal Application: Alum powder is a white crystalline salt. Traditional texts state that it is used to treat inflammation in the lungs and to move internal stones. In regards to reproductive health, alum is beneficial for treating abnormal discharge and gonorrhea, and for cleansing menstrual blood. Alum powder also serves internally as a diuretic.

External Application: Alum powder is beneficial in stopping bleeding. Alum powder is added to toothpaste or tooth powder to fight tooth decay, and to strengthen unhealthy or loose teeth. Alum treats wounds in the mouth, and it is also used to treat gum infections. It may be used on the skin for rashes, eczema, itching, scabies, ringworm, and other skin parasites.

Alum powder can be purchased at most Asian food markets in the West.

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Phyllanthus emblica

má-kăam-bpôm | makham pom


TASTE: Sour, Astringent, Bitter


Internal Application: The meat of the amalaki fruit is an astringent beneficial for dysentery and diarrhea. It treats jaundice and helps with digestion, as well as mucus and fever accompanied by Wind. Amalaki is soothing to the throat and treats cough. It is also used for cleansing the blood and treating hemorrhoids. One of the highest natural sources of vitamin C, amalaki treats scurvy. It is used in the traditional formula Triphala, which is found in traditional medicine across much of South and Southeast Asia. The fruit is a daily tonic for the brain, nervous system, blood, bones, liver, spleen, stomach, heart, eyes, hair, nails, teeth, and gums. Because of its detoxifying and antioxidant properties, amalaki is especially beneficial for those with frequent colds, low immunity, smokers, and those that live in polluted environments.

External Application: Amalaki is primarily used for internal medicine

In Thailand, the dried pickled fruits are sold in bags and eaten. Amalaki can be found in the West at some Asian food markets, including Indian food markets, and can also be found through Ayurvedic herb suppliers.

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Andrographis paniculata

fáa-tá-laai-john | fa thalai chon


TASTE: Bitter


Internal Application: Andrographis is beneficial in diseases of amplified Fire such as conditions with fever. It is used as a flu preventative, and it benefits patients with strep throat. Andrographis aids coughs, sore throats, and various upper respiratory conditions. It strengthens the immune system and fights allergies. As a bitter tonic, it is particularly stimulating for the liver, and increases production of bile. It has a beneficial effect on all liver and gall bladder disorders, as well as diabetes and hypoglycemia. Andrographis is a detoxifying herb, useful in cases of intestinal infection such as dysentery and other diarrhea, and in cleansing the blood. Andrographis is also used to relieve constipation, treat fever, and to reduce blood pressure.

External Application: Andrographis is primarily used as an internal medicine; however, it can be applied topically to especially strong skin problems, including infections.

The Thai name, fáa-tá-laai-john, translates as “the heavens strike the thieves.” It is sometimes called the herb that kills 500 diseases, and it is used in Thailand extensively. When bird flu first hit Southeast Asia, Thailand nearly sold out of andrographis.

CAUTION : While beneficial for many diseases, this is a very cooling herb and should be avoided with cold conditions.

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Angelica sinensis

gòht chiang | kot chiang


TASTE: Chum, Aromatic Pungent, Mild, Fragrant/Cool

PART USED: Base of the stalk

Internal Application: According to TTM texts, angelica treats fever. Beneficial for bronchial asthmatic cough and relieves hiccups, angelica also treats inflammation of the trachea, toxic mucus, and is a heart and blood tonic. Practitioners use angelica for building blood, cleaning the blood, and for treating bruises. It is beneficial for any type of premenstrual symptoms, including cramps, headaches, bloat, and muscle spasms. It is also effective in promoting regular menstruation when blocked. Angelica is used as a cold remedy, and against flu, fever, and generally low energy or low immunity. In small doses, it also stimulates the appetite.

External Application: Practitioners use angelica in herbal liniments for trauma, such as contusions, sprains, and strains.

Angelica is most easily found in the West at Chinese herb shops and online herbal suppliers. Chum is an untranslatable word indicating a strong “funky” taste that is often perceived as unpleasant. It is often musky, or pungent and odiferous.

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Pimpinella anisum

tian sàt dtà-bùt | thian sattabut


TASTE: Aromatic Pungent, Sweet, and slightly Heating


Internal Application: Anise is primarily used in conjunction with other herbs. Anise treats Wind having to do with the fetus (there are winds that turn the baby, and winds that move the baby out of the mother’s body), and helps with shortness of breath and hiccups. If mixed with licorice it is good for treating cough.

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Ferula assafoetida

má-hăa-hĭng | mahahing


TASTE: Chum, Heating

PART USED: The resin extracted from the root of fresh, living plants

Internal Application: In TTM texts, asafoetida (also known in Thailand as “the devil’s dung”) expels Winds from the intestines, and thus treats abdominal problems, including bloating flatulence, tightness, gas pain, and stomachache. It is a tonic for the Elements, and it treats diseases of the nerves. Asafoetida also aids in digestion of food. A daily dose of asafoetida is reputed to be a tonic for the brain and the senses. It is also recommended for arthritis.

External Application: Topically, a poultice of asafoetida may be used to soothe arthritis and other joint pain.

Asafoetida and hing are commonly used names for this plant in the West. It can be found in Indian food markets, the bulk spice sections at many health food stores, and through online suppliers of herbs and Indian goods. Chum is an untranslatable word indicating a strong “funky” taste that is often perceived as unpleasant. It is often musky, or pungent and odiferous. Asafoetida is a spice with a particularly “chum” aroma.

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Centella asiatica

bua-bòk | buabok


TASTE: Bitter

PART USED: Leaves, stem

Internal Application: Asiatic pennywort is soothing to the heart and mind, relieving stress. It assists with mental clarity and calmness and brings emotional balance. Asiatic pennywort also reduces inflammation and heals contusions, and is beneficial for internal organs. It is used to treat psychological disorders, chemical imbalances of the brain, memory loss, Alzheimer’s, and epilepsy. It is high in vitamin A, and is considered to be an excellent tonic for old age.

External Application: Asiatic pennywort reduces inflammation, soothes burns, clears bruises, and improves quality of skin. It also breaks up adhesions, heals scar tissue, and benefits acute tissue trauma. Asiatic pennywort treats skin conditions, such as staphylococcus infection and shingles, draws out poisons, and relieves bites. It is used extensively in cooling balms and liniments, and fresh herb poultices for acute injuries.

Asiatic pennywort is known to have a particular affinity for healing the heart-mind, and so is used for a range of ailments from heartache to cardiac troubles. Street vendors sell Asiatic pennywort juice out of clay pots. In the West, fresh Asiatic pennywort can be found at many Asian food markets.

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Aegle marmelos

má-dtoom | matum


TASTE: Astringent, Sweet, Heating

PART USED: Unripe fruit

Internal Application: Bael treats the imbalanced Elements that are the cause of improper digestion. Bael is an appetizer, it increases strength, and it also expels gas. Bael is prescribed for any disorder of the intestines. The unripe fruit treats diarrhea, while the ripe fruit treats constipation, flatulence, and dysentery. The ripe bael fruit is traditionally used as a decongestant for the common cold, especially when there is excessive congestion of the lungs, as well as for tuberculosis and typhoid fever. Bael fruit is used for its stimulating properties in cases of exhaustion and convalescence from chronic disease or injury. Juice from the crushed leaves of the bael is given for respiratory infections, and decoction of the stem is said to be a useful antimalarial.

External Application: Bael leaves may be used topically as an antibacterial and antifungal for skin infections or wounds.

Bael is said to inhibit sexual energy and is for that reason drunk by monks at many monasteries.

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Musa spp.

glûay | kluay


TASTE: Unripe banana is Astringent. Ripe banana is Sweet. The flower is Oily.

PART USED: Fruit, flower, peel

Internal Application: According to traditional texts, the ripe fruit is an energy tonic. While it is not a laxative, it assists with the movement of the bowels. The unripe fruit is used for treating ulcers in the stomach as well as for diarrhea that contains undigested food. The banana flower reduces blood sugar levels, protects the intestines, and nourishes milk in lactating mothers. The ripe fruit of the banana is high in vitamins A and C, potassium, and carbohydrates, and therefore is useful for emaciation and wasting diseases. The ripe fruit is demulcent, the roots are diuretic, and the sap of the stem is Astringent.

External Application: While not the most effective option, in a pinch the peel of unripe bananas may be used for topical wounds to assist with healing.

There are 28 official species of banana in Thailand, with marked differences in size, shape, and flavor. Each has a different name in Thai, although glûay is useful as a general term. Some bananas are green when ripe, some are pink, others are mottled brown. According to traditional Thai cuisine, some are best in coconut milk, some are best raw, and some are only eaten soaked in honey and dried.

The flowers of the banana plant are similar in texture to cabbage and are added into salads or curries. The rest of the plant is utilized as well: the roots of the banana plant are converted into mulch, the fibers are woven into twine, and the leaves are used as plates and containers. A common method of cooking is to wrap ingredients such as rice, beans, fish, or vegetables in a banana leaf before grilling or steaming. The banana is also a source of wine, vinegar,cloth dye, and flour. Pureed banana is a popular baby food, and batter-fried bananas are a favorite street-stall snack.

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Ocimum tenuiflorum

gràprao | kraphrao


TASTE: Spicy/Hot, Sweet, Bitter

PART USED: Stem, leaves

Internal Application: While basil has many possible medicinal uses, the one it is most often employed for is correcting digestive issues such as gas, indigestion, nausea, and vomiting. Holy basil is also a common ingredient in treatments for colds and flu. As an antispasmodic, it is useful for any stomach or intestinal cramping, including those caused by irritable bowel syndrome, peptic ulcer, and gastritis.

Holy basil is also used in treatments for easing headaches, cough, sinusitis, and arthritis. While the herb may be used to combat constipation, the seeds are more effective laxatives. Some Hill Tribes use basil in the steam bath or sauna for eye infections or pain, and topically as a poultice for fungal infections.

External Application: In topical formulas, basil reaches the level of the sên, specifically the blood vessels, where it increases circulation.

There are many other types of basil grown in Thailand including horapaa โหระพา (usually simply called “Thai basil”) and Thai lemon basil. Thai holy basil is most commonly used in medicine, hence this is the one we have focused on here. They are not always interchangeable.

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Piper betel

phluu | phlu


TASTE: Spicy/Hot, Toxic


Internal Application: It is written in TTM texts that betel leaf treats tooth pain, sores in the mouth, and foul breath. It also alleviates gas, stomachaches, and diarrhea. Betel leaf also treats inflammation of the nasal passage and the throat.

External Application: Betel leaf is used externally for skin parasites, ringworm, and various fungi. It is also used for pain relief, and for treating bruises, itching, and rashes. It is beneficial for abscesses that come from tuberculosis. Applied topically to the chest, it acts as a decongestant and bronchodilator and is used in cases of congestion, difficult respiration, asthma, and diphtheria.

Betel nut is an addictive stimulant nut that is chewed throughout South Asia. It is generally mixed with a variety of other substances, including slaked lime, tobacco, and various spices, and has adverse health effects when used over time in this manner. The nontoxic leaf of the same plant can be found in the West in many Asian food markets.

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Terminalia belerica

sà-mŏr-pí-pâyk | samo phiphek


TASTE: Astringent, Sour, Sweet


Internal Application: Bibhitaki treats mucus in the throat, and soothes the throat. It treats eye diseases and hemorrhoids, and is used as a laxative. Bibhitaki calms excitement of the Elements, treats fever (especially fever that affects the eyes), and is an Element tonic.

External Application: Topically, bibhitaki is antiseptic.

Bibhitaki is found in the traditional formula Triphala, which is common throughout much of South and Southeast Asia. It can be found in the West through Ayurvedic herbal suppliers.

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Momordica charantia

má-rá kiî nók | mara khi nok


TASTE: Bitter

PART USED: Fruit, leaves

Internal Application: The bitter gourd that is used in Thai cooking is usually má-rá, a larger variety. However for medicinal purposes, the smaller má-rá kiî nók (which translates as “bird-dropping bitter melon”) is utilized. This melon is a bile tonic and blood cleanser. It increases appetite, strengthens the body, tonifies menstrual blood (treats scanty bleeding), treats the liver and spleen, and rids the body of parasites. Bitter melon is also beneficial for toxins arising from abscesses, and inflammation from various poisons, such as poisons from animals. It treats pain, Wind in the joints, and the juice helps conditions that affect the nerves of the mouth (such as Bell’s Palsy).

This fruit is commonly used in rural Thailand to fight AIDS, hepatitis, and cancer, as well as other systemic diseases. It has particularly beneficial effects on diseases of the liver, spleen, and pancreas. The juice of the vegetable is a laxative and fever-reducer. Eaten daily as a bitter tonic, steamed bitter cucumbers are routinely suggested for the elderly, diabetics, hypoglycemics, and those with chronic disease or illness.

It has also been shown to increase insulin production, and to have anticarcinogenic properties. Bitter cucumber is recommended for sluggish digestion, dysentery, chronic constipation, and flatulence. It is also reputed to be beneficial for poor eyesight, and is high in the antioxidant vitamins A and C. Bitter cucumber is listed in the Wat Pho texts as an appetizer, purgative, anthelmintic, and as a cure for leprosy.

