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Medicine – Thailand

Cumin Plant Medicine

Pick the cumin plant from the ground. It grows underneath the dirt like potatoes and ginger. Dig it up, cut off the leaves and everything else, and we use only the roots. Rub the roots on a flat stone like a grinding stone to get the juice of the plant out. The juice is yellow in color. Mix the juice with white power made from white dirt. Then rub the mixture onto skin. You can rub it all over your body.

This medicine made from the cumin plant is supposed to make skin whiter or have a more yellow tint which is, according to my mother, considered beautiful in Thailand. This shows a cultural difference between America’s concept of beauty and Thailand’s concept of beauty. The contemporary perspective in America is that tan skin equates to beauty, while Thailand views whiter skin as beautiful. The medicine is also believed to make the skin smoother and rids itchiness and irritation of the skin for the person to which it is applied. My mother explained that parents like to apply this cumin medicine on their children, both boys and girls. Parents usually begin to use it on their children as early as the age of one or two and continue to use it on them for several years. Even adults sometimes use this medicine. However, my mother said that although the medicine is used for children of both genders, only girls continue to use it as they mature and grow older. She jokingly mentioned that if boys use the cumin when they are older, there would be reason to worry and they would be considered gay. Although my mother said this in a joking manner, her comment reveals the traditional views that she holds and has been raised with in regards to the morality of homosexuality.

The usage of the cumin medicine is more common among women, which ties into the traditional cultural view that women are supposed to look beautiful, do the housework, and take care of the children. Although the medicine is applied to both boys and girls, the people making and using the medicine are almost always women. This practice also tends to be more common in the smaller towns in Thailand rather than the big cities. It is more of a rural-type practice and belief rather than a modern or urban one. My mother was raised in Chaiyaphum, Thailand, which is a small town. My mother’s mother, my grandmother, rubbed cumin medicine on my mother and all of her five siblings when they were young. I found out that my mother and aunt used it on me when I was young as well. They made the mixture in our house from the plant in our own backyard. I have no recollection of this because they stopped when I was still young, and I do not believe that it had any effect on making my skin whiter. I have also seen the cumin medicine referenced in Thai movies and soap operas.

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