On Thalang Road in Old Phuket Town is an herbal shop called NguanChoon Tong. Open since 1917, it's small and cramped and filled with treasure.
I travel often and I always seek out herbal and medicinal shops when I visit a new city; the ones in Asia always seem to be the most intriguing. I’ve logged countless hours chatting with shopkeepers and herbal doctors on their secrets and solutions for everything from tired skin to fatigue.
I’m not opposed to western medicine (sometimes you just need that NyQuil), but herbal remedies are much more gentle and in tune with the body. There’s also a mystical element: no one will ever guarantee that it will work, and results are rarely instantaneous. At best, an herbal shop concoction will solve your issue. At worst, you’ve brewed up something wondrous to drink.
There are two types of goods in these shops: pre-packed remedies and ones that are assembled to order. I always leave with an assortment of both. On my recent trip to Thailand I was suffering from major fatigue and lackluster skin. Here's what I scored at NguanChoon Tong.
Skin Cleansing "Sauna Steam Herbs"
I was told that the Thai name for this bird's nest-like tangle of goodness translates to "sauna steam herbs." Made with lemongrass, turmeric (a well-known anti-inflammatory), dried plai ginger (native to Northern Thailand), and tamarind leaves, this is a cleansing blend for the skin. It's also good for blood circulation and removing "unnecessary fat." To drink, the whole mix is put into a cheesecloth bag and steeped in boiling water. It has a deep, spicy flavor that's brightened by the lemongrass. All of the ingredients in this mix are readily available at your local Asian or Indian grocery store, except the Plai ginger, which you can substitute regular dried ginger for.
Butterfly Pea Flowers For Hair Strengthening
Butterfly pea flowers are beautiful blue flowers that, when dried and simmered in water, offer a number of benefits. They're known for nourishing and strengthening hair, but they also sharpen eyesight and prevent skin from bruising. After a 15-minute steep, the flowers tint the water a deep blue. Add a squeeze of lemon (which turns the drink violet), a spoonful of honey, and you have an ideal afternoon drink. While the flowers look exotic, they're easy to find online.
A Custom Blend For Stress And Fatigue
Most everything in the shop area of NguanChoon Tong is pre-blended, with the most popular remedies done in bigger batches. But you can also ask the shopkeep to concoct something for a specific issue, which in my case was stress and fatigue.
After consulting a book of notes, the shopkeep brought out his scale and began weighing a flurry of bright orange safflower, cinnamon sticks (which were tucked between paper and crushed on the spot), licorice, and other roots that I wish I could translate for you. But some of the ingredients are easily available and work wonders as solo acts: safflower tea strengthens the bones, cinnamon sharpens your mind, and licorice is good for fatigue.
What are your favorite herbal remedies for beauty and well-being? Have you picked up any tips from your travels or meanderings through herbal medicine shops?