External Application: Topically, bitter gourd is antiseptic and treats infected and inflamed wounds. The juice of the bitter cucumber can be used topically on the skin and in the mouth as an antiseptic. The leaves are mentioned in the Wat Pho texts in topical remedies for tendonitis, swellings, infections, and headaches.

The form of bitter melon used in cooking is readily available at Asian food markets in the West; however, the smaller form used in medicine may be difficult to acquire.

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Piper nigrum

prík tai dam | phrik thai dam


TASTE: Heating, Spicy/Hot

PART USED: Fruit (seed)

Internal Application: Traditional texts say that black pepper treats Wind of the “central channel,” and Wind that “feels like it is going to explode” in the abdomen—meaning that it treats gas in the abdomen. Texts also say that black pepper is an Element tonic, and that it treats sticky mucus and leukemia. Current practice uses black pepper for many cold conditions, and conditions in which Wind needs to be moved. It increases circulation, warms the body, and stimulates Fire Element.

External Application: Today, black pepper is used extensively by Thai herbalists in the making of balms and liniments. It is found in heating balms and liniments, as well as formulas for drawing liniments, joint pain liniments, and trauma liniments.

Swallowing 7 whole black peppercorns every morning is said to keep people of all Elemental makeups healthy. The Buddha is said to have prescribed this tonic to the forest monks who had little access to medical care. Black pepper, while not terribly hot to the tongue, is one of the hottest herbs once eaten internally. A bowl of black pepper soup will have you sweating profusely about 20 minutes after eating.

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Resin derived from a variety of trees, or synthetic compounding

pim-săyn | phimsen


TASTE: Bitter, Aromatic Pungent, Cooling

Internal Application: Borneol is a heart tonic and stimulant.

External Application: Borneol is found in many Thai balms and liniments. It opens the pores and the mucus membrane, so it can assist in transporting other herbs through the skin layer of the body. Its vapors clear and relax the mind. The vapors also serve to clear the sinuses. Borneol can also be used to treat itching caused by insect bites, and thus serves in insect repellents.

Borneol can be found online and through some Asian herbal suppliers. In addition to the botanical sources listed above, borneol can be synthesized from a combination of camphor and turpentine. You can spot real borneol by its pink tint.

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Clitoria ternatea

an-chan | anchan


TASTE: Cooling


Internal Application: Butterfly pea is taken internally to strengthen the hair, as well as to soothe stomach pains and cramps, and as a diuretic. Butterfly pea is also beneficial for depression and is soothing to the heart-mind. It is also beneficial for female reproductive health.

External Application: Butterfly pea is used externally for strengthening the hair, as well as for treating hair loss. The juice is used to treat eye diseases, and it is found in tooth powders for treating toothache.

Butterfly pea is used throughout Thailand to make a radiant purple drink that is commonly sold by street vendors. The botanical name for butterfly pea reflects the flower’s resemblance to the female genitalia, and (because of the doctrine of signatures) this flower is said to benefit female reproductive health. Butterfly pea flowers are also used as food coloring and cloth dyes. Butterfly pea plants are available in the West, and you can purchase the seeds online. You can also purchase dried butterfly pea flowers online.

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Acorus calamus

wâan nám | wan nam


TASTE: Heating, Bitter

PART USED: Rhizome

Internal Application: The primary use of calamus is to treat depression. It calms the mind, and acts as a nervine. Additionally, calamus is a stomachic traditionally used to treat indigestion, heartburn, gastritis, and hyperacidity, as well as to encourage appetite. Like most hot herbs, it is an effective cold cure and decongestant. It is used against cough, lung congestion, asthma, sinusitis, and fever. Calamus is considered to be a beneficial tonic and stimulant for the nervous system, especially the senses and the brain.

External Application: Calamus is found in liniments used to treat nerve pain and treats the sên.

Taken daily, calamus is said to enhance memory and sexual energy. In Western herbal medicine, smokers are told to chew the fresh rhizome in order to cause slight nausea, which aids in quitting smoking. Calamus is readily available at most Western herb shops.

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Cinnamomum camphora

gaa-rá-buun | karabun


TASTE: Heating, Toxic, Pra (an unpleasant taste)

PART USED: Crystals from the gum of the tree trunk

Internal Application: Camphor is used internally only in small doses. It is a heart tonic, and it purges or expels Wind. It should be noted that while traditionally camphor was made from the sap of a tree closely related to cinnamon, today most camphor is synthetic.

External Application: Camphor is found in many topical herbal formulas, such as balms and liniments. Camphor opens the pores and mucus membrane, and thereby aids with absorption and moves Wind. Camphor also serves as a natural insect repellent, and its presence in balms and liniments frequently makes them beneficial for relieving itching associated with insect bites. The vapors of inhaled camphor open the sinuses and relieve congestion. Camphor, whether taken internally or inhaled, has both a stimulating and calming effect on the mind.

Because camphor burns without leaving any ash, it is commonly considered to be a metaphor for the enlightened mind, which vanishes into Nirvana without a trace. Camphor crystals are a common ingredient in most Thai saunas, from the traditional hospitals to the modern health clubs. Camphor can be purchased through various herbal suppliers in the West. You can tell real camphor from synthetic camphor by the color; real camphor has a slight off-white tint to it, while synthetic camphor is pure white.

CAUTION : Camphor is a mild adrenal stimulant and should only be ingested in a very small quantity.

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Cassia alata

chum-hèt-tâyt | chumhet thet


TASTE: Bitter, Toxic

PART USED: Leaves, flowers

Internal Application: The candelabra bush, like other cassias, is a laxative. It is primarily a purgative that treats parasites. It is mentioned in the Wat Pho texts as a cure for constipation, flatulence, diarrhea caused by intestinal parasites, and blood or mucus in the stools.

External Application: The leaves of the candelabra bush are used topically as an antiseptic and antiparasitic for treatment of ringworm, fungal and bacterial skin infections, and wounds.

Candelabra bush should not be used internally by children, or patients with inflammatory bowel diseases. It is said that candelabra bush can be “powdered together with zedoary and dusted on the body of a child who is difficult to rear, in order to prevent illness.” It can be difficult to find in the West, but herbal suppliers can be checked.

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Amomum testaceum

grà-waan | krawan


TASTE: Aromatic Pungent


Internal Application: Cardamom is known for its stimulating qualities and soothing effects on the gastrointestinal system. The tea is taken all over the world for cases of flatulence, bloated stomach, sluggish digestion, irritable bowel syndrome, and gastritis. In Thailand, varieties of cardamom are used to ease stomach pain and cramping associated with gastritis and indigestion. Cardamom is also widely used as a cough suppressant, as well as to treat colds, bronchitis, asthma, and laryngitis. Cardamom is an Aromatic Pungent, and is therefore calming to the Wind Element.

External Application: Cardamom is found in compresses and herbal inhalers.

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Zingiber cassumunar

plai | phlai


TASTE: Heating, Astringent, Toxic

PART USED: Rhizome

Internal Application: Cassumunar ginger expels menstrual blood, helps relieve numbness, eases stomachache, and treats Wind. It is beneficial for constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, and flatulence. Juice squeezed from the fresh rhizome is taken with salt for indigestion, dysentery, diarrhea, inflammation of the intestine, and injury to internal organs. It acts as a bronchodilator for treatment of asthma. Some Hill Tribes use cassumunar ginger to help new mothers recover after delivery.

External Application: Plai is used extensively in the external application of herbs in Thailand as it is especially beneficial for the skin and tissue layers of the body. Plai helps with inflammation and trauma. It is beneficial for coagulation, contusions, sprains, and strains.

Many plants in the ginger family are commonly called “Asian ginger”, and turmeric is sometimes called “yellow ginger.” Hence, it is important to make sure that you are getting the correct herb. Plai is very hard to find outside of Southeast Asia; however, it can sometimes be found frozen in Asian food markets in the West, and it is possible to grow it in warm climates.

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Ricinus communis

lá-hùng | lahung


TASTE: Toxic, Heating

PART USED: Oil from the pressed seed and leaf

Internal Application: Castor oil taken internally causes purging. It works to promote vomiting, and can be used as a laxative. The leaves are used to promote milk production. Expels Wind.

External Application: Castor oil is used in various liniments, as it has the ability to draw from the tissue layer of the body to the external skin. Purging.

CAUTION : The seed of the castor plant, if eaten, is deadly. Only the oil can be taken internally, and be sure that it is cold-expressed (hot-expressed castor oil is toxic).

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Orthosiphon aristatus

yaâ nùat-maew | ya nuat maeo


TASTE: Tasteless

PART USED: Whole plant

Internal Application: According to traditional texts, cat’s whisker is used to eliminate urine, and it aids the excretion of uric acid. It also relieves problems with the kidneys and kidney or gall stones. Cat’s whisker lowers blood sugar and blood pressure and treats infections in the urethra.

While it may be difficult to find cat’s whisker being sold as a medicinal herb in the West, you can often find it being sold as an ornamental plant in nurseries.

CAUTION : Cat’s whisker is contraindicated with patients with cardiac conditions.

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Michelia champaca

jam-bpaa | champa


TASTE: Bitter, Fragrant/Cool

PART USED: Whole plant

Internal Application: The primary use of champaca is to treat the Subtle Winds and the mind. Tea from the champaca flower, like many aromatic herbs, is used to treat fever, chronic fatigue, and low immunity. It is also prescribed traditionally as a tonic for the heart, the nervous system, and the blood. Both the flower and the fruit are diuretic, antiemetic, fever-reducing (though only mildly), and are considered to be general tonics for the Elements. The leaf is used for neurological disorders, the bark of the stem reduces fevers, and the wood is a menstrual tonic.

External Application: Decoction of the champaca flower is applied to the temples to relieve headache. Decoction of the dried, ground root in milk is applied to abscesses.

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Chloranthus erectus

grà-dùuk gài [hŏm gài] | kraduk kai [hom kai]

กระดูกไก่ [หอมไก่]

TASTE: Aromatic

PART USED: Stem, leaves, roots

Internal Application: Chicken bone (called “aromatic chicken” in northern Thailand), is a plant used to treat fevers, sweating, headaches, and body aches. It is frequently mixed with cinnamon in formulas. It is also used to treat sexually transmitted diseases and muscle spasms.

External Application: Topically, chicken bone is used to treat inflammation and acute injuries.

This herb is not available in the West; however, it is a very useful herb for liniments that treat acute injury. If you happen to travel in Thailand, it can be found there.

• • • • •


Cinchona calisaya

dtôn kwí-nin | ton khwinin


TASTE: Bitter


Internal Application: Until the advent of more potent synthetic medications, quinine derived from chinchona bark was the remedy of choice for malaria. It is still used for this purpose in isolated areas of rural Thailand, and throughout the world in places where modern antimalarial drugs are unavailable. In smaller doses, chinchona bark is also useful for cases of influenza, fever, and as a daily bitter tonic to promote health and longevity. Internally, chinchona is beneficial for leg cramps and restless leg syndrome at night, and is a mild muscle relaxer.

The Thai name for chinchona contains a phonetic transliteration of the word “quinine.” This is not, in fact, a plant that is native to the area. It is nonetheless included here due to the significant role of antimalarials in the history of medicine in Southeast Asia.

CAUTION : In large doses, chinchona may cause headaches, dizziness, or stomach irritation. It may also cause uterine contractions, and should be avoided by pregnant women. It is toxic to some people.

• • • • •


Chrysanthemum morifolium

bayn-jà-mâat | benchamat


TASTE: Fragrant/Cool, Cooling

PART USED: Flowers

Internal Application: Chrysanthemum relieves thirst and benefits the brain, liver, heart, and eyes. Therapeutically, chrysanthemum is used to treat all disorders of the liver and eyes, irregular or blocked menstruation, menstrual cramps, and PMS. It is also said to cure headaches and sore throat, to lower fever, and to calm the mind.

External Application: Topically, chrysanthemum treats inflammation and the eyes.

In Thailand, iced chrysanthemum tea is commonly sold by street vendors.

• • • • •


Cinnamomum spp.

op-choie | opchoei


TASTE: Aromatic Pungent, Mild

PART USED: Bark, leaf

Internal Application: Cinnamon moves and thins the blood. It regulates blood sugar levels and warms the body. Cinnamon also reduces fever and is said to treat paralysis. It is a stimulant for the kidneys, heart, and circulation, and is especially good in cases of chronic circulatory deficiency, hypotension, and chronic coldness. The tea also counters nausea and vomiting, soothes peptic ulcers and gastritis, and promotes regular menstruation.

External Application: In balms and liniments, cinnamon’s ability to move and thin the blood aids the body’s ability to rid itself of accumulated toxins. It is used in drawing formulas and other formulas that require increased mobility in the blood. The oil has a heating effect on the skin layer of the body, and is often added to balms and liniments in order to warm the skin so that herbs affecting deeper layers of the body can penetrate.

• • • • •


Syzgium aromaticum

gaan phluu | kanphlu


TASTE: Spicy/Hot, Aromatic Pungent


Internal Application: Clove treats abdominal problems, such as gas and pain, and clears the sên.

