In Thailand, medicinal herbs are part of the holistic system of Thai Traditional Medicine which takes into account healing mind, body, and spirit.
The core idea or herbal medicine application in Thailand is that man can, with adequate knowledge of medicinal herbs, learn to live in harmony with his surroundings, the changes in his life, improve energy levels, support longevity and a healthy sexuality, strengthen the immune system and detoxify the body, and treat common discomforts and ailments.
The legends tell that the historical patron of Thai Traditional Medicine is a certain Jivaka Kumar Bhaccha, revered by Thai Medicine practitioners as the “Father Doctor” or “Doctor Shivago.” Jivaka is thought to had been the personal physician to the Buddha’s Sangha in India and a contemporary (and friend) of the Buddha around 2,500 years ago. Being a renowned Ayurvedic doctor he’s also considered the primordial teacher of Thai Medicine, including Thai Herbalism and Thai Massage.
Nevertheless, research done in past decades show that Thai Herbalism and Pharmacopoeia are not only influenced by Indian Ayurvedic concepts, but likewise by indigenous, Arab and Chinese concepts and knowledge.
Rural and Royal Style
In general, we can distinguish two types of Thai Medicine systems often referred to as the rural (folk) and royal (court) style. There’s quite some overlap between the two, partly sharing similar terminology and also herbal recipes.
Nevertheless, it’s only the royal style (or royal tradition) that developed a theoretical framework of ailments, symptoms, diagnoses and treatments. Up to today, the rural style is rather informal, varying depending on the place, region, and therapist or healer.
In the rural tradition, knowledge is transmitted mostly orally through undisclosed herbal recipes and techniques, through spiritual treatises and initiations, and handed down from master to student.
In any case, in Thailand, herbs are commonly prepared and used as tonics, decoctions, teas, powders, topical creams and emulsions, in food (dietary regimes), as herbal compresses (both hot and cold), herbal baths, steam baths, and herbal steam inhalation.
In the Thai herbal system, all foods and drinks, including herbs can be classified by a dominance of one of the so-called ten tastes, being astringent, oily, salty, sweet, bitter, nauseating, sour, hot (or spicy), bland, or aromatic. Each taste influences one or more of the four elements air, water, fire and earth, which in their turn influence (are connected to) the functioning of organs and other bodily systems.
Apart from the classification by tastes, the Thai system also includes a classification of herbs by action, such as anti-inflammatory, aphrodisiac, stimulant, carminative, diuretic, expectorant, sedative, among other classifications by action.
With the integrated knowledge mentioned above, a Thai herbal healer can determine which foods and herbs are most likely to support a treatment and which should be avoided.
As herbs and food affect the body causing physiological changes it’s therefore considered to be rather bodywork than energy work (Thai Massage). Of course, this does not mean that the application of herbs is limited to the physical essence only; Thai Medicine is a holistic system and the link between body, emotions/mind and energy is always taken into consideration.
Moreover, Thai herbal healers will always be open to apply (or let apply) other forms of the Thai Healing arts, such as Thai Massage, spiritual work, visualizations, and incantations, among other tools and techniques.
We need to realize also that many herbal medicines contain the same active ingredients as modern over-the-counter medicines and can be likewise effective. Nevertheless, herbal applications may take some time to become really effective, but this is because they work on and through the whole body rather than on specific symptoms. In Thailand, it’s believed that consistent use of herbal remedies, improving one’s dietary regime, exercising, and meditating can support man in finding and maintaining health and happiness.