I’m passionate about so many things. In my herbal world, right now, I’m most passionate about Phlai. How do you even pronounce that? In Thai we say “ไพล” (pronounced ‘prai’) but because of the weird Asian r-l ‘thing’, the western way of saying it is Plai. With a slight aspiration on the p, making it “phlai”.
Officially and botanically Zingiber cassumunar Roxb. Colloquially ‘Phlai’ or (for the Americans in the room) “Chinese Yellow Ginger”. A phenomenal anti-inflammatory, pain relieving and circulation-boosting root herb which grows abundantly here in Northern Thailand. Think of it as the original herb which inspired the “tiger balm” phenomenon. Because that’s exactly what it is, and what it smells like.
Clinical studies have shown this herb out performs over the counter anti-inflammatories and is an effective natural pain reliever for muscle and joint pain.
Japanese clinical studies have isolated the active analgesic and anti-inflammatory compound to be the (E)-1-(3, 4-dimethoxyphenyl)but-1-ene that natural Phlai root contains.
A Chiang Mai University clinical study concluded as follows: “The present study clearly demonstrated the inhibitory activities of compound D, an anti-inflammatory compound of Z. cassumunar against the IL-1β-induced catabolic gene expression that involves in cartilage degeneration. The results indicated that compound D can serve as an upstream inhibitor of the catabolic cascade in chronic inflammatory joint erosion. These data provided the additional scientific-based information that Z. cassumunar may not only be effective on the reduction of joint pain and inflammation, but also delay joint destruction. Our study supports complementary and alternative medicines’ utilization of Z. cassumunar for the treatment of chronic inflammatory joint diseases.
In short, Phlai root extract not only soothes and calms joint and muscle pain & inflammation, its regular use has preventative effect on joint destruction in conditions like Rheumatoid Arthritis..
How significant is this? Leaving sports injury, accidents, post exercise strains and post-operative muscle pain to one side, Rheumatoid Arthritis alone is formally diagnosed at the rate of approximately 3 cases per 10,000 people. 0.003% of the global population. How many people is that from today’s estimated 7.7 billion global population? Only 2.3 million people. Who will be pumped full of cortico steroids and addictive opioid pain relievers, and referred for expensive surgeries, all to increase quality of life and reduce pain, Hmmmm…..? Maybe we’re in the wrong business? Trust me, Big Pharma does NOT want you to know about Phlai. All those pain-free people, recovering and moving more freely is bad for their business!
Traditionally in Thai culture, dried Phlai root is included in a Thai Herbal Massage Ball, called luuk phra kob in Thai. The dried herbal bundle is steamed and used hot in Thai herbal massage, to relieve pain and to heal & relax stiff joints and sore muscles.
It is truly one of life’s pleasures to receive this ancient Thai herbal treatment! Best practitioner of this treatment in Chiang Mai, in my personal opinion and after 16 years living here and manufacturing-exporting Thai Herbal Massage Balls? Undoubtedly Cheeva Spa. Ask for Khun Marc.
Phlai extract is also commonly used as Phlai Oil and Phlai Balm. Used as a spot treatment in the context of an overall full body oil massage, or chosen by athletes and endurance sports people to help keep them supple and pain free after events, without the chemical nasties.
I’m particularly passionate about Phlai because we have started our social enterprise with the Karen indigenous people along the Thai-Burmese border to organically GROW phlai root on a small commercial scale. Because we have so much demand for it, and because we prefer and choose to use only organically grown, fairly trade herbs.
Our Karen indigenous project partners planted the phlai roots in old re-purposed tires filled with compost. 2 months ago we were worried about no rain, as the phlai root tentatively poked its head above ground:
Then this, one month later:
Last week he rang me excitedly to say the Phlai plants were taller than he was!
The Phlai will continue to grow and be nourished with their organic compost:
and with EM (effective microorganisms), recycled coffee grounds and the ash for their wood cooking fires. At the end of the cool season – in late February 2020, we will harvest the roots for both drying and for essential oil extraction. And pay these farmers enough to sustain their whole farming village through the harsh dry season.
What excites me so much about this amazing herb? Firstly, that clinical trials have shown it to be AS EFFECTIVE as over the counter anti-inflammatories. Secondly that this is a simple, niche business that our indigenous communities can engage in and begin to evolve sustainably. And thirdly, that the demand for natural alternatives to dangerous steroid and anti-inflammatory drugs is growing daily, around the world.
Nothing makes me happier than sporting my yellow-stained fingernails after a day working with Phlai root. I simply love turning this:
and knowing it gives people ease, freer movement and rapid healing.
BlissednBlessed in my Thai natural world. Enjoyed so much to showcase one of our unique and very special Thai herbs.