Last month as I was walking through a market in Bangkok I came across a row of shops that drew me in with the strong scent of lemongrass and kaffir lime. At the front there were cane baskets filled with wooden tools and above that something caught my eye. It looked like an orange that had been wrapped in a piece of white cloth and its large stem wound up tightly with rope. I picked one up and read the label, “Ingredients – Turmeric, lemongrass, citronella, tamarind leaves…”. The ingredients list kept going and although I knew it wasn’t a giant bag of tea, it sounded like it would make such a refreshing cup!
“Thai Herbal Compress Ball” the other side of the label read. Despite having seen these offered at many Thai spa and massage places, I wasn’t familiar with how they are used or what their benefits are. I knew I had to do some research when I got home!
Thai herbal compress, ‘Luk Pra Kob’ (Image source : Anantarak)
‘Luk Pra Kob’ (ลูกประคบ) or Thai herbal compress are small packages of carefully selected herbs tied into a ball with stem-like handles at the top. They are often steamed or boiled and applied to the body using various gliding, rolling and pressing techniques to help release tensed muscles, reduce inflammation, improve circulation and provide pain relief. Although they can be used by themselves, they are frequently used in conjunction with Thai massage to help open up energy channels and prepare the body for deeper acupressure work. To learn more about the history and origins of Thai massage, please visit our previous blog!
（Image source : Thitiwong Herb)
The use of Luk Pra Kob has origins in traditional Thai medicine from over 400 years ago. However, it is still widely practised today and has been scientifically proven to improve symptoms of osteoarthritis, muscle pain and even aid milk production in postpartum mothers. The heat from the compresses penetrates deeply, opening up pores to absorb the benefits of the herbs, increasing blood flow and helping the tissues in the body rebuild. Many say that the aroma released from the herbs also brings about a deep sense of relaxation and calms the mind, which helps improve their sleep, reduce stress and boost their mood.
The herbs in Luk Pra Kob
A variety of herbs, roots, stems and leaves are used in Luk Pra Kob either fresh or dried. These are roughly chopped, lightly pounded and mixed together to make a blend that has its own unique set of benefits. The recipes are drawn from historical Thai medicine manuals and differ depending on the conditions they are trying to treat.
Preparing fresh herbs for Luk Pra Kob (Image source : CODI)
Here is a recipe shared by Mahidol University in Bangkok to make Luk Pra Kob :
- Yellow ginger 500g
- Turmeric 100g
- White turmeric 100g
- Lemongrass 200g
- Kaffir lime (peel or leaves) 100g
- Galangal 100g
- Salt 60g
- Borneol 30g
- Camphor 30g
(This recipe makes 3 standard sized compresses or 15 smaller sized ones)
Yellow ginger for example, is known to help support the immune system and improve circulation. Turmeric is believed to have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antioxidant properties which is beneficial for many skin conditions. Lemongrass is added for its refreshing and uplifting scent, and kaffir lime for its essential oils and ability to aid the digestive system. Salt helps the compress hold heat and assists the herbs in getting absorbed by the body while the strong scent of borneol and camphor helps stimulate the heart and mind.
Ingredients ready to be wrapped up! (Image source : CBT Thailand)
Once the thin sheet of natural cloth is wrapped up and tied, the Luk Pra Kob is ready to be stored or used. When using fresh herbs, it is best to store them in the freezer to keep things fresh and avoid mould or bacteria growing inside. To use, Luk Pra Kob are typically heated in a steamer for 15 – 20 minutes until hot before being applied to the body. Caution should be taken as the compress will be burning hot and should not be used on people with reduced sensations on the skin.
Now knowing the benefits of Luk Pra Kob – a traditional form of Thai massage and medicine, I can’t wait to go and experience it for myself. As I am typing away I can definitely feel my tense shoulders calling for me to book my next Thai massage with Luk Pra Kob therapy!
Article by Oun V.