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A THAI HERBAL: Traditional Recipes For Health And Harmony

by By C Pierce Salguero

listed in herbal medicine

[Image: A THAI HERBAL: Traditional Recipes For Health And Harmony]

In recent years we have heard about and may have even sampled the delights of Thai massage, but until now we have heard little about the rich herbal tradition of Thailand. This excellent book springs from the direct experience of C Pierce Salguero, an Americal herbalist and anthropologist, who travelled widely in India, China and Thailand and spent 4 years studying traditional Thai medicine and massage under several renowned teachers in Thailand.

Traditional Thai medicine, Salguero tells us in a straightforward, easy to read manner, is a combination of yoga, acupressure, herbal medicine and dietary therapy. There are two strands of Thai medicine: the Rural and Hill Tribe tradition, an informal and rather secret art practised by male healers, handed down orally from one generation to another, and the Royal tradition, a more organised system which was practised in the temples and at the royal courts for millennia. This developed from the Rural tradition and, with the introduction of Ayurveda and Western medical philosophy brought by European explorers and along the trade routes, became an organized, efficient and recorded health care system.

For those familiar with Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese medicine, this book will prove a fascinating read, for there are many similarities between these and the Thai system. The original founder of Thai medicine, Salguero relates, was Jivaka Kumar Bhaccha, a contemporary of the Buddha and a renowned Ayurvedic doctor over 2500 years ago. Apparently most Thai herbalists, masseurs and traditional doctors still keep statuettes of the Buddha and the 'Father Doctor' in their shrines where their prayers include those to invoke the spirit of Jivaka Kumar Bhaccha to aid them in their healing practices. In actual fact it is hard to know how much of the Thai system came from India or other regions and how much was indigenous to Thailand itself.

I was particularly interested in the theoretical section of the book, where Salguero describes clearly and concisely, how, like Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, the Thai system takes into consideration mind, body and spirit, and therefore this book is not simply a collection of recipes for treating disease. Central to Thai philosophy is the concept of the Circle of Life round which there is a constant flow between Body, Energy, and Citta. Body is the substance from which our physical bodies are made, Citta, meaning mind or heart, is our non physical, inner self. Energy holds mind, heart and body together and is analogous to the Ayurvedic concept of Prana and the Chinese idea of Qi. It is an invisible flow of energy that runs through meridians known as 'nadis'. According to Thai medical philosophy, the root cause of all disease is the imbalance between Body, Citta and Energy which causes health and immunity to break down.

Salguero goes on to explain that there are 3 main branches of traditional Thai medicine: Spiritual Healing which deals with Citta, the mind and heart; Thai Massage which is Energy therapy and Dietary Regimens and Herbal Therapy which constitute Body therapy. It is the latter that A Thai Herbal is mostly concerned with. Although diet and herbs are primary therapies for the Body it does not mean that their effects are limited to the physical body for the close link between Citta, Energy and Body means that by taking foods and herbs and other natural substances we can influence our mental and energetic selves too. This subject is very close to my heart and I am absolutely in agreement with Salguero here. Generally Thai healers, like Ayurvedic doctors, believe that digestion is central to health, and will look to diet first, and herbs will be used secondarily and only in conjunction with diet. Massage and spiritual healing will also be advocated. As in Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, the Thai system says that each food has energetic properties and by harmonizing our diets with our own constitutions we can prevent and remedy disease.

In his comprehensive section on the philosophy of Thai medicine, Salguero includes a discussion of the 4 body elements, earth, water, air and fire; their qualities and the organs they effect, the 10 tastes and their effects on the elements. There are useful charts on the therapeutic applications of the tastes as well as lists of foods classified according to their taste, and of herbs according to their actions.

Then the book moves on to the herbal section which includes descriptions of herbs used in traditional cuisine, with some tasty recipes, herbs in cosmetics and for the household, such as shampoos and body lotions, with some great recipes including one for homemade tiger balm and a non toxic insect repellent. There follows a description of the herbs used in Thai massage and saunas.

Hot herbal compresses are applied to acupressure points, some of which are shown in diagrams. Herbal saunas are used in the treatment of many diseases including respiratory infections, headaches, skin disease, stress and muscular problems. The section finishes with some recipes for using medicinal herbs for common ailments such as PMS and IBS.

Over half the book is dedicated to the compendium of over 150 herbs. Each entry includes a description of the plant's action, its taste, internal application, topical application if relevant and method of preparation. In this section I would have liked to have seen the pharmacological constituents of the plants which would underpin their therapeutic applications and to see more in the text about their application from a traditional Thai medicine perspective rather than solely a Western medical viewpoint. For example, it would be interesting to know which dosha or elemental imbalance the herb would best treat.

In the theory section Salguero tells us for instance, that an imbalance of water, can lead to symptoms such as eye disorders, urinary tract infection and blood diseases. If the herbal section could have referred to the traditional theory and described herbs for such an imbalance, somehow the book would have felt more consistent.

With my keen interest in Ayurveda, I found this book particularly interesting. I would recommend it for anybody interested in Eastern medical traditions and they like me may feel that this book is great introduction to Thai medicine leaving one hungry to know a lot more!

Anne McIntyre
Published by Findhorn Press
ISBN 1-84409-004-3

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