Q: My Thai Herbal Massage Balls have arrived looking very yellow on the cloth part. They smell great but are they OK to use and to on-sell?
A: A traditional, well-made Thai Herbal Massage Ball should have Phlai in it – yellow Phlai – botanically known as Zingiber cassumunar Roxb. It’s a powerful anti-inflammatory and analgesic Thai root herb, which clinical studies (1) have shown to be as effective, if not more effective, than NSAID drugs. It improves blood circulation, helps to relive pain, reduces inflammation and bruising, and assists rapid natural healing.
After it is harvested, the washed Phlai root is cut into very thin slices and usually sun-dried, and then used as a Thai Herbal Massage Ball ingredient in its dry form. Like all natural things, Phlai varies according to the time of year, growing season and conditions, soil quality and the way it is dried. If it is over-dried, old or of inferior quality, it is hard, brown and has little fragrance. Premium quality Phlai that is well dried (but not baked for eons in the blistering sun) retains its unique essential oils which makes it more effective as a healing herb, more fragrant and, well, more yellow.
When you use Thai Herbal Massage Balls often, you begin to appreciate that the size of the dried herb bits inside also matters and affects the quality of the treatment. Overly large pieces of dried root herbs (like Phlai) stay hard even after they are steamed. If the masseur applies substantial pressure or uses some of the more creative twisting moves in the treatment, then the big, hard pieces of herb can push through and hurt the client’s sensitive skin, and sometimes even tear the cloth that the ball itself is made of. To avoid this, Arun Thai Natural has developed a system where we firstly weigh off the dried mixed herbs and loosely tie them into the square of cloth. We then use a heavy wooden stick (from the big Thai mortar and pestles that they use for somtum, but not unlike a policeman’s truncheon) to literally beat the parcel of herbs. Each little ready-to-go parcel of mixed herbs is beaten to help eliminate any hard or sharp pieces of dry herb, and to make the herbs inside the ball as small as possible. With more surface area of the herb exposed to the steam, the herbal ball releases more of its wonderful healing juices. And that’s good – really good. Once the parcel of herbs has been beaten (maybe 6-8 times on each side) it’s then expertly tied into the Thai Herbal Massage Ball as you know it. If the Phlai is of a high quality and the beating has broken up the biggish pieces, then yes, sometimes the Phlai continues to release its healing essential oils and that can sometimes stain the outer cover of the ball.
So, in short, any yellow staining on the cloth cover of your Thai Herbal Massage Balls is like a stamp or seal of quality. It shows we choose fresh and optimal herbs and are not passing off last year’s old herbal dregs to you. It shows the herbs inside have been beaten to minimize their size – that improves both the quality of the herbal mix released and the sensory experience for your client. Once you wet and steam the Thai herbal Massage Ball, the whole cloth cover becomes an interesting herbally-yellow colour and smells divine. Always remember to wipe your client carefully with a towel after the treatment to prevent staining of their clothes, and make a mental note not to use white towels in your massage clinic.
If you have more questions about Thai Herbal Massage Balls, Arun Thai Natural has a 27 minute instructional DVD available from http://arunthainatural.com which explains most things you will need to know, or you can email or post in the comments below. If you are in Chiang Mai, please come and join in our Herbal Ball, Hands On class – a weekly 3-hour practical session that takes you through all the steps of choosing and using Thai Herbal Massage Balls, with a hands-on practice session.
(1) “Studies on Safety and Efficacy of Phlai Gel.” By Warunee Hanpithakpong. Faculty of Graduate Studies Mahidol University, Thailand.