External Application: Clove is used externally in balms and liniments for pain relief, and to open the sên. It also purifies the blood. Clove is also used as an oral analgesic.

• • • • •


Cocos nucifera

ma phráao | maphrao


TASTE: Coconut water is Sweet and Salty; the oil is Oily and Sweet


Internal Application: Coconut water cleanses the body, treats dehydration particularly well, and is very cooling. The meat and milk of the coconut are nourishing, and coconut oil is used internally to draw toxins into the digestive tract, so that they can be expelled from the body.

External Application: Coconut oil is used extensively for external treatment. It is frequently the base for balms and liniments intended to provide cooling properties and to soothe external heat-related symptoms, such as dry rashes. Coconut meat is shredded and dried and then used in compresses for the face and for symptoms of heat.

The coconut palm is one of the most useful plants in Thailand. The fibrous husks of the coconut are used to make rope, mats, and brushes. Young green coconuts are prized for their sweet water, while the mature coconut is shredded, mixed with hot water, and strained to produce coconut cream.

CAUTION : Coconut water should not be consumed by menstruating women. It is too cooling for this time, and can even stop the menses.

• • • • •


Coriandrum sativum

phàk-chee | phak chi


TASTE: All parts used are Bitter, Sweet, and Astringent. The seed is also Aromatic Pungent. The root is also Fragrant/Cool.

PART USED: Seed, Root

Internal Application: Coriander seeds are found in internal formulas designed to treat digestive issues, such as gas.

External Application: Coriander root decoction treats acute injuries to the eye.

Some people do not realize that coriander and cilantro (the Spanish word for coriander) are the same herb. In the United States, we use the word coriander to refer to the seed and the word cilantro to refer to the leaves; in most parts of the world, the word coriander covers the whole plant.

• • • • •


Saussurea lappa

gòht grà-dùuk | kot kraduk


TASTE: Oily, Mild, Aromatic Pungent


Internal Application: Costus root is a diuretic and an expectorant. It rids the body of mucus and water, and it has an affinity for the bones.

External Application: Costus root is used externally to rid the body of mucus and water. It also moves blood, and is found in drawing formulas (formulas applied externally for the purpose of drawing toxins to the surface of the body as a means of expelling them). Applied externally, it penetrates to the bone layer of the body.

The doctrine of signatures applies to costus root. Because it looks like bone, it is said to penetrate to the bone and to be beneficial for the bones. The Thai name grà-dùuk translates as “bone.”

• • • • •


Lagerstroemia speciosa

in-tá-nin nám | inthaninnam


TASTE: Bitter


Internal Application: Crepe myrtle leaves serve as a diuretic and are beneficial for diabetes and diarrhea. It reduces blood sugar levels and is beneficial for painful urination, kidney and bladder stones, and treatment of venereal diseases.

Crepe myrtle grows wild in various Western climates.

• • • • •


Eryngium foetidum

chee fà-ràng | chi farang


TASTE: Bitter, Sweet, Astringent

PART USED: Root, seed

Internal Application: Culantro is used as a laxative, and as a detoxifying purgative for malaria, allergic reactions, and poisonous insect bites. Another species, the amethyst holly (Eryngium amethystinum) is used for these purposes, as well as for increased immunity, chronic colds, and general longevity.

External Application: Culantro is used externally on allergic reactions and insect bites.

Culantro can be found in the West at Latino markets. The Thai name, phàk chee farang, translates as “foreigner’s coriander.” From this we can see that culantro is not native to Thailand.

• • • • •


Rosa damascena

gù-làap-mon | kulap mon


TASTE: Fragrant/Cool


Internal Application: Rose is calming to the heart-mind as well as to the Subtle Winds. Rosewater is a common ingredient in South Asian desserts. Hot or cold, it may be used as a stimulant to counter low immunity, low energy, and chronic fatigue. The tea is a cholagogue, meaning that it aids in digestion by stimulating bile; assists in assimilation of nutrients; and encourages regular menstruation. Rose flowers are added to the traditional sauna or steam bath for eye disorders and infections, and for a relaxing effect on nervous disorders, anxiety, insomnia, tension headaches, and stress. Rosewater is often used as a medicinal binding agent for powdered herbal formulas that need to be rolled into pill form.

External Application: Rosewater and rose infused oils are calming to the heart-mind and soothe the Subtle Winds.

• • • • •


Durio zibethinus

tú rian | thurian


TASTE: The leaves are Chum. The fruit is Sweet and Heating. The roots are Bitter, Spicy/Hot, and Astringent.

PART USED: Leaves, fruit, roots

Internal Application: The leaves of the durian tree treat jaundice, fever, and parasites. They also dry pus. The fruit heats the body, treats skin diseases, and dries up abscesses. It also expels parasites. The root treats fever and diarrhea.

External Application: Topically, durian treats wounds.

Durian is one of Thailand’s most famous fruits. It is known as the King of Fruits and is often paired with mangosteen, known as the Queen of Fruits. Durian grows to enormous size and has a strong odor that deters many foreigners from trying it. (Chum is an untranslatable word indicating a strong “funky” taste that is often perceived as unpleasant. It is often musky, or pungent and odiferous.) Throughout Thailand, signs can be seen in taxis, buses, and other forms of public transportation that state “no durian,” due to the smell. Durian contains high levels of tryptophan and is said to be slightly addictive, as it produces feelings of mild euphoria. It is also high in natural phytoestrogen, and for this reason is said to aid fertility. Durian is extremely high in many vitamins and minerals, in fact. Durian fruit can be found fresh or frozen in Asian food markets in the West. Always buy fresh for medicinal purposes.

CAUTION : Durian is one of the most Heating fruits available, and therefore must not be consumed with alcohol. In Thailand, they say that too much durian and alcohol together can be so overheating to the body it can be fatal. Studies have revealed that the sulphur content of durian interferes with the body’s ability to process alcohol, and that while not necessarily fatal, the combination does at the very least leave people feeling unwell. Some doctors advise against eating durian during pregnancy as so much is still not known about this powerful fruit.

• • • • •


Diospyros mollis

má-gleua | makluea


TASTE: Heating, Astringent

PART USED: Fruit, root, bark

Internal Application: The juice of the ebony tree fruit is used to purge tapeworms and other parasites from the intestines. The Wat Pho texts mention ebony tree root as a remedy for vomiting and nausea, and the bark as a remedy for emaciation or wasting associated with chronic illness.

Various Diospyros trees play the role of being the official provincial tree in different provinces of Thailand. Diospyros decandra is the provincial tree of Chanthaburi and Nakhon Pathom Provinces, and Diospyros malabarica is the provincial tree of Ang Thong Province.

CAUTION : It is widely held that combining ebony tree fruit juice with coconut milk may have toxic, even potentially fatal, results.

• • • • •


Foeniculum vulgare

tian-kâao-bplèuak | thian khao plueak


TASTE: Sweet, Aromatic Pungent


Internal Application: Fennel seeds are generally used in conjunction with other herbs in formulas that treat gas and Wind. Fennel is especially beneficial for treating Wind located in the center of the body, between the navel and the genitals.

• • • • •


Boesenbergia rotunda

grà chaai | krachai


TASTE: Spicy/Hot, Bitter

PART USED: Rhizome, leaves

Internal Application: Finger root is used traditionally to treat stomach discomfort and peptic ulcers. It is beneficial for flatulence, indigestion, and sluggish digestion, and is used as a general diuretic. It is also used for tooth and gum disease, diarrhea, dysentery, and as a general diuretic. Tea made from the finger root leaves is employed in cases of food poisoning and allergic reactions to food.

Finger root is used in Thai cooking to flavor soups and curries, and can be found in some meat and fish dishes, where it serves to override the meat/fish odors. Finger root is available in the West at Asian food markets. If you cannot find it fresh, you can generally find it frozen. It is named for its fingerlike appearance.

• • • • •


Cassia tora

chum hèt tai | chumhet thai


TASTE: Bitter, Toxic

PART USED: Whole plant

Internal Application: Decoction of foetid cassia seeds is preferred in cases of acute constipation and intestinal worms for its purging action on the bowels. It is also used to calm fevers, to lessen inflammation of the eyes, to lower high blood pressure and cholesterol, as a diuretic, and as a sedative. Decoction of the stem and/or root is also diuretic, and may be used topically to stop itching. Treats insomnia. NOTE: Seeds must be roasted until yellow smoke comes out before they can be used medicinally

External Application: Topically, foetid cassia is beneficial for itching and ringworm when mixed with oil. It also treats tick bites.

Foetid cassia grows wild on most continents.

• • • • •


Alpinia galanga

kàa | kha


TASTE: Spicy/Hot, Bitter

PART USED: Rhizome

Internal Application: Galangal is used internally to stimulate digestive Fire, and is recommended for indigestion, flatulence, and stomach troubles such as diarrhea and nausea.

External Application: Galangal is used externally to nourish the tissue, improve circulation, and fortify the blood. It is often found in hot herbal compress formulas, balms, and liniments, and can be used in external healing poultices. Combined with other herbs it can be used as a fresh herb compress for fungal conditions, such as athlete’s foot. Galangal can also be used for treatment of skin parasites and insect bites.

Galangal is the herb associated with the Wind Element and is found in the Element-balancing formula Benjagoon. While related to ginger, galangal is more aromatic and flowery. It is a key ingredient in many well-known Thai dishes, including tom yum, tom kha, and curries, and is one of the more common ingredients in Thai cooking. Galangal can be obtained from Asian food markets in the West. Look for rhizomes that appear lighter in color and have a plumpness to them despite their hardness.

CAUTION : As stated above, galangal is used for external skin treatment in poultices; however, caution must be exercised as external use of fresh galangal can cause minor superficial burning.

• • • • •


Garcinia cambogia

sôm kàek | som khaek




Internal Application: Used to heat the body. Dissolves phlegm, and reduces cough. Garcinia aids in weight loss by accelerating the metabolism of fats and carbohydrates. It has been the subject of numerous studies in the United States and Europe for use as a natural alternative to chemical weight-loss drugs. It has been found safe for long-term use, although some studies show it to have only a limited effect. It is now also being researched for antitumor and anticancerous properties. Garcinia is used in Thailand as a dietary supplement for suppressing the appetite. It is also used traditionally for constipation, edema, intestinal parasites, sluggish digestion, and for increasing body heat.

The Thai name translates as “Indian Orange,” which gives us a clue as to its origin.

• • • • •


Impatiens balsamina

tian bâan | thianban




External Application: Externally, garden balsam treats eczema, skin ulcers, insect bites, allergic reactions, hives, sores, wounds, and bacterial infection of the skin and nails. The juice is applied to treat split nails. Garden balsam treats swelling, pain in the joints, and snake bites. Some Hill Tribes use the garden balsam topically for inflammation and low immunity, and an aid in the delivery of babies.

While finding garden balsam leaves suitable for medicinal purposes may be tricky in the West, you may be able to find it being sold as an ornamental. Chum (which is not listed in the main Taste systems) is an untranslatable word indicating a strong “funky” taste that is often perceived as unpleasant. It is often musky, or pungent and odiferous.

• • • • •


Allium sativum

grà tiam | krathiam


TASTE: Spicy/Hot


Internal Application: Garlic increases digestive Fire, and aids with digestive issues such as flatulence and indigestion. It cuts through mucus, and for this reason is beneficial for certain coughs and asthmas. Garlic builds immunity, fights infection, and is used as a purgative for internal parasites. It is a potent detoxifying agent, and is therefore beneficial in fighting liver disease, toxic colon, and in general detoxification of the blood and organs. In large doses, garlic has a purgative effect on intestinal worms and other parasites, and is used to prevent malaria and dengue. Other diseases that benefit from the use of garlic include arthritis, heart disease, gall bladder disease, fever, and cystitis. Garlic reputedly lowers blood cholesterol, lowers high blood pressure, raises low blood pressure, and is recognized in many cultures the world over as a stimulating aphrodisiac.

External Application: Used in balms, liniments, and poultices, garlic penetrates to the level of skin, moves Wind, and purifies the blood. Garlic is also beneficial in treating skin fungus and ear infections.

• • • • •


Zingiber officinale

kĭng | khing


TASTE: Sweet, Spicy/Hot

PART USED: Rhizome

Internal Application: Ginger is the quintessential panacea in the Thai herbal pharmacopeia. Ginger is a powerful stimulant, especially of the digestive tract. It is the herb of choice for stimulation of digestion, and is used to combat flatulence, indigestion, gastritis, peptic ulcer, diarrhea, sluggish digestion, nausea, and vomiting. Ginger tea is also used for colds, congestion, sore throat, fevers, nausea, seasickness, mouth sores, insomnia, heart disease, arthritis, irregular or blocked menstruation, chronic back pain, hemorrhoids, and beri-beri (vitamin B1 deficiency), earning it the reputation as a cure-all. Hill Tribe healers give ginger tea to mothers immediately following birth to promote health and rapid recovery. Ginger also acts as a galactagogue, meaning that it encourages production of breast milk. Ginger is used as an adjuvant in many herbal preparations in order to lessen side effects and increase the potency of other herbs, and is the most frequently used herb in this collection.

