The Essential Oil of Plai - nzroha

Written by Peter Archer, Aromatherapist


The essential oil of Plai (Zingiber cassumunar) is an oil that was unheard of in most parts of the world until very recently, Apparently, the plant was traditionally used as a healing plant by the indigenous people in some areas of Thailand, and in more recent times the essential oil has been used by Thai massage therapists.

The oil is steam-distilled from the rhizomes of the plant, and the plant is a fairly close relative of ginger, but without the same really pungent aroma. Unlike ginger, the oil does not have a heating effect, in fact the opposite, as it is considered to be a cooling oil, which is associated with its extraordinary anti-inflammatory powers.

I personally regard this essential oil as being the number one essential oil for pain relief, as it appears to me that its analgesic properties are nothing short of phenomenal, some would even say 
“miraculous”.

So, without any further comment, let’s get straight into this oil’s pain relief properties.

Pain Relief

My own personal experience with this oil regarding its analgesic properties is that it will give relief to any kind of pain or body discomfort, usually to a greater degree than any other oil. Now, that is a very sweeping statement, and I do acknowledge that there will be some circumstances where this is not strictly true. For example, if someone had a “hot” type headache, I would still reach for the bottle of peppermint oil as my first resort. And, for cases of “cold” type pain, I would still be looking to try my black pepper and/or ginger.

However, for any kind of muscle, joint, or connective tissue pain, discomfort, or damage, the oil of Plai will give amazing relief. Certainly, there are also other oils that can give very good relief for conditions such as these, I am thinking here of kunzea and helichrysum. My personal experience, however, is that neither of those two wonderful oils (kunzea and helichrysum) can give the same degree of instant, immediate relief, nor the same degree of longer-term recovery, as what Plai oil gives. I will outline a personal example. A few months ago, after a long break of not doing any press-ups as part of my morning yoga and exercise routine, one day I did as many press-ups as my body could manage. The (predictable) result was that the next day, my pectoral muscles were extremely sore, whenever I moved my shoulders I would feel a very strong discomfort. I applied some Plai oil, 100 percent strength, several times that day, and the next day. From the first application, the pain was considerably lessened, and within two days there was no trace of the soreness.

I have since then had similar results with other minor muscle niggles and minor strains.

Turning now to a different application of pain relief, I will now outline an example that was told to me by an aromatherapist who was using Plai oil for the relief of pain in cancer patients. This practitioner works with cancer patients, helping them with issues such as pain relief, and she told me that she is astounded by the effectiveness of Plai oil for the relief of pain in cases of bone cancer. She mentioned an example where she gave a bottle of a dilution of Plai oil to a patient who had cancer of the spine (it was quite a low concentration, I cannot recall exactly what percentage, but certainly no more than five percent, in a carrier oil). This patient experiences pain in her spine, from the cancer, and by having her husband rub the dilution of Plai oil into the area, the pain disappears.

I would next like to quote two cases that were supplied by Jeanine, from a Hibiscus Coast Group Oil night meeting, that she kindly sent me for inclusion in this article.

Jeanine says “We had heard wonderful things about an oil from Thailand called Plai –Zingiber cassumunar Roxb - and we decided to experiment with some different blends on my daughter’s sore shoulders. We made up two blends, one was equal amounts of Plai, Black pepper (piper nigrum) and lemon (citrus limon) in  aqueous cream. This we found was the most effective blend, and very quickly she felt the relief of the tension in her head and neck.”

“One of the ladies (in our group) had her husband come to pick her up afterwards and she commented on his sore knees. She took the remaining cream home with her, and this is her comments:

“My husband Rick has ongoing inflammation and arthritis in his left knee for some years. Rick used the blend topically by rubbing into knee joint and in and around inflamed area morning and night which lasted over a period of about 4-5 days. He found immediate relief within half an hour and after each treatment after that. He does a lot of driving and found it enormously beneficial to apply the blend in the evening before going to bed and first thing in the morning. We haven't used Plai since and I would like to source it. Amazingly Rick used this topical Plai blend back in June and the arthritis and inflammation has subsided since with only the occasional flare-up. Interestingly when he does have pain it is associated with drinking both red or white wine that seems to aggravate inflammation.” Regards Adrienne Odlin

Biochemical Makeup

It seems appropriate to me to now have a look at the biochemical makeup of the oil of Plai, as this will almost certainly reveal some reasons for this oil’s unique analgesic properties.
Details of GC analyses of this oil are rather scarce, but I do have one analysis from one of our suppliers (reproduced below) , and I also found a webpage that gives a summary of the main components.

The highest percentage compound is Terpinen-4-ol (almost 41 percent in my sample), which is a major active ingredient in tea tree oil. Sabinene is also a major constituent, at around 26 percent, Gamma-terpinene comes in at 6.5 percent, and a compound with the mouthful of a name of Trans-1-3,4 dimethoxyphenylbutadiene comes in next, at 4.5 percent.

I have never heard of Trans-1-3,4 dimethoxyphenylbutadiene until now, and I must confess that I know absolutely nothing about its properties. However, on a webpage of the website “White Lotus Aromatics” there is mention that this compound (which apparently is sometimes abbreviated as DMPBD, thank God!) has very active anti-inflammatory properties. (editors note; these details are reproduced in full with the permission of White Lotus in this issue).

So, it would seem that here we have another oil that happens to have a very rare compound (DMPBD) as part of its constituent biochemical makeup, present in the oil in only a percentage of about 5 percent, and that, (in synergistic combination with the other constituent compounds of the oil), exhibits really extraordinary healing power. To me, this is very reminiscent of the role that the diketones play in the oil of helichrysum, which I personally find fascinating.

Looking briefly at Sabinene the other major constituent, I notice that this is the major constituent of Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) oil. 2 It is also present in Norway Spruce oil (Picea abies), in carrot seed oil, and is one of the compounds that contributes to the spicy aroma of black pepper oil (according to Wikipedia).

Digestive System

The White Lotus Aromatics webpage also mentions the use of Plai oil for treating digestive upsets, and specifically for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). I would like to try this oil in a hot compress blend, for the relief of abdominal pain, it should be awesome applied in this way, including for menstrual cramps.

GC Analysis Data of Plai

GC Analysis Data of Plai

Summary
There is still a lot to be learned about this oil, and as more practitioners accumulate a larger body of therapeutic experience with it, I am sure that we will learn a lot more over the next few years. In the meantime, I can recommend this oil very highly for its analgesic and associated properties, making it worth having in one’s kit for that alone. In the meantime, I can recommend this oil very highly for its analgesic and associated properties, making it worth having in one’s kit for that alone. Add to this its apparent potential to be a very flexible oil, and it becomes a “must have”. What is now needed is the accumulation of clinical data from lots of practitioners using this oil and reporting their experiences with it.

One potential use that comes to mind, that I have not tried myself, nor seen any mention of anywhere, would be in a blend for easing the pain of a sore throat, rubbed in (externally) to the skin.

Recipes - Here is a selection of blends that feature Plai oil that I have personally created and had success with.

For Sore Muscles, any kind of pain, etc: Rub a little Plai oil, either neat, or in a dilution, directly into the affected area. My favourite trick is to firstly rub some 5 percent helichrysum into the affected area, immediately following with a small amount of 100 percent Plai. The jojoba oil from the 5 percent helichrysum is still on the skin, and effectively dilutes the Plai. This combinations works really well.

Sore Kidneys: Rub into skin on area of kidney.

10 ml carrier oil