I have turned to Thai herbal remedies more than once in these past few years, for ailments ranging from cold and cough, constipation, and a worsening skin allergy.
For cold and cough my friends gave me leaves to make a tea from fah tha lai jone (heaven that beats thieves), a bitter drink that I took daily for a few days and I got well.
There is also a dried herbal concoction the yais (elder women) make called samun phrai (Thai herbal mixture). You soak it in a bunch of water to make tea and it has a slightly sweet woody taste, pleasant smell and turns the water orange.
A concoction of leaves and herbs including a long leafy grass called baiteuy or panadus, is used in Thai herbal saunas. It takes a few hours to prepare with a wood stoked fire from which the steam is directed through a pipe you stand over filling the room with herbal goodness that soaks in the skin and lungs.
The leaf to induce diarrhea grows in my back yard and is potent as I discovered. A veritable colon cleanser. My 20-minute bike ride away acupuncturist, gave me leaves and branches from tung pan chang (1000 gold elephants) for my excema. I soaked my hands and feet in it and it left them soft and smooth.
One day my co-worker stopped along the side of the road and identified the leaves from bai yao (long leaf). Breaking apart the leaf at the stem reveals a clear liquid which can be applied to cuts acting like a liquid bandaid. Then, my neighbor showed me where it was growing in a corner of my backyard. For a time, my refrigerator was filled with branches and leaves; storing food for cud chewing animals.
At the local walking street I happened upon wan yao, sweet grass, or as it is known in America “Stevia.” This wonderful little plant with its leaves so sweet kept filling my teapot with its wild grassy nectar, cup after cup. Afterwards, I ate the leaves. The Stevia we know has no such flavor. So much we are missing! In Thailand, the sugar industry has prevented wan yao from being farmed and commercialized. I am sad to report that my wan yao has died.
I happened upon another Thai herbal remedy when my excema was so painful with fissures, dryness and stiffness, I could not open my hands. I was sitting in a van returning from a wedding in a mountain village in Chiang Mai, that grows almonds, strawberries and grapes, when my partner teacher from the monastery school handed me a bit of a lip balm she said had beeswax in it. It took the pain away within seconds. I was thrilled. She said she bought it on-line but knew where to buy it in Chiang Mai. We stopped at a large department store where a small cosmetic counter sold it under the name Siphun Mae Liab 2480. It cost about a dollar for a three-gram container. I promptly used up my precious resource that night as I spread the aromatic sticky substance on my hands and feet.
I have since ordered it on-line, twice, buying it in bulk. 50 three-gram containers in a box. My latest order has three blobs of the viscous charm, individually zip locked in tiny bags. The ingredients intrigued me: bees wax, coconut oil, and Boswellia Serrata. Boswellia Serrata? I had to know more.
In short, it’s Frankincense Oil. Boswellia Serrata is one of the Boswellic acids in Frankincense Oil. I know way to much about it now. I had an idea to add the oil to my creams, so I bought some in Bangkok. This was after hours of research and investigation and a search for sources on alibaba.com, Asia’s answer to amazon. Boswellia Serrata has been used for thousands of years and has proven to be effective in reducing inflammation and pain from osteo-arthritis and many other afflictions (the list is long). You can buy it powdered in the U.S.
A local product called kee pueng (bee shit), not to be confused with nam pueng, (bee water) or honey, is available at my local market. So, I ask for bee shit, no bull shit, and the locals happily sell it to me and query about what I am going to do with it. “Chan tam Samunphrai dua eng”. I am going to make Thai herbs myself. Then I show them my hands. They look at me knowingly wanting a closer look, “agaat peh” (weather allergy), I say. “Mee taao duai” (on my feet too). They stick a pair of rubber gloves in my bag.
My first Thai herbal balm was fantastic. I melted the orange kee pueng, then added equal parts olive oil, coconut oil and jojoba oil.
Then the delicious Frankincense oil. It was great, but it’s gone. For my second batch, I wanted to use real beeswax. Luckily, down the street live a group of people who collect honey and wax from wild bees and sell in Chiang Mai. I was riding by bike past their house one day and over the fence offered, “Mee kee pueng mai ka?” Do you have any beeswax? They said, yes. I rode home with a huge wad of honey comb, for free. I was so excited. Little did I know about the work that lay ahead.
My first attempt was actually five attempts because that is how many times I had to render the beeswax. This is the result of the first rendering.
To render beeswax, meaning melt down, filter and cool, takes time. It is hot season now, and laboring over a hot stove making beeswax is interesting, but hot.
In between the renderings, is the time consuming and messy task of cleaning beeswax from pots and buckets. I still have two dirty buckets sitting in my back yard, having lost interest in pouring hot water inside to melt the wax and clean, knowing it will take three pots of hot water. The process involves wearing three pairs of gloves: a cotton liner, followed by two plastic gloves, but the heat still penetrates. I ouch, ouch, ouch my way through, then run cold water over the gloves before wiping the wax off. In the future, I wish to buy my beeswax already rendered. Or, become a bee keeper and sell beeswax and my homemade Thai herbal remedy. LOL!
Am I getting better? Yes. My skin is more elastic. I can straighten my fingers. It takes the pain away. No medicine has been able to do that. I accept that this is part of my self-care. Slathering my skin with beeswax at night and morning. Wearing socks and gloves. I eventually throw them out due to the amount of beeswax on them. Downside is I have to apply the cream often.
As a long term cortisone cream user, I can’t use topical medicine anymore. It is not effective or good for long term use. Beeswax has a bunch of healthy properties. It lets your skin breathe, and has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. My dermatologist, at the internationally acclaimed Bumrungrad hospital in Bangkok, also echoed this by telling me that in ancient times, monks actually used beeswax like skin cream. He encouraged me to use it.
Yesterday, was the first day in over a year, I have been able to leave the house without socks!
Here is to discovering what heals you! Chocolate chip cookies wouldn’t do any harm, but for today, I think I will have coconut ice cream!