External Application: In balms, liniments, hot compresses, poultices, and plasters, ginger increases circulation, creates movement, and adds heat.

Ginger is associated with the Space Element, and is found in the Element-balancing formula Benjagoon. Dried ginger is the hottest form of ginger, mature fresh ginger is next, and young ginger is the least (the latter is therefore best for children).

• • • • •


Gloriosa superba

dong deung | dongdueng


TASTE: Heating, Toxic

PART USED: Rhizome

Internal Application: Gloriosa lily treats arthritis, joints, and gout. It is also used to treat sexually transmitted diseases and some cancers.

External Application: Used in liniments, compresses, and creams to treat joint pain, including arthritis. Extremely beneficial for the joints.

While gloriosa lily is not sold as a medicinal herb in the West, it can be purchased as an ornamental, and the rhizomes can be utilized. The doctrine of signatures applies here: the rhizomes have a bend in them that looks like a joint, and thus the plant is thought to be beneficial for joint care.

• • • • •


Cassia fistula

khuun | khun


TASTE: The meat is Sweet. The flower is Bitter and Sour.

PART USED: Seed pod, flowers

Internal Application: The sickly sweet, black, and sticky pulp surrounding the seeds of the golden shower is used traditionally as a laxative and expectorant. In larger doses, it is a purgative. Tea from the flower is also a laxative and a reducer of fevers. Some Hill Tribes use the flowers in the steam bath or sauna to treat vertigo, low energy, and fainting, and as a general tonic for health and longevity.

This is the national tree and national flower of Thailand.

• • • • •


Camelia sinensis

chaa kĭeow | cha khiao


TASTE: Astringent


Internal Application: Green tea’s beneficial properties are due to tannins, natural antibiotic compounds that occur naturally in the leaf. In modern times, green tea has been shown to be rich in antioxidants, which seems to confirm its long-standing reputation as a general tonic. Taken regularly, green tea promotes a healthy immune system, protecting against infections and cancers of the respiratory and digestive systems.

Green tea has a regulating and alkalizing effect on the digestive system, and helps both constipation and diarrhea. In general, it is useful as a digestive, although different processing and roasting methods produce differing results. Green tea also is beneficial for blood circulation, aids in disinfecting bacterial infections of the mouth, and protects against tooth and gum disease.

External Application: Green tea leaves can be used to treat wounds; however, there are better herbs for this purpose.

• • • • •


Psidium guajava

fà-ràng | farang


TASTE: Astringent

PART USED: Leaf, fruit

Internal Application: Guava leaves treat diarrhea if caused by excess Water Element, as well as stomachache and peptic ulcers. They are also beneficial for the immune system. Guava tea treats blocked or irregular menstruation and cases of chronic stress or anxiety.

External Application: Guava leaves get rid of bad smells and some skin fungi; however, they are not often used for external medicine.

Derived from the Thai word for “French,” farang translates literally as “foreigner,” and specifically connotes a Western foreigner. As you might suspect from this, guavas are not native to Thailand. They were introduced by the Portuguese approximately 400 years ago and have existed in Thailand long enough to become a part of the medicinal repertoire.

• • • • •


Tinospora crispa

bor rá pét | boraphet


TASTE: Bitter, Cooling


Internal Application: Guduchi is beneficial for the liver and the blood. It treats fever, stimulates the appetite, and expels intestinal parasites. It is used for stomach problems in babies, malaria, eye and ear diseases, and mucus congestion. Guduchi also beneficial for those with diabetes.

• • • • •


Terminalia chebula

sà-mŏr-tai | samo thai


TASTE: Astringent, Sour, Bitter


Internal Application: The unripe fruit is a common detoxifying remedy for fever, parasitic infections, spleen disorders, jaundice, skin disease, and allergic reactions of the skin. Haritaki corrects digestive disorders, and can be used for constipation, diarrhea, dysentery, and other intestinal parasites.

It also has a beneficial effect on the nervous system, nervous disorders, and cancerous tumors. It is an expectorant used for colds, congestion, cough, asthma, bronchitis, and laryngitis, and an astringent used to halt mucus or blood in the stool, sputum, or vaginal discharge. The ripe fruit has an astringent and antidiarrheal effect. Haritaki balances the Elements and rejuvenates the body and mind. It also expels toxins and promotes bowel movements.

External Application: Fresh haritaki can be used to make an infusion for use as an eye wash for injured eyes.

Haritaki holds a special place in Buddhism around Asia. The Medicine Buddha, one of the chief Buddhist deities in East Asian and Tibetan Buddhism, is commonly depicted holding a haritaki fruit in his hand. It is also found in the ancient Ayurvedic formula triphala, used across Asia.

• • • • •


Schefflera leucantha

hà-nú-maan bprà-săan gaai | hanuman prasan kai


TASTE: Spicy/Hot, Bitter, Astringent

PART USED: Whole plant

Internal Application: Hanuman prasan kai is used extensively to treat asthma and other upper respiratory ailments, including cough, bronchitis, colds, and respiratory tract infections. It is also beneficial for the promotion of circulation.

External Application: The leaves of this herb are beneficial for healing wounds, treating contusions, and stopping bleeding. It is also used in herbal mosquito repellents.

There is no Western common name for this herb, hence only the Thai and botanical names are given. Hanuman prasan krai can be purchased in the West online, where it is generally sold as an anti-asthmatic herbal supplement.

• • • • •


Lawsonia inermis

tian ging | tian king


TASTE: Astringent, Pra (an unpleasant taste)


External Application: The fresh henna leaf may be applied as a topical antiseptic to fungal and/or bacterial infections of the skin and nails. It is also used to treat ringworm, and may be used orally as a gargle for mouth and gum disease or infections.

• • • • •


Excretions of the honey bee (Apis spp.)

nám pêung | nam phueng


TASTE: Sweet, Astringent, slightly Heating

Internal Application: Honey is said to be “scraping,” meaning that it has the ability to cut through and dissolve mucus. It is therefore extremely beneficial for sore throats with mucus, as well as other upper respiratory mucus-related ailments, such as asthma and cough. Honey is rejuvenating and increases vitality. It is beneficial for weak and depleted people, restorative to men who have recently ejaculated (which in Thai medicine is considered to be a loss of “essence”), and nourishes women who are menstruating. Honey is found as an adjuvant in many internal formulas as it assists in moving the herbs to the tissue.

External Application: Honey soothes and heals wounds, and is a natural antibacterial agent.

While all sugars are cooling, honey is the warmest sweetener there is, and is therefore the best sweetener for people with Water as their core Elemental constitution, or agitated Water Element. Honey is one of the five foods that the Buddha is said to have specifically recommended as medicine in the Theravada Buddhist monastic code.

The Thai word for honey translates as “bee water.” In Thailand, it is very common to find honey that is wildcrafted, gathered from wild bee trees, and often comes with honeycombs and bee larvae for added nutritional benefit. Honey is considered a rather magical substance due to its connections with the Buddha’s teachings, its ability to transport herbs to the tissues, and its inability to be replaced by any other herb. For medicines that call for honey, there is no substitute.

• • • • •


Coccinia grandis

dtam-leung | tamlueng


TASTE: Cooling

PART USED: Leaves, stem

Internal Application: Ivy gourd is a vine used as a purgative and for food poisoning. It treats fever and is used by some Hill Tribes as a tonic.

External Application: The juice from the leaves treats insect bites, burning pain, and eye conditions, such as redness and pain.

Ivy gourd can be added to any Thai curry recipe.

• • • • •


Artocarpus heterophyllus

kà-nŭn | khanun


TASTE: The fruit is Sweet. The leaf is Bitter. The seed is Oily.

PART USED: Fruit, leaf, seed

Internal Application: The leaf of the jackfruit is beneficial for blood, treats venereal diseases, and calms the nerves. The seed aids milk production and promotes milk flow. It also gives energy. All over Thailand, the fleshy tulip-shaped segments of the fruit are eaten raw when ripe, and are cooked in curries when unripe. The seeds are boiled or roasted and are eaten in curry. As it is a nutritive tonic high in caloric energy, jackfruit seed is especially useful in convalescence, in cases of low immunity, low energy, chronic fatigue, or chronic illness, and in old age. Decoction of the root is used to treat diarrhea.

The jackfruit is an enormous fruit, which often grows up to 3 feet in length. The heartwood of the jackfruit tree is used by monks in rural northeastern Thailand’s Forest Tradition monasteries to dye their robes. Chips of wood are boiled in water, producing a rich dye called gaen-kanun, which is held to have remarkable medicinal qualities. In fact, monks of this tradition never wash their robes. Once a week, the robes are reboiled in jackfruit dye and are hung to dry in the sun. Robes treated in this manner are said to never smell bad, and monks swear by the protection the dyed robes impart to the skin—such as immunity from fungal infections, skin disorders, and disagreeable body odor.

• • • • •


Jasminum spp.

má-lí | mali


TASTE: Fragrant/Cool, Bitter


Internal Application: In TTM texts, jasmine is said to be beneficial for calming the heart-mind and easing anxiety. It decreases toxins resulting from excess heat, treats fever, and eases excessive thirst from fever. Jasmine is also a heart tonic, and is beneficial for the fetus. It alleviates pain in the eyes as well.

External Application: Jasmine is used in steams and herbal compresses prepared by traditional medicine practitioners. It is also infused into oils and added to incense to ease the heart-mind and relieve anxiety. It can also be added to herbal oils that are used for massage or applied to the body for this same purpose.

There are many species of jasmine that may be used medicinally, all of which are called má-lí. Here we are referring to the common jasmine. Dried jasmine of different varieties can be found in the West at Chinese herbal supply shops, online herbal suppliers, and local Western herb shops. Jasmine garlands are frequently used as offerings on Buddhist altars and in Buddhist temples throughout Thailand. They are also given as blessings to friends and family on certain holidays.

• • • • •


Citrus hystix

má grùut | makrut


TASTE: The fruit is Sour. The leaves are Fragrant/Cool.

PART USED: Fruit, leaves

Internal Application: Taken internally, kaffir lime is a digestion stimulant that alleviates flatulence and indigestion and is used to promote regularity in the case of blocked or infrequent menstruation. It is well known as a blood purifier, as an antioxidant with cancer-preventing properties, and as a treatment for high blood pressure.

External Application: Used externally, kaffir lime is beneficial for its antiseptic and aromatic properties, as well as its ability to clear toxins from the blood. It is a tonic for the heart-mind, and is frequently found in hot herbal compresses as well as in Thai herbal balms and liniments. When used in compresses and herbal steams, the vapors are calming. It is also found in formulas for the scalp, hair, and skin.

Kaffir lime fruit, and more commonly, leaves, can be found in the West at many Asian food stores and some specialty markets. Live kaffir lime plants can be bought at nurseries as well, often grafted on to other citrus plants in order to endure a cooler climate.

• • • • •


Melanorrhoea usitata

rák yài | rak yai


TASTE: Astringent


Internal Application: Tea from the leaves of the lacquer tree is used traditionally to treat diarrhea and intestinal parasites such as dysentery.

External Application: A poultice can be made to apply topically for joint pains and arthritis.

The Thai name for the lacquer tree, rak yai, translates as “big love.” While the poisonous sap is no longer used for lacquer, the trees do continue to be used for wood and are the source of a dark dye used traditionally for dying robes and for ink.

• • • • •


Cymbopogon citratus

dtà-krái | takhrai


TASTE: Aromatic Pungent

PART USED: Lower half of stalk

Internal Application: Lemongrass tea is used as a therapy for colds (especially colds with fever), congestion, cough, sore throat, and laryngitis. Lemongrass is useful as a digestion stimulant in cases of flatulence, indigestion, and constipation. It is also used to counter stomach pains, nausea, vomiting, and back pain, as well as being a diuretic. Lemongrass is used by some Hill Tribes as a general tonic, for bone and joint pain. Lemongrass tea soothes menstrual pain.

External Application: Lemongrass vapors, from hot herbal compresses, herbal steams, and inhalation of herbal balms and liniments, are calming to the heart-mind and relieve stress. Lemongrass in external herbal products aids in dispersing stagnation and moves the blood. It can be used in balms to sooth menstrual pain but is stronger when taken internally. Topically, lemongrass destroys bacteria and fungi.

In Thailand, it is common to give babies a stalk of lemongrass to chew on when they are teething. Citronella grass, known in Thailand as ta krai hom ตะไคร้หอม, is closely related to lemongrass. Citronella, however, is primarily used as an insect repellent and is not used as an internal medicine.

• • • • •


Glycyrrhiza glabra

Chá aym tâyt | Cha-em thet


TASTE: Sweet


Internal Application: Licorice root is most commonly used in the Thai tradition as a cold remedy, as well as for flu, cough, congestion, and fever. It is useful for soothing mucus membranes, and may be used in cases of stomach pain, peptic ulcers, sore throat, laryngitis, lung disease, and bronchial infections. Licorice is an expectorant, hence it moves mucus. Licorice is frequently found in herbal tea pills formulated for cough. Licorice clears toxins from the blood and is beneficial for the mind.

