Thai Traditional Medicine

By Serena Blake and Caitlin Johnson

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Philosophy of Thai Traditional Medicine

In Thai traditional medicine it is believed that the four elements need to be in balance for a person to be healthy. The four elements being; Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire. Thai traditional medicine is a more holistic approach to medicine such as using massage and herbal remedies. Much of the philosophy surrounding Thai medicine is through Ayurveda which is based on keeping the flow of energy through the meridians of the body. The overall belief is that it is important to have harmony between both the mind and the body.

History of Thai Traditional Medicine

            The origin of Thai medicine is believed to have started with Shivago Komarpaj, who was a historical figure that served Buddha and his community of monks and nuns as their physician. In turn, he gains a God like status within the religion and is mentioned in the scriptures as Father Doctor.

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Later, in the 16th century when King Narai ruled Siam in Ayutthaya, he opened hospitals and herbal dispensaries. Soon after was the fall of Ayutthaya and the founding of Bangkok, King Rama III started to promote ethno-healing (range of healthcare systems/structures, practices, beliefs, and therapeutic techniques that arise from indigenous cultural development) and established the school Wat Pho. After interest in this type of medicine starting to dwindle, the government and people started to turn toward western medicine.

In 1927 the World Health Organization started to promote the conservation of ethno-heritage. The Ministry of Health then started to revive the indigenous treatments which led to the Foundation for the Promotion of Thai Traditional Medicine. Again there was another boost to using traditional methods during WWII with the lack of getting the amount of drugs they needed, the government resorted to herbal methods. Over the years the interest in Thai traditional medicine and holistic healing has been continuously growing.

Thai Traditional Medicine in Modern day

In Thai culture today traditional medicine is still in common practice and the interest is continually growing.  Often, Thai people prefer to seek out medicine from local healers and traditional massage therapists over Western medicinal practices. Traditional medicine has increasingly been found in hospitals in Thailand. In these hospitals licensed professionals or medicine people perform herbalism and massage therapy.

Massage therapy is regarded as the most powerful form of therapy. Thai massage combines acupressure, body massage, and stretching, without the use of oils. There are many health benefits to massage therapy including, lowering levels of stress, boosting energy, relieving headaches, stimulating circulation and improving range of motion. This practice is performed on the concept of “energy lines”, called sen. Sen nourishes the body with vital force through 10 major lines. The massage therapist works with the specific lines based on the patient’s condition. Thai massage therapy is not only popular in Thailand, but has grown increasingly popular in western countries as well.

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In Thai culture the use of medicinal herbs is not only used to heal ailments, but also to flavor foods. In Thailand they love to combine different flavors. The spices double as flavoring but are also said to have curative properties, as well as balance the four elements. Some of the common herbs and plans used are basil, which is an antibacterial and relieves cold symptoms, constipation and indigestion, garlic, which treats colds coughs and bronchitis, fresh fruits and coconut, which remove toxins by flushing the kidneys and liver. There are many other flavors and plants used in Thai cooking that have different effects.


Eske, J. (n.d.). Thai massage: 5 benefits and side effects. Retrieved from


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