Do you remember going into a Thai restaurant and smell a plethora of herbal scents in their air, tantalizing your taste buds? Thailand is famous for its herbs/fruits and their usage in Thai cuisine, traditional medicine and spas/massage. Some of these herbs may not be available in other Asian countries and, not to mention, the Western countries. In this article, we will be introducing the most common Thai herbs and their benefits to you.
Table of Contents
Commonly used Thai herbs
The most common Thai herbs (especially if you aren’t in Thailand) would be those you see in Thai dishes.
- Lemon grass, galangal and kaffir lime: have you ever had tom yum? While this dish needs no further introduction, these herbs, together with lime and chili are the secret behind tom yum fragrance and flavorful taste!
- Basil leaf: you may not be very familiar with the name “kra phrao”, but almost every Thai restaurant would offer minced pork/chicken/beef stir fried with basil leaves (usually serve with fried egg). Ring a bell yet? “kra phrao” is basil in Thai language
- Ginger: while ginger is not found in the most famous thai dishes, locals make frequent user of ginger in their stir fry, soup and steam dishes
As you can see, Thai make good use of their herbs in cooking. There are also other healthy ingredients in Thai food like celery, pepper, shallots and garlic. However, they are widely available globally so we will not be focusing on them here.
We will explore the health benefits of these commonly found one in the next section.
Thai herb health benefits
Ginger contains gingerol which has medicinal properties including anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. It is also known to help with reducing nausea, especially that related to morning sickness. Although considered safe, if you are pregnant, you should consult your doctor before taking a large amount of ginger. Other than that, ginger can help with lowering blood sugars, improving heart health, treating chronic indigestion, and also reducing joint pain and stiffness
Kaffir Lime (2)
Kaffir lime and the different parts of the plant have a lot of health benefits. The rind and the leaves can be used to improve oral health by rubbing the leaves on the gum. The oil can be mixed with dental care products to make more potent oral and gum care products. The oil is known to help with blood-related illnesses. Kaffir lime is anti-inflammatory in nature and can help with any constipation or indigestion. The smell of kaffir lime is quite unique and very relaxing, therefore a lot of spas use its oil for aromatherapy given its relaxing effect
Lemongrass is the dominant scent that you smell in Tom Yum. You can judge from the name, this herb has a citrusy fragrance. Not only in cooking, ancient Chinese medicine also uses lemongrass as one of its key ingredients. It has antiseptic, anti-cancer, and anti-bacterial properties. It helps with detox, weight loss, and maintaining healthy pancreas functions which are important for diabetes prevention or management
Galangal is rich in antioxidants and it can protect us against mental decline, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. It has an active compound called galangin, which is known to work against cancer cells and can prevent them from spreading. Other health benefits include boosting male fertility, fighting inflammation, infections, and pain. However, please do more research on these as not all of them have been formally proven
Basil leaf (5)
Just like any other Thai herbs that we’ve discussed, basil leaves also contain a lot of antioxidants. These antioxidants help to fight free radicals in the body. Health benefits from having these antioxidants are protective against cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes. It also has compounds that can help to alleviate anxiety and depression, as well as improve memory. Other than that, basil leaves can reduce inflammation and protect us against infections
Where can you buy Thai herbs?
If you are in Thailand, you can find them in any market, supermarket or your neighbor’s backyards! Many of these like basil and lemongrass are easy to grow. Hence, you can also consider growing your own.
Actually during this lockdown period, a lot of people in Thailand do more gardening and they plant Thai herbs. Not only that it is cheaper compared to buying the market, but also it is safer for them to stay at home rather than going to the market.
If you are not in Thailand then check out your supermarket, but you will most likely find these in shops within Thai communities. For example, there are many “Thai towns” overseas like Thai town in East Hollywood, LA, or Kowloon City in Hong Kong.
Alternatively, you can also check online grocery platforms in your region (example). But it would still be cheaper to find these herbs in Thai community shops.
There are many shops run by Thai people in Kowloon City, also known as “Little Thailand” in Hong Kong.
Are Thai herbs really healthy?
Indeed! Not only that they make Thai food very fragrant and delicious, but they also make them healthier.
In most of the common Thai herbs we discussed, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial are the common health properties. Therefore, incorporating these herbs into your food is always a good idea.
However, you always need to check with your health consultant if any of these herbs are not suitable for your health conditions.
Learn more about Thailand from our posts:
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- Digital nomad in Thailand: understanding visa and tax
- Thailand tourist visa and how to stay up to 3months
- How to adopt a dog in Thailand and save a life
- Tom Yum Soup Calories & Health Benefits
- Pad Kee Mao vs Pad See Ew: similarities and differences
- Tom Kha vs Tom Yum: Similarities & Differences