External Application: Licorice can be found in various topical formulas, including compresses, balms, and liniments.

• • • • •


Citrus aurantifolia

má naao | manao




Internal Application: The fruit of the lime cuts through mucus, and clears the mucus membrane. The juice of the fruit is used as a vehicle to activate the properties of other medicines. This is why many medicinal formulas must be taken with lime juice.

External Application: Topically, lime treats poisonous bites, calms the mind, opens the nasal passages, and treats the tissue level of the body.

The Thai language uses the same word for both lemons and limes. Lemons are extremely rare in Thailand, though. So, while it is common for English menus in Thailand to list “lemonade,” what you are most likely to be served is limeade.

• • • • •


Piper longum

dee bplee | di pli


TASTE: Spicy/Hot, Bitter


Internal Application: Long pepper regulates and promotes the menses, builds blood, moves clots, and circulates blood. It is also an expectorant that moves congestion and treats cold, wet ailments. Long pepper is found in many Thai herbal formulas

External Application: Long pepper is used in external formulas to move the blood and reduce pain.

Long pepper is the principal herb associated with the Element Earth and is found in the Benjagoon formula for this reason. When buying long pepper in the West, make sure that it is about 1 inch long and at least ¼-inch thick. We have found that the long pepper sold in the West is frequently much too small. Whether this is the immature Piper longum or another plant altogether, it is not an adequate replacement.

CAUTION : Use of long pepper is contraindicated during pregnancy, as the same ability to move blood and clots can cause miscarriage.

• • • • •


Dimocarpus longan

lam yai | lamyai


TASTE: Sweet


Internal Application: Longan fruit is eaten extensively in Thailand, especially in the north, where it is widely cultivated. Both the fruit and the tea made from the bark are said to relieve digestive discomfort, and the dried fruit is said to reduce fever. Longan fruit, often called “longan berries,” is considered to be a nutritive tonic, good for people in weakened or depleted states.

Longan is used medicinally throughout Southeast Asia and China. In Thailand, it is primarily the fruit that is utilized, but, in other countries, the seeds and roots are also thought to have medicinal value. The dried fruit is sold as a snack food throughout Thailand.

Both fresh and dried longan fruit are sold in Western Asian food markets, and the dried fruit can be found in Chinese herb shops.

• • • • •


Nelumbo nucifera

bua-lŭang | bua luang


TASTE: The flower and stamens are Astringent and Fragrant/Cool. The seeds are Oily.

PART USED: Flower, stamen, seed

Internal Application: The seed of the lotus is used in Thai medicine as a general nutritive tonic, especially during pregnancy. As part of the daily diet, the seeds are beneficial for skin, bones, muscles, and joints. Lotus seed is a cardiac tonic recommended to strengthen the heart muscle. Inhaled, the vapor of the flower calms the heart-mind, promoting a clear and peaceful mental state. Lotus stamen may also be taken internally as a remedy for dizziness and nervousness.

External Application: Lotus flowers are occasionally used in hot herbal compresses formulated for prenatal work, as they are calming and soothing to the fetus.

The lotus is revered across Asia wherever Hinduism and Buddhism predominate, and it is the most sacred plant in Thailand. Lotus flowers can be found growing on the grounds of most temples, and many universities and government buildings. They are commonly given to monks by the devout as symbols of reverence, and are positioned prominently upon Buddhist altars across the country. The lotus is symbolic of the human soul’s transmigration through life. Growing in swamps, the plant begins its life cycle under muddy water, slowly breaking through to the surface, where it blooms. Similarly, in the Buddhist and Hindu belief system, the individual is reincarnated again and again in the “mud” of the world, until it breaks through to the surface and blooms in enlightenment.

Lotus seeds can be purchased in the West in Asian food markets.

• • • • •


Myristica fragrans

dòk-jan | dokchan


TASTE: Spicy/Hot

PART USED: The aril (covering) of the nutmeg seed

Internal Application: Mace is calming to the heart-mind and the Subtle Winds. It is also a blood tonic.

External Application: Mace is also used in topical liniments and other formulas for the same purposes as its internal application.

Mace comes from the same plant as nutmeg, and therefore they share a botanical name. The decision to present them separately in this compendium was based on the fact that they are treated as separate herbs in Thai herbal medicine.

• • • • •


Mangifera india

má-mûang | mamuang


TASTE: Unripe mango is Astringent and Sour. Ripe mango is Sweet and Heating.


Internal Application: The sour young fruit dissolves phlegm. Mango is a blood purifier and is beneficial for those who live in highly polluted areas. It is recommended for the elderly, and for those experiencing chronic illness.

There are many varieties of mango in Thailand, which are eaten both ripe and unripe. The unripe mango is tart and crunchy, and often pickled and/or served with a dip made of sugar, salt, and chilies. Mango is high in vitamin C.

• • • • •


Garcinia mangostana

mang kút | mangkhut


TASTE: The rind is Astringent. The fruit is Cooling and Sweet.

PART USED: Rind, fruit

Internal Application: The rind of the mangosteen is beneficial for diarrhea caused by excess Water Element, dysentery, and hemorrhoids. Mangosteen is known to boost immunity, prevent cancer, and promote general health. Powder from the rind is also traditionally used to counter food poisoning, food allergies, and arthritis.

External Application: The rind is used topically as an astringent poultice to cleanse cuts, wounds, and skin infections.

Mangosteen has gained fame in the West in recent years as a superfood capable of providing incredible health benefits. In Thailand, it is known as the Queen of Fruits, as the inner flesh is one of the sweetest fruits known, and it is very cooling. Mangosteen season coincides nicely with durian season, and the two fruits are often paired as the King and Queen of Fruits. (Durian is very Spicy/Hot, and one of the most heating fruits there is.)

Mangosteens are eaten raw, but only the white inner section is consumed. Or, you can juice them—skin and all—for maximum nutritional benefit. When shopping for mangosteens, look for fruits with no cracks or yellow resin. Count the leaves on the cap (the more the better), as more leaves means more sections inside, and more sections means fewer large, bitter seeds.

• • • • •


Cannibis sativa

gan chaa | kancha


TASTE: Toxic

PART USED: Whole plant

Internal Application: Marijuana traditionally treats insomnia, and is used in cases of wasting diseases because it stimulates the appetite. It is also used for pain control.

External Application: Externally, marijuana seeds are an ingredient in traditional analgesic liniments for pain.

The Thai name clearly comes from the Sanskrit word ganja, variations of which are found globally. A fun side note is that the Thai word for catnip, gan chaa maew กัญชาแมว, translates as “ganja for cats.”

CAUTION : Marijuana is contraindicated for postpartum nursing mothers, as it has been shown to decrease lactation. Being fat soluble, the drug also enters the milk in low doses and is passed on to the infant. Medicinally, marijuana is best ingested through teas, powders, and other orally ingested formulas as the smoke commonly used for recreational use is carcinogenic.

• • • • •


Mentha spp.

grèt sà-rá-nàe | kret saranae


TASTE: Fragrant/Cool

PART USED: Crystals derived from the mint plant

Internal Application: Treats nausea, indigestion, sore throats, and headache, as well as asthma and bronchitis.

External Application: Menthol is a common ingredient in Thai herbal balms and liniments formulated to cool inflammation and treat acute injury. In addition to cooling, menthol has a slight numbing effect on pain. Mentholated balms and liniments are applied topically to the temples for headache and to relieve itching.

• • • • •


nom | nom


TASTE: Sweet, Oily

PART USED: Milk from cows or goats

Internal Application: Milk is a nutritive tonic, and may be used in preparations to counter low energy, low immunity, emaciation, and to build strength in children, the elderly, and those convalescing from disease or injury.

External Application: Milk soothes rashes, chemical burns, and many allergic skin reactions. Powdered milk is beneficial as a topical treatment for dry or scaly skin.

While many people in the world, especially in Asia, are lactose intolerant, the medicinal use of milk is part of traditional healing arts. For those who abstain from milk for religious, ethical, physical, or spiritual reasons, almond milk is the plant-based milk with properties closest to mammal milk. However, it must be home made in order to be medicinally used, as the mass-produced versions currently available at the grocery store are mostly water with thickeners. See note about milk on page 37.

CAUTION : Milk should not be used for illnesses with excessive congestion, as it thickens mucus.

• • • • •


Mentha spp.

sà-rá-nàe | saranae


TASTE: Aromatic Pungent


Internal Application: Peppermint tea is a general digestion stimulant, and is the preferred treatment for stomach spasms or pains, nausea, abdominal cramps, indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome, and gastritis. Tea or inhalation of mint vapor is prescribed to treat cough. Peppermint has a calming effect on the heart-mind, and the vapor is used with success in the treatment of nervousness, insomnia, and stress-related or migraine headaches.

External Application: In topical formulas, mint relieves inflammation and cools the skin.

Mint has the dual ability to be either heating or cooling. If taken internally it is more heating, whereas it is more cooling when used topically. There are many types of mint, including peppermint, spearmint, and mountain mint, which can all be used in formulas requiring mint. The three just listed are ordered from mildest to strongest.

• • • • •


Moringa oleifera

má rum | marum


TASTE: The fruit is Heating. The bark is Chum. The seeds are Tasteless and Oily. The root is Spicy/Hot, Sweet, and Bitter.

PART USED: Whole plant

Internal Application: Moringa fruit is beneficial as a cardiac tonic and to prevent fainting. Decoction of the bark is a digestion stimulant used traditionally for combating flatulence, indigestion, and bloated stomach.

External Application: Decoction of the root is a disinfectant, and may be used as an astringent to stop bleeding and help promote the healing of wounds. The seeds, when roasted and ground, are made into a poultice for arthritis.

In Thailand, moringa has been called a wonder tree for its ability to assist life and health. Some global health organizations use it to maintain nutrition levels in malnourished populations. Chum is an untranslatable word indicating a strong “funky” taste that is often perceived as unpleasant. It is often musky, or pungent and odiferous.

• • • • •



Ipomoea aquatica

pàk-bûng | phak bung


TASTE: Tasteless

PART USED: Stem, leaves

Internal Application: Morning glory draws out poison and is used to make a detoxifying drink. It treats constipation, gonorrhea, nerves, insomnia, and blood in the feces. Morning glory also promotes good eyesight.

External Application: Externally, morning glory treats the eyes and abscesses.

NOTE: In the West, the common name “morning glory” is used for many plants, especially in the Convolvulaceae family. Here, we are referring to a different plant altogether, that is commonly sold under the name “morning glory” at Thai restaurants and Asian groceries.

• • • • •


Capiscum frutescens

prík-kêe-nŭu | phrik khi nu


TASTE: Spicy/Hot, Heating


Internal Application: Internally, chilies excite the Wind and can be used to treat cases of constipation caused by lack of digestive tract Wind. Also useful in cases of colds and congestion, chilies increase circulation and increase appetite. They can also treat flatulence.

External Application: Topically, chilies move blood and treat pain. They are a common ingredient in heating balms and liniments, although use caution to avoid irritating sensitive skin.

The Thai name for these peppers literally translates to “mouse shit pepper,” referring to their shape and small size. While Thai cuisine uses both green and red chilies, for medicinal purposes it is best to use the more mature red ones.

• • • • •


Morus alba

dtôn mòn | ton mon


TASTE: The fruit is Sour, Sweet, and Cooling. The leaves are Cooling. The bark is Tasteless.

PART USED: Leaves, fruit, root

Internal Application: The leaves and fruit relieve fever and thirst as well as cough. The leaves treat eye disorders including conjunctivitis. Mulberry leaves are diuretic as well as beneficial for reducing blood pressure. The fruit is beneficial for the kidneys, loosens bowels, and treats rheumatism. Mulberry root has been shown to have tumor-shrinking properties. In larger doses, mulberry is used as a purgative to expel tapeworms and other intestinal parasites. Its leaves treat indigestion and flatulence as well as diarrhea.

External Application: The leaves are beneficial for the skin.

• • • • •


Commiphora myrrha

gam-yaan | kamyan


TASTE: Astringent, Fragrant/Cool

PART USED: Resin from tree

Internal Application: Myrrh treats uterine bleeding, arthritis, circulatory problems, and pain.

External Application: Myrrh is drawing and antifungal. It disperses blood, lowers inflammation, and reduces pain. It is found in liniments for acute injuries.

• • • • •


Azadirachta indica

sà-dao | sadao


TASTE: Bitter

PART USED: Whole plant

Internal Application: Neem leaf and wood prevent fever and balance the Elements. They also stimulate the appetite. The bark of the stem is used as an astringent to treat dysentery and diarrhea. The root is used as an expectorant, a bitter tonic and an antimalarial. The heartwood effectively treats nausea, vomit, and parasites, and is used to calm chronic anxiety and stress, as well as delirium due to high fever.

The fruit is an anthelmintic, meaning that it contains a substance that purges intestinal parasites, and is also an astringent for hemorrhoids and a treatment for malaria. The young shoots, leaves, and flowers are used as a bitter tonic for detoxification of blood, as well as for treatment of vomiting, stomach pain, indigestion, fever, and malaria. Decoction of these parts is also a general internal antibacterial, antiviral, and diuretic used frequently to treat dysentery, diarrhea, and parasites. Chewing the stems is said to stimulate the appetite. The Wat Pho texts mention the seed as a mild stimulant and as a treatment for poisoning.

