Thai people can’t live without this item – What is ya dom?

What do you have in your bag or pocket? Most people will say phone, wallet and keys, but in Thailand there is another essential item that many people carry around with them called ya dom. I have one in my bag and one on my desk, reaching for it almost everyday. Even my non-Thai husband has picked up the habit after moving here and now he can’t live without a stick of ya dom wherever he goes!

Chris Hemsworth trying a ya dom during an interview on a movie he filmed in Thailand (Image source | JustdoIt)

What is ya dom?

The word ya in Thai translates to medicine and dom means to smell (verb). Together ya dom means medicine for smelling and is often referred to as a herbal inhaler in English. People inhale ya dom to help with vertigo, dizziness, motion sickness, blocked noses, to mask unpleasant odours or simply just to feel a little bit more refreshed.

Traditionally, ya dom are dried herbs soaked in essential oils and other compounds tied in net cloths housed in little containers. Drawing upon the knowledge of traditional Thai medicine, beneficial herbs are mixed into different recipes depending on the intended use and desired aroma. Nowadays ya dom exists in many forms, from little plastic bottles to lipstick-sized sticks and even yak (giant) shaped bottles that make great souvenirs. Some of these still use dried herbs but many now only contain solid sticks of synthesised compounds.

An older style of ya dom container with dried herbs inside (Image source | Arunsri Panichkichjaroenchai)

The variety of ya dom brands and packaging available today (Image source | The Cloud)

As you can see from the image above, ya dom now comes in many different shapes and sizes. There are brands that have kept things the same for  generations and newer companies that have come out with more cute or modern designs to appeal to the younger crowd.  The different colours on the packaging usually signifies a different recipe and scent of the ya dom – it can be a bit of trial and error before you find your favourite brand and recipe!

A recipe for making your own ya dom

Although ya dom is easily found at convenience and grocery stores, let’s have a look at what goes into making one. The main components for making ya dom are dried herbs, fragrant substances, a net cloth and a small sealable container. You could come up with your own mixes however below is a recipe published by Mahidol University in Bangkok.

Some of the ingredients that go into making a herbal inhaler (Image source | Kapook)


  • Mix 1 tsp of camphor and borneol and 2 tsp of menthol into a container. Mix until these turn into a liquid.
  • Add 3 ml of eucalyptus oil and mix well.
  • In a different container add dried herbs that are crushed or chopped into small pieces – 1 cardamom, 5 cloves, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp coriander, 1 tsp black pepper, and 1 star anise. Mix thoroughly.
  • Add the liquid mixture from the first container to the dried herbs and mix well.
  • Place dried herbs into a net cloth before placing it into your ya dom Make sure the container is sealable so the scent lasts longer.

Dried herbs in a net cloth (left) that is placed into a small glass container (right) (Image source | Sriayuthaya Herbs)

Despite all the benefits of ya dom, of course there are some precautions you need to take. Just like with most things, too much is never good. Ya dom should not be pushed up the nose or inhaled too closely and too violently as this could inflame or irritate your nasal cavity – a freshly opened product can be very potent. People who have respiratory diseases should also be cautious of using the inhaler as certain compounds can worsen symptoms, consult a medical professional if you have any doubts. Another important point is to never share your ya dom with others as this could lead to lots of nasty germs being passed around!

One of the most commonly used brands of ya dom comes in a lipstick-sized stick! (Image source | BestieBrand)

As someone who can get carsick when reading on moving vehicles, ya dom is a must-have item. Something about taking a few breaths of cooling and herby air makes the nauseous feeling much more bearable. It is also one of the few items out there that transcends genders, generations and is used by people from all walks of life.  You see it used on the side of the road, by professionals in offices and party goers at music festivals. Be sure to give them a try and see for yourself what the fuss is all about!

Article by Oun V.


Ramkhamhaeng University

Mahidol University