Herbal course at Baan Hom Samunphrai

“Hello Sarah, we have had a student pull out of the herbal medicine course. Would you like to take her place?”

Never one to turn down a chance to spend a week learning with Homprang, I packed my bags and headed back to Baan Hom…

Day one
Most days would involve a walk through the garden with Homprang, gathering the herbs we would use that day in class. As we walked, she would point out the various plants and trees and list their medicinal properties, while we frantically tried to take notes! It really is astounding the amount of knowledge that she has, having grown up in a family that practice’s herbal medicine, passing from each generation to the next.

During the morning, we prepared a spray to relieve muscle pain and scarring, which was made by soaking two herbs in rice wine for a week. Such a simple idea, but I can tell you that it worked wonders for the enormous bruise that was blooming on my leg following a collision with a motorcycle a week earlier!
Our next task was making lip balm using coconut oil, beeswax and tea tree that we had collected that morning. There is something so satisfying about taking such simple raw ingredients and creating something that smells and feels so good! The beeswax was about as raw as it comes, and the tea tree was straight off the tree!

Some ingredients had to be bought, however, so we took a trip to the herbal pharmacy in Wororot market. Hidden down a wee side street, we walked into an Aladdin’s cave of various bottles and jars filled with all manner of weird and wonderful oils and powdered herbs and spices. Laden with supplies, we headed back to the school for the afternoon’s lesson, which was making a much needed mosquito repellent using lemongrass oil. I seem to be a bit of a magnet for the wee biters, but hate using Deet based products, so it was a relief to find a repellent that doesn’t smell like it is about to melt your skin! That said, my legs did already resemble a “join the dots” puzzle!

Day two
The morning was spent preparing the clay pots, which was something that I had already been lucky enough to try during the womb lifting course. After the trip through the garden to dig up the Plain and Turmeric roots, and gather the leaves needed, there followed a morning sitting in a circle chopping and pounding and chatting and listening to Homprang’s wonderful stories!

After lunch, we paired up and had a go at using the clay pots on each other. Fortunately for me, my partner Ann was more than happy to have me practice my full womb lifting sequence on her and practically floated out of the room three hours later! I was just delighted to have the chance to revisit what I had learned, especially when it turned out that I actually remembered it!

Day three
Today was a herbal compress day. Another way of incorporating heat and herbs into a treatment, it involves using tightly bound bags of herbs shaped into balls which are heated in a rice steamer, then used to massage the body through the clothes. Wrapping and making the herbal compress was a bit of a skill, with some of us mastering it better than others, and providing ample opportunity for jokes about misshapen balls!

After lunch we borrowed some very attractive tie dye shorts and tops and practiced using the herbal compress. With the main ingredient being turmeric, we all emerged from the class looking like a group of very sleepy Oompah Loompahs!

Day four
On the agenda today was the herbal hotbed. After preparing the bamboo bed with herbs and lighting the charcoal burners underneath, we spent the day grilling ourselves!

A real treat, though, came in the afternoon, when Homprang’s intern, Jam’s, practiced Yam Kang. This is something that I had tried six years ago when I first came to Thailand with my group from ITM massage school. Translated as “Walk Plough”, and also known as ” Fire foot massage”, it is certainly an entertaining spectator sport if nothing else!

The process involves heating a metal plough blade in a charcoal burner, and the practitioner then dips their foot in either Plai water, or sesame oil, swipes it over the blade and then uses their hot foot to massage their client.

Our attempts with ITM had resulted in fireballs, screaming, burnt feet and lots of giggles, but Jam’s had it down to a fine art! I was lucky enough to be model for the afternoon and was quite amazed at how much sensitivity can be developed using the feet as a massage tool. The boy has skills!

Day Five
Our morning outing was a visit to the coconut shop, where we bought coconuts for making “Miang Kam”. Part of the course was ” Food as medicine”, and this particular dish involves various ingredients, all chosen to represent each of the five elements in Thai herbal medicine: Earth, fire, water, wind and air. The idea is that all the ingredients balance each other. The morning was spent preparing the ingredients: Ginger, chilli, shallots, lime, toasted coconut, peanuts and sweet sauce made from palm sugar and shallot, all wrapped in spicy leaves gathered from the garden, “Cha plu”.

After lunch, we gathered butterfly peas for making shampoo. These wee flowers can also be used to make tea, which turns an alarming shade of bright blue! Used as a shampoo, they make dark hair look especially shiny. We also collected some leaves from the ” Soft Bollygum” tree, and, combined with a little water and some muscle power, produced a massive bowl of black gloopy liquid: Our shampoo!
The Baan Hom salon was now open for business, with Jam’s and I providing head massage and shampoo services as we tested out our latest creation. Even the dogs got in on the action! It was, without a doubt, one of the most enjoyable days I have ever spent at Baan Hom!

Day six
The morning was spent making that Thai staple: Tiger balm. Definitely something that I will try to recreate when I get home.

Continuing on the “Food as Medicine” theme, we spent the afternoon making one of my favourite Thai dishes, Wing Bean Salad. Homprang described this as “Royal” Thai cooking, due to the time and skill involved in making it. It is easy to see why: The labour that went into producing this dish was quite considerable. Milking a coconut by hand for example. I will never look at a tin of the stuff in the same way again! Milking the coconut involves taking freshly pulped coconut flesh, adding a little warm water and squeezing the hell out of it! Being the only massage therapist in the group, I was deemed the best woman for the job! Even with my relatively strong arms and hands, I was exhausted by the end, and feeling it in my forearms for days afterwards!

It was worth it for the end result though! Like much of Thai cooking, the dish was a flurry of rich flavours: Toasted coconut and sesame, chilli paste, lime, honey, crunchy wing beans and of course, fresh coconut milk. Homprang finished the dish by carving a rose out of a tomato to place on top!

We then proceeded to demolish the dish in about 10 minutes flat!

All in all, it was, without a doubt, one of the happiest times I have ever spent at Baan Hom. We had a group that were so passionate about what Homprang was teaching, and appreciative of her endless knowledge, which, in turn, made her even more willing to share it. It was non stop smiles and laughter, with a group so focussed on learning, yet still relaxed enough to play and enjoy the process. The laughter flowed and we all reached the end of the week not wanting it to end.

When someone is so passionate and knowledgeable in their field, it is difficult for their enthusiasm not to be infectious, and it has ignited an interest to carry on what I have learned and see how it can be adapted when I get home. Home made Tiger balm coming soon!

Above all, it left me with memories that I will cherish forever, and introduced me to a group of people whom I shared some truly special moments with.