External Application: The young stems of the neem tree are used throughout South Asia as a toothbrush. The ends of the stem are chewed until fine and stringy, and are then rubbed against the teeth and gums to cleanse and stimulate. Neem oil is used in natural toothpaste preparations throughout South Asia, and may also be used as a mouthwash or gargle on a daily basis. It is an antiseptic for mouth sores, gum disease, oral infections, and abscesses. Due to its antibacterial properties, the oil of the neem tree is a common additive to soap and shampoo, and may also be dropped into the ear canal to treat infections.

Applied to the skin, the leaf, seed, and/or oil treat fungal infections, eczema, acne, scabies, lice, ringworm, and other skin parasites, and may safely be used as a vaginal douche for infections. Some Hill Tribes use neem for dermatitis, rash, and warts. Neem oil is often used in cosmetic skin preparations to enhance skin tone, elasticity, and youthfulness. It is also an effective insecticide.

• • • • •


Morinda citrifolia

yor | yo


TASTE: Heating


Internal Application: In TTM, noni is used to relieve muscle pain and vomiting, and to reduce blood pressure. It is also used as a digestive, and to treat nausea and vomiting. Noni is beneficial for colds, tuberculosis, flu, parasites, and gastritis. In modern Thailand, it is used as a daily tonic in the treatment of cancer, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and other severe diseases.

• • • • •


Cyperus rotundus

hâew mŏo | haeo mu


TASTE: Aromatic Pungent

PART USED: Rhizome

Internal Application: Taken daily, nutgrass is a tonic for the liver and heart, a stimulant for digestion, and an aid against hypertension. It is extremely useful in cases of blocked or infrequent menstruation, menstrual cramps, and PMS. In Thai tradition, it is used to treat fevers, especially those that occur during menstruation. It is also commonly used to treat diarrhea, dysentery, stomach or intestinal cramps, irritable bowel, gastritis indigestion, flatulence, colds, flu, and congestion.

• • • • •


Myristica fragrans

lùuk jan | luk chan


TASTE: Aromatic Pungent, slightly Astringent

PART USED: Wood, seed

Internal Application: Nutmeg is beneficial for the heart and helps to flush blood throughout the body. Nutmeg calms the nerves, mind, and Subtle Winds. The seed kernel is properly called nutmeg, while the membrane that covers the kernel is called mace. Nutmeg is used in small quantities in Thai cuisine as an appetizer, digestive, and carminative. It is added as a spice to food to enhance assimilation of food, lessen flatulence, and correct sluggish digestion. Nutmeg is also considered to be a tonic for the blood and a sedative with muscle-relaxing qualities.

External Application: Nutmeg is beneficial when incorporated into oils used topically to soothe the heart-mind and calm the Subtle Winds. It is also calming to the nerves.

Nutmeg comes from the same plant as mace, and therefore they share a botanical name. The decision to present them separately in this compendium was based on the fact that they are treated as separate herbs in Thai herbal medicine.

CAUTION : Nutmeg is toxic in high doses.

• • • • •


Allium cepa

hŏm | hom


TASTE: Spicy/Hot


Internal Application: Onions are beneficial for treating colds, cough, and upper respiratory ailments.

External Application: Onions are drawing, and are therefore found in poultices and hot herbal compresses formulated to draw out toxins. They can be used for treatment of warts. Onion vapors are used to treat colds in children.

CAUTION : Note that it is important to use an onion that is freshly cut—not one that was previously cut and left out or refrigerated.

• • • • •


Papaver somniferum

dtôn fìn | ton fin


TASTE: Toxic

PART USED: Flowers, seeds, sap

Internal Application: While opium addiction and narcotics trafficking are two of Thailand’s most pressing social problems, the opium poppy has long been esteemed by traditional herbalists for its potent effects. Taken internally, opium is one of the most effective natural anesthetics, and it is traditionally employed to these purposes in rural Thailand, where modern anesthetics are unavailable. In small doses, opium is a mild stimulant. In larger doses, it is used as a temporary calmative in severe cases of anxiety, stress, or panic attacks. The seeds of the poppy, commonly available commercially, have an astringent effect, and are taken to treat diarrhea and dysentery. Opium is additionally mentioned in the Wat Pho texts as an effective remedy for cough, rectal bleeding, and hemorrhoids.

External Application: A poultice of opium resin is used topically as a local analgesic for management of pain and soothing of muscle spasms. It may be applied to the temples to alleviate headache.

In most countries, opium itself is illegal, but opium poppies are often legal as ornamental flowers. Given the widespread abuse and social problems associated with opium, as well as its illegal status in most countries, the authors do not condone its use. We provide information on the traditional use of this plant only as a point of cultural interest.

• • • • •


Phyllanthus acidus

má yom | mayom




Internal Application: Otaheite gooseberries are a blood tonic. They are also a laxative, and are used to move phlegm and relieve cough. Otaheite gooseberries are traditionally eaten to alleviate cases of fever, chronic thirst, and measles, and are general immunity boosters.

• • • • •


hŏi naang rom | hoi nangrom


TASTE: Salty

Internal Application: Ground oyster shells are a traditional treatment for kidney stones, flatulence, and indigestion. Due to the high calcium content of the shell, it is also recommended as a dietary supplement for those with bone disease or fractures.

• • • • •


Borassus flabellifer

nám-dtaan bpèuk | namtan puek


TASTE: Sweet


Internal Application: Palm sugar is highly nutritive, so it is beneficial for cases of depletion and weakness. It is beneficial for children, supports the Water Element, and is both hydrating and strengthening. Palm sugar is used extensively in Thailand as a natural sweetener that does not spike blood sugar levels as white sugar does. Minimally processed, it retains its nutrient value and is an excellent alternative to other sweeteners.

Palm sugar should not be confused with coconut sugar. Palm sugar comes from the sap of a variety of sugar palms, and, when purchased through Asian food markets, is remarkably less expensive than other natural sweeteners.

Palm sugar is commonly sold in hard discs or spires. Look for the less-processed tan-colored palm sugar, and avoid it if it is white. To make syrup, place the disc in a pot and fill with water to about twice its height. Heat slowly over very low heat until dissolved, then store in a jar. For thicker syrup, use less water. A similar sugar, also made from sugar palms, is jaggery. Used widely in India, this is palm sugar as well, but it is processed differently resulting in a darker color and stronger taste.

• • • • •


Pandanus amaryllifolius

bai dtoie | bai toei


TASTE: Sweet, Fragrant/Cool


Internal Application: Pandanus is beneficial for the heart, lowers cholesterol levels, and is known as a pain reliever. The leaves are chewed for oral pain, and are used for easing stomach cramping. Pandanus also reduces fever and mucus congestion, and relieves indigestion and flatulence.

External Application: Pandanus leaves are beneficial for wounds, and bathing in water with pandanus leaf juice eases sunburn.

Pandanus is used extensively in Thai cooking as both a flavoring and coloring agent. The juice from the leaves is found in both sweet and savory dishes, and is used perhaps in an analogous way to how Western cooking uses vanilla. Pandanus leaves are also frequently mixed with other herbs to make tea.

• • • • •


Carica papaya

má lá gor | malako


TASTE: The unripe fruit is Sour. The ripe fruit is Sweet. The seed is Bitter and Astringent.

PARTS USED: Fruit, seed

Internal Application: The unripe papaya fruit is a digestive; the ripe fruit and the seeds are mild laxatives taken medicinally to treat constipation, indigestion, flatulence, and cramping of the intestines. Papaya seed is also used to purge dysentery and other parasites of the gastrointestinal tract, as well as to treat ringworm. The root is a diuretic used to treat venereal diseases such as gonorrhea, and the stem treats leucorrhea. Papaya is recommended as part of the daily diet for cases of arthritis, allergies, asthma, hypertension, influenza, toothaches, and cancerous tumors. Either the seeds or the fruit may be taken as a general tonic for low immunity, low energy, chronic fatigue, and wasting diseases.

External Application: The leaf of the papaya is used topically on wounds, skin ulcers, and other sores as it cleanses and speeds healing.

Papaya stimulates and aids digestion due to the large amount of the papain enzyme present in the fruit. The juice or fruit can also can be used as a marinade to tenderize tough meat for the same reason. Papaya also contains large quantities of vitamins A and C, well-known antioxidants. The fruit of the papaya is eaten both ripe and unripe (see Chapter 3 for a recipe based on unripe papaya).

• • • • •


Acmella oleracea

pàk krâat hŭa waen | phak khrat hua waen


TASTE: Slightly Toxic

PART USED: Whole plant

Internal Application: Paracress tea is a digestion stimulant. It is useful in cases of flatulence, nausea, and vomiting, and is also prescribed for fever, arthritis, and gout. Mixed with vinegar, it makes a mild antiseptic for mouth sores and sore throat. The stems are also chewed for toothaches, and are sometimes given to children with speech disorders or stutters. Paracress is said to cure these problems.

• • • • •


Ananas comosus

sàp-bpà-rót | sapparot


TASTE: The fruit is Sweet and Sour. The rhizome is Sweet and Cooling.

PART USED: Fruit, rhizome

Internal Application: The rhizome of the pineapple plant is a diuretic recommended for those suffering from kidney diseases, kidney stones, bladder infections, and urinary tract infections. Pineapple fruit juice is recommended for inflammatory internal diseases, diseases of the liver, and cough or cold with congestion. It is a nutritive tonic for convalescents, and is said to detoxify the entire system. It is also recommended for diseases of the uterus, for postpartum tonification, and for strengthening the female reproductive organs. The fruit juice is used in treatment of depression and is said to have an especially beneficial effect on the brain and nervous system. Some Hill Tribes use pineapple juice to treat stomachache.

External Application: Topically used on warts, rashes, and dermatitis.

• • • • •


Plantago spp.

yaa en yêut | ya en yuet


TASTE: Sweet, Cooling

PART USED: Whole plant

Internal Application: The plantain noted here is not to be confused with starchy bananas, also called plantain, which are a completely different plant. The fresh juice from the whole plantain plant is drunk as a diuretic to treat bladder or urinary tract infections, gastric inflammation, and kidney stones. It is an expectorant that helps clear up cough, laryngitis, sore throat, and other respiratory problems. It soothes digestive ailments, peptic ulcers, and gastritis. It is astringent, and can be used to counter mucus or blood in the stool, sputum, or vaginal discharge.

External Application: Used topically in poultices, balms, liniments, and creams, plantain has a general drawing property and specifically can draw out poisons. It treats skin infections, such as staphylococcus and shingles. Plantain soothes itching, relieves inflammation, and is excellent for rashes, insect bites and other painful skin conditions. Plantain also softens the tissues and treats hemorrhoids.

With about 200 species of plantain, we have chosen to simply note the genus. Herbalists can use whatever species grows in their neck of the woods, as plantain is found nearly the world over. Yaa en yêut, translates as “medicine to stretch the sên.” From this, we can see how this herb is of particular interest to Thai bodyworkers, who address the sên, specifically the tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, and nerves. The doctrine of signatures applies here, as the visibility of the vein in the leaves is notable in all varieties of plantain.

• • • • •


Plumbago spp.

jàyt moon plerng | chetta mun phloeng


TASTE: Heating

PART USED: Whole plant

Internal Application: Plumbago stimulates the Fire Element and warms the body. The root is used to stimulate digestion and is a diaphoretic, meaning that it induces perspiration. The root and/or bark of the plumbago may be used to treat cases of blocked or infrequent menstruation. It increases female fertility—although it may stimulate miscarriage and should never be taken during pregnancy. Plumbago is also used to detoxify the blood, and is prized by some Hill Tribes as a general longevity tonic. The root is used to treat hemorrhoids. The aerial parts of the plant are used in treatment of kidney disease, kidney cramps, and accompanying back pain.

• • • • •


Punica granatum

táp tim | thapthim


TASTE: The fruit is Sweet and Sour. The rind is Astringent. The root and bark are Toxic.

PART USED: Fruit, root, bark, seeds

Internal Application: Fresh pomegranate juice can be used to lower the body’s temperature in cases of fever. The rind of the pomegranate is a strong astringent used to treat diarrhea, dysentery, blood or mucus in the stool, and food poisoning. The bark of the root is effective in purging tapeworm and other intestinal parasites. The Wat Pho texts mention pomegranate flowers as a tonic to improve the quality of breast milk. The seeds are used in formulas for digestive troubles.

External Application: Fresh pomegranate juice may be used topically as an astringent and antifungal, or as a gargle for sore throat or mouth sores.

• • • • •


Citrus maxima

sôm oh | som o


TASTE: Fragrant/Cool


Internal Application: The rind of the pomelo is used in internal medicine formulas, especially for the heart.

External Application: The rind of the pomelo is found in herbal compresses and herbal inhalers for the purpose of calming the mind and benefiting the heart.

Pomelo fruit is a wonderful treat that is readily available in any Thai market. It looks like an overgrown grapefruit, with thick pulp.

• • • • •


Cucurbita maxima or Cucurbita moschata

fák tong | fakthong


TASTE: Oily and Sweet

PART USED: Seeds, flesh

Internal Application: Pumpkin seeds expel worms and increase urination. Recent studies in Thailand show that the seeds prevent formation of kidney stones. The orange flesh is nourishing to the tissues, is high in beta-carotene, and helps prevent cancer. It also nourishes eyesight. The root treats cough and toxins.

External Application: Pumpkin soothes inflammation and contusions.

• • • • •


Thunbergia laurifolia

raang jèut | rangchuet


TASTE: Tasteless

PART USED: Whole plant

Internal Application: In the Thai tradition, purple allamanda is most commonly used as a detoxifying agent. The leaves and stem purify the blood, and are therefore used as an antidote to all kinds of poisonous foods or chemicals. Some Hill Tribes prescribe it for poisonous snake or insect bites. Its detoxifying properties make it the preferred treatment for hangovers, and it is taken daily to counter the cirrhosis (inflammation of the liver) associated with alcoholism. Purple allamanda is useful in treating indigestion, flatulence, diarrhea, mucus or blood in the stool, and intestinal parasites. It is also prescribed as a remedy for fever, allergies, and asthma, and is recommended for diabetes and hypoglycemia as it reputedly controls blood sugar levels.

This plant is mentioned in the Wat Pho texts as a remedy for vomiting in infants, blocked or irregular menstruation, gonorrhea, sores on the tongue and mouth, as a diuretic, and as a poultice for burns. Purple allamanda has been found effective in countering minor allergic reactions and intolerances (such as to MSG, alcohol, and so on). Recent research at Chiang Mai University also shows it to be promising in assisting farmers who are exposed to high levels of herbicides and pesticides.

External Application: Topically, the whole plant is ground and used as a poultice for snake bites.

While not generally available in the West as an herbal medicine, purple allamanda is sold as an ornamental plant, so those wishing to obtain it can do so relatively easily.

CAUTION : Purple allamanda, as an antidote to poisons, cleans the blood extremely effectively. Because of this, it is contraindicated for people who take life-sustaining medications, as it will purify even that out of the blood.

• • • • •



Ipomoea pes-caprae

pàk-bûng-tá-lay | phak bungthale


TASTE: Cooling


External Application: Railroad vine is applied topically to soothe insect bites, inflammation, allergic reactions, hives, and rashes. A poultice of railroad vine relieves the painful sting of jellyfish, or it can be mixed with vinegar for added effect.

Given that this herb grows on the beaches of Southern Thailand, its ability to relieve jellyfish stings is quite fortunate. This herb grows in many places around the world and can be wildcrafted.

• • • • •


Quisqualis indica

lép meu naang | lepmuenang


TASTE: The flowers are Fragrant/Cool. The leaves are Heating. The seeds are Oily and Toxic.

PART USED: Flowers, leaves, seeds

Internal Application: Rangoon creeper is a purgative traditionally used to expel tapeworms and other intestinal parasites. It can be used for children, as it is not too strong.

External Application: Leaves are used topically for swelling and inflammation

CAUTION : Take only with cold water, as warm water may cause nausea.

• • • • •


Oryza sativa

kâao | khao


TASTE: Sweet, Oily


Internal Application: Unbleached white rice is a gentle nourishing food, the primary component of meals in Thailand, as it is all over South and East Asia. Rice is nourishing to weak and depleted patients. It is easy to digest, and therefore gentle on the system when the digestive Fire is weak. Rice water slows diarrhea.

External Application: White sticky rice, which is drying and drawing, is used topically to cool inflammation and treat poison.

The Thai word for rice is synonymous with food in general, and a meal simply doesn’t count as a meal if it does not have rice. The most common type of Thai rice is jasmine rice, which is native to the country. Red rice and sticky rice are also very common. Brown rice is not considered a healthy choice in TTM, as it is hard to digest. Those wishing to combine the nutritional value of brown rice with the gentleness of white rice can turn to Thai red rice. However, for medicinal purposes, stick with unbleached white rice.

• • • • •


Hibiscus sabdariffa

grà jíap | krachiap




Internal Application: Roselle tea or juice is primarily prescribed as a diuretic for cases of gallstones, kidney stones, and urinary tract infections. It is additionally used to treat indigestion, flatulence, peptic ulcer, fever, cough, hypertension, kidney cramps, and back pain. It is high in calcium, and therefore is added to the daily diet to treat and prevent tooth and bone deterioration. Roselle flower is reputed to lower blood cholesterol. The seed is also a diuretic, and a tonic for the Four Elements. Roselle is also said to be beneficial for heart disease and lowering cholesterol.

• • • • •


Carthamus tinctorius

dòk kam fŏi | dok khamfoi


TASTE: Sweet, Heating

PART USED: Flower, seed

Internal Application: Safflower is a blood tonic. Dried safflower is also a tonic for the heart, nervous, and circulatory system. Because of its beneficial effect on the circulation, it is used to treat cases of male sexual dysfunction and to encourage regularity in cases of blocked, irregular, or painful menstruation in women. The flower is used as a calmative in cases of stress, anxiety, and panic attacks. It is also an effective therapy for colds, arthritis, and constipation. The seed is a purgative and expectorant, and may also be used to encourage menstruation and to lower cholesterol.

External Application: In external balms and liniments, safflower is beneficial for the blood. It disperses and is especially good for contusions. Safflower breaks up clots and brings the bruise up from the deep layers of the tissue.

• • • • •


Crocus sativus

yâa fà-ràn | yafaran


TASTE: Fragrant/Cool


Internal Application: Saffron helps to build essence, or vitality, and is a tonic for the Water Element. It is also a heart and liver tonic.

External Application: Saffron can be used topically to treat skin issues. However, it is a very expensive herb, so it not generally preferred for this purpose.

CAUTION : In Thailand, travelers are often amazed at the incredibly inexpensive “saffron” they find sold on the streets at tourist markets, only to get home and discover their “saffron” to be ineffective in the kitchen. The reason? It is really safflower, which is a wonderful medicinal herb but a poor replacement for saffron in cooking.

• • • • •


Piper interruptum

sàkáan | sakhan


TASTE: Heating, Spicy/Hot


Internal Application: Sakaan is used to treat flatulence, asthma, fever, and many issues of Wind Element. It is found in the Ayurvedic formula trisan that balances the Water Element, as well as in the Benjagoon Element balancing formula.

We have not come across an English common name for this plant. It is likely that it cannot be found in the West, hence we have suggested alternatives in the formulas that use sakaan in this book. However, it is one of the primary herbs in TTM, and if you are traveling in Thailand you should pick some up at an herb shop.

• • • • •


Santalum album

jan tâyt | chan thet


TASTE: Bitter, Fragrant/Cool


Internal Application: Sandalwood is soothing to the nerves and is used in formulas that treat depression, Subtle Winds, and anxiety. Sandalwood is taken internally to treat fever and to detoxify the blood. It is used by some Hill Tribes to revive unconscious patients, and as a tonic.

External Application: Topically, also, sandalwood is beneficial for the mind-heart and for calming the Subtle Winds. It is infused in oils for topical use, or crushed with other herbs in hot herbal compresses. Sandalwood oil is a frequent ingredient in soaps, shampoos, and fragrances, all of which have a cooling effect on the body. Sandalwood may also be applied to dermatitis, herpes, infection, and inflammation of the skin.

CAUTION : Sandalwood trees are endangered in both Thailand and India, where they are often illegally poached from national forests. For this reason, only Australian sandalwood should be purchased, and even this should be used only as truly needed.

• • • • •


Acanthus ebracteatus

ngèuak bplaa mŏr | ngueak pla mo


TASTE: Salty, Heating

PART USED: Whole plant

Internal Application: Sea holly is used as a longevity tonic. It is good for the lymphatic system, and it treats many associated disorders. Sea holly is also used in cancer treatment.

External Application: Sea holly is used topically to treat abscesses.

• • • • •


gleua sà-mùt | kluea samut


TASTE: Salty

Internal Application: Salt aids the body in absorbing and retaining water. It is beneficial for bone, and acts as a vehicle to transport other medicinal herbs to the right place in the body. Salt is also used to treat wounds in the mouth, nasal passages, and eyes. Salt assists in purging through its action as a laxative.

External Application: Used in topical formulas such as compresses, salt treats the level of the bone. However, it is dependent on other herbs to penetrate through the initial layers of the body. Salt retains heat, and in hot herbal compresses it assists in keeping the compress warm. Salt draws out excess moisture, and is beneficial for reducing postpartum water excess, edema, and other complications involving retained water. For postpartum women, salt compresses or clay pots with hot salt inside are placed on the abdomen. Salt is also used to clean the teeth.

Salt is associated with Fire and Water, so it has both a heating quality and a cooling quality. It heats, but not too much, and it cools, but not too much. Salt in Thailand is primarily harvested from the sea, although there are some salt mines as well. In Northern Thailand, there is a small village where the well-water is salty enough that salt can be harvested.

CAUTION : Use of hot salt compresses and clay pots is contraindicated in pregnancy as drawing out excess fluid, while desirable postpartum, can be harmful during pregnancy.

• • • • •


Cassia acutifolia

má-kăam kàek | makham khaek


TASTE: Sour, slightly Sweet

PART USED: Leaves, pods

Internal Application: Tea made from senna pods is a strong and effective laxative for treatment of constipation. The leaves are somewhat more gentle, and tea from the leaves is traditionally used as a mild laxative for the elderly. In smaller doses, senna stimulates the liver and encourages the production of bile, thereby aiding digestion.

External Application: Decoction of senna pods is an antiseptic. Applied topically, it is used traditionally as a treatment for bacterial and fungal skin infections. As a gargle, it is used to treat infections of the mouth, including tooth and gum disease, and mouth sores.

CAUTION : If taking senna for constipation, it is important to know the cause of constipation. Does it come from lack of Wind (movement), or from the quality of the feces (too hard or too sticky)? Senna should only be used with the first condition. Taking senna with Aromatic Pungent herbs, such as cardamom, cinnamon, or cloves, will decrease the possibility of cramping.

• • • • •


Sesamum indicum

ngaa | nga


TASTE: Oily, Sweet, Bitter

PART USED: Seed, oil

Internal Application: In Thai medicine, sesame seeds are recommended dietary supplements for sufferers of joint problems, tooth decay, and bone weakness. Sesame promotes strength and increases body warmth, and is therefore a nutritive tonic when incorporated into the daily diet. Sesame seed is also taken in cases of cough, constipation, hemorrhoids, and painful or blocked menstruation.

External Application: Sesame oil is used extensively as a topical treatment for Wind imbalance. It is also used as a beneficial base for many balms and liniments.

CAUTION : When using sesame oil medicinally, be sure to get raw sesame oil. Many sesame oils sold in stores are toasted for flavor, but this denatures the medicinal quality.

• • • • •


Allium cepa var. aggregatum

hŏm daeng | hom daeng


TASTE: Heating


Internal Application: Shallots treat colds, phlegm, and fevers from colds and prevent the flu.

External Application: Shallots are used in Thai hot herbal compresses and drawing poultices. On the skin they are slightly astringent.

Chopped shallot or white onion is often wrapped in muslin or cheesecloth and placed under a child’s pillow so that they will inhale the vapors.

CAUTION : When shallots are used medicinally, in most cases you cannot substitute onion. Also note that it is important to use shallot that is freshly cut—not one that was previously cut and left out or refrigerated.

• • • • •


Ligusticum wallichii

got hŭa bua | kot hua bua


TASTE: Oily, Mild, Fragrant/Cool

PART USED: Rhizome

Internal Application: Sichuan lovage is beneficial for the Wind that circulates throughout the body, as well as for treatment of abnormal growths. It also regulates menstruation.

External Application: Sichuan lovage is found in liniments that treat trauma, as it assists with circulation.

• • • • •


Clinacanthus nutans

pá-yaa yor | phaya yo


TASTE: Tasteless, Cooling


Internal Application: Snake grass is used internally to treat poison.

External Application: A tincture or ointment of snake grass is used topically to soothe skin ulcers, herpes, allergic rash, hives, shingles, and burns. It is also found in massage balm. The primary external use of snake grass, though, is to treat poisonous insect stings and snake bites.

• • • • •


Rhinacanthus nasutus

tong-pan-châng | thong phan chang


TASTE: Toxic

PART USED: Whole plant

Internal Application: Snake jasmine is used to treat fevers, sore throat, colds, and lung diseases, such as bronchitis and tuberculosis. It lowers blood pressure, and is therefore an effective treatment for hypertension. Tea made from this herb has a laxative effect, helps with back pain, and is useful to encourage passing of gallstones. The Wat Pho texts recommend the leaf as a diuretic, laxative, and anthelmintic (i.e., expels parasites), and as a detoxifying remedy for fever, blood poisoning, skin disease, and cancer. It is said that snake jasmine must be collected between sunset and sunrise because sunlight destroys the potency of the plant.

External Application: A tincture or macerate made of snake jasmine leaves is used topically as a treatment for bacterial and fungal skin infections, rashes, ringworm, and other skin parasites.

• • • • •


Sapindus rarak

má-kam-dee-kwaai | makhamdikhwai


TASTE: Bitter

PART USED: Seed, fruit

Internal Application: The seed of the soap nut tree is traditionally used for treatment of fever and food poisoning, and is considered to be a bitter tonic. The Wat Pho texts mention the pulp of the soap nut fruit as an ingredient in drops to counter ear infection.

External Application: The soap nut fruit was at one time used in South Asia as a natural soap, and still is an ingredient in many natural herbal soaps and shampoos. In Thailand, the soap nut is used medicinally to counter itching of the skin, such as in the case of allergic reactions, hives, rashes, and dandruff. It is also used as a skin tonic and as a remedy for ringworm.

In the West, soap nut can be purchased online, where it is being marketed as a laundry additive.

• • • • •


Illicium verum

jan bpàet glèep | chan paet klip


TASTE: Aromatic Pungent


Internal Application: Star anise is mainly a digestive used to counter flatulence, indigestion, irritable bowel, gastritis, and other stomach or intestinal cramping. It is gentle enough to use safely with children and infants. Star anise is a useful cold remedy for cases of dry cough, congestion, flu, and sore throat. As an expectorant, it is especially useful in cases of bronchitis, asthma, and other respiratory infections. It is an excellent remedy for insomnia, and promotes regular menstruation.

External Application: Star anise is beneficial for the heart-mind and is used in oils to calm the Subtle Winds.

Star anise is often used to flavor Thai tea (iced or hot). Just add 2−3 stars to your tea before brewing.

• • • • •


Pyllanthus niruri

lûuk-dtâi-bai | luk tai bai


TASTE: Bitter

PART USED: Whole plant

Internal Application: Stonebreaker is one of the most useful Bitter plants in the Thai pharmacopeia. It is very beneficial for the kidneys and liver, and is held to be an excellent daily tonic for diabetes and hypoglycemia. It has a calming effect on the circulatory system, lowers blood pressure, and relieves stress, nervousness, insomnia, and anxiety. As a bitter tonic, stonebreaker is prescribed for any type of liver disease, such as hepatitis, cirrhosis, and for cases of jaundice. As an effective diuretic, it is used to treat inflamed kidneys, gall stones, prostate disease, gout, diseases of the pancreas, gonorrhea, venereal disease, excessive or frequent menstruation, as well as cases of infrequent or painful urination.

Stonebreaker is also a tonic for the stomach, easing stomach pains and increasing the appetite. It is frequently prescribed in cases of fever and back pain, and has been shown to be of use as a daily tonic for blood detoxification in cases of AIDS and other blood diseases. The Wat Pho texts also mention stonebreaker as a remedy for vomiting in infants, malaria, and flatulence.

External Application: Stonebreaker may also be used topically to as an antibacterial and vulnerary for wounds, sores, inflammations, or skin infections.

• • • • •


Annona squamosa

nói nàa | noina


TASTE: The leaves are Toxic. The seeds are Toxic and Oily.

PART USED: Leaves, seeds

Internal Application: The seeds of the sugar apple treat parasites.

External Application: The leaves and seeds of the sugar apple tree are ground into powder and used to treat head lice.

The fruit of the sugar apple, which is found in abundance in the markets during its season, is one of the sweetest fruits we have ever tasted.

• • • • •


Saccharum officinarum

ôi | oi


TASTE: Sweet, Bitter


Internal Application: Sugar cane treats dehydration so effectively that, while drinking pure fresh sugar cane juice is ideal, even just chewing the fibrous stalk is beneficial. Medicinally, sugar cane is mainly an adjuvant. Fresh cane juice is added to remedies to treat fever, sore throat, cough, congestion, bladder infections, urinary tract infections, low energy, low immunity, chronic disease, chronic fatigue, and emaciation. Raw, unrefined sugar is added to herbal teas that treat fever and lymph problems. Rock sugar is added to treatments for fevers, colds, and sore throat. Sugar as medicine rarely involves highly processed white sugar. The juice of a related plant, the black sugar cane (Saccharum sinense), is a diuretic used in remedies for kidney disorders and venereal diseases.

Sugar cane is commonly available from street vendors all over South Asia. In Thailand, iced sugar cane is sold in bite-sized chunks or in bottles of freshly pressed juice. The cane is chewed, and the woody pulp is spat out when the juice has been extracted. Any way it is ingested, there are few things more pleasurable on a hot sticky day than fresh sugar cane.

• • • • •


gam má tăn | kammathan


TASTE: Toxic

Internal Application: Pure powdered sulfur is primarily used externally; however, there are some cases where it is used internally to treat toxins.

External Application: Sulfur is applied topically to treat fungal infections, acne, ringworm, scabies, and other skin parasites. It is also commonly used in Thailand to treat mange on dogs.

• • • • •


Tamarindus indica

má kăam | makham


TASTE: The leaves are Sour and Astringent. The fruit is Sour, Astringent, and slightly Toxic. The bark is Heating.

PART USED: Whole plant

Internal Application: The seeds of the tamarind are used as a purgative to expel tapeworms and other intestinal parasites, and are also recommended as a tonic for health, strength, and vigor. The fresh juice of the tamarind is the Thai equivalent of the West’s prune juice and is a favorite remedy for constipation. It also treats fever.

Tamarind is considered to be a blood purifier, and is recommended for pregnancy and postpartum. Tea made from the young leaves and pods of the tamarind is a laxative, and is also used to treat colds and fevers. The flowers are reputed to lower blood pressure, and the bark is an astringent for diarrhea and fever.

External Application: Used in hot herbal compresses, tamarind leaves expel excess fluid and constrict the tissue. A poultice from the fruit is used externally to reduce fever. The leaves of the tamarind are also frequently used topically to treat skin ulcers and sores. The juice and decoction of the bark are both useful astringents for general antiseptic treatment of the skin, and are frequently applied directly to oily or infected skin before sauna or steam bath. The bark treats inflamed gums, cavities, and some skin parasites.

Tamarind is a common ingredient in Thai cuisine. The pulp of the fruit (available at Thai, Indian, and some Latino groceries) is cooked and added to soups and curries for flavor. The flowers, fruit, and young leaves are eaten in soups and curries. Unripe fruit is also candied with sugar, salt, and red chili flakes and sold by street vendors.

• • • • •


Cordyline fruticosa

màak pûu màak mia | makphumakmia


TASTE: Tasteless, Oily, Cooling


Internal Application: The ti plant primarily treats fever and toxins, but it also is an astringent with a wide range of applications. It is a hemostatic, meaning that it is used traditionally to stop bleeding in cases of bloody vomit, stool, or urine. It is also employed to stop the coughing up of blood associated with tuberculosis, to halt excessive menstruation, and to curtail internal bleeding of the organs, bruises, contusions, and hematoma. The ti plant is also used for treatment of diarrhea, dysentery, arthritis, fever, and measles.

External Application: Topically treats skin irritation from heat and toxicity, and stops bleeding. As a gargle, it is effective against tooth and gum disease, bleeding gums, and halitosis (i.e., bad breath).

• • • • •


Curcuma longa

kà-mîn | khamin


TASTE: Astringent, Bitter

PART USED: Rhizome

Internal Application: Turmeric treats diarrhea caused by excess Water Element, moves Wind, and dries mucus. It soothes inflammation and cleans the blood. Turmeric is used as a stimulant for the digestion, and aids in treatment of flatulence, peptic ulcers, indigestion, irritable bowel, and gastritis. For these reasons, it is often used as an adjuvant in preparations for gastrointestinal complaints. It is said to lower blood sugar and is therefore also used for diabetes and hypoglycemia. Turmeric is also a remedy for cough, arthritis, chronic back pain, and painful or blocked menstruation. Turmeric leaves may be used as an antidote for food poisoning and for treatment of hepatitis, as they have a detoxifying effect on the blood, digestive tract, and liver, and regulate the body’s secretion of hormones. Turmeric is currently being researched for its anticarcinogenic properties.

External Application: Topically, turmeric is beneficial for the skin and reduces inflammation, especially in the joints. It is frequently found in hot herbal compress formulas, as well as herbal balms and liniments, as it treats the skin and moves Wind. Turmeric treats ringworm and athlete’s foot. When applied to wounds, turmeric speeds healing and prevents infection. The turmeric rhizome relives itching and swelling, and has a slight antiseptic effect. It therefore can be used topically on insect bites, rashes, allergic reactions, hives, and superficial wounds. It is also used as an anti-inflammatory for bruises and sprains.

• • • • •


Cryptolepis buchanani

tăo en òn | thao en-on


TASTE: Sweet, Bitter

PART USED: Stem, root, leaves

Internal Application: Internally used as a remedy for fatigue and for mental invigoration. Wax-leaved climber is frequently used to relieve tendon stiffness, as well as muscular aches and pains. It is said to improve circulation.

External Application: Used in compresses, poultices, and liniments to heal tendons and ligaments, to treat strains and sprains, as well as for contusions and other acute injuries.

• • • • •


Neptunia oleracea

pàk grà chàyt | phak krachet


TASTE: Tasteless, Cooling

PART USED: Stalk, leaves

Internal Application: Water mimosa reduces fever, treats venereal diseases, and eliminates poisons. It moves phlegm, is a tonic that nourishes the body, and relieves headache caused by toxins. Water mimosa also treats food poisoning and allergy.

• • • • •


din-sŏr phong | dinsophong


TASTE: Cooling

Internal Application: White clay is used internally for drawing out toxins, purging, and treating addictions.

External Application: Topically, many different varieties of clay are used on the skin to soothe skin rashes, hives, insect bites, and irritations.

• • • • •


Piper sarmentosum

chá pluu | cha phlu


TASTE: Spicy/Hot


Internal Application: Wild pepper leaf is used traditionally to stimulate digestion, to treat flatulence, indigestion, diarrhea, and dysentery, and to ease bloated stomach, abdominal discomfort, and symptoms of irritable bowel and gastritis. It is also employed as a cold remedy, especially in the case of severe lung congestion. Wild pepper leaf treats asthma and works as an expectorant. It also relieves flu, reduces fever, and aids digestion, as well as treating toothache.

External Application: Wild pepper leaf topically treats dermatitis. The wild pepper leaf is well known as a muscle relaxant, and is frequently applied to aches, pains, and sore muscles.

• • • • •


Imperata cylindrica

yâa-kaa | ya kha


TASTE: Sweet


Internal Application: Woolly grass is used primarily as a hemostatic (i.e., to stop bleeding) in cases of blood in the vomit, urine, or phlegm. Its diuretic properties also make it useful in the treatment of fevers, urinary tract infections, kidney disease and stones, bladder problems, cystitis, blood in the urine, vaginal discharge, sexually transmitted diseases, and other urogenital problems.

External Application: Woolly grass is used topically to treat dermatological conditions, including acne and skin infections. It also cleanses and assists with bone setting.

• • • • •


Tilacora triandra

yâa naang | yanang


TASTE: Tasteless, Bitter

PART USED: Roots, leaves

Internal Application: This herb is used in the Thai tradition to treat fevers. It is used by some Hill Tribes to treat sprains, bruises, sore muscles, and postpartum to lessen pain and promote healing. Yanaang is extremely effective at counteracting poison.

External Application: Yanaang reduces heat and inflammation and draws out poison. It is found in balms and liniments that promote cooling and that soothe insect bites, prickly heat, and stings. It is beneficial for skin infections, including staphylococcus.

In the West, Yanaang leaves can be readily found in the frozen aisle at Asian food markets.

• • • • •


Canaga odorata

grà-dang-ngaa | kradangnga


TASTE: Fragrant/Cool


Internal Application: Ylang ylang flower is a tonic for the heart, and is used traditionally to treat dizziness and fainting spells. It is also a tonic for the blood, and balances the Elements. The leaf and wood are diuretic.

External Application: Added to topical oils or inhalations, ylang ylang calms the Subtle Winds and soothes the heart-mind.

• • • • •


Curcumin zedoaria

kà-mîn ôi | khamin-oi


TASTE: Spicy/Hot, Astringent

PART USED: Rhizome

Internal Application: Zedoary is beneficial for tendons, tissues, and muscles. Related to turmeric, zedoary is used for similar purposes. It is effective against nausea, vomiting, intestinal cramps, irritable bowel, gastritis, and diarrhea, and is often added as an adjuvant to laxative herbs due to its soothing effect on the stomach. It is also effective against fever, and is used by some Hill Tribes to treat dysentery.

External Application: Topically, zedoary is used in liniments that treat acute injury, especially of tendons, tissue, and muscles. Zedoary is also a topical antiseptic, and is used in the Thai tradition and by some Hill Tribes to treat cuts, wounds, and insect bites.

• • • • •


Zingiber zerumbet

gà-teu | kathue


TASTE: Bitter

PART USED: Rhizome

Internal Application: Zerumbet ginger has many of the same properties as common ginger, but to a lesser degree. It is used traditionally to treat stomach pain and cramping, as well as food poisoning, allergy, nausea, and vomiting. It can be used successfully to treat irritable bowel, gastritis, and indigestion.

External Application: A tincture of Zerumbet ginger is applied topically to soothe arthritis pains. It is said to give especially good results when massaged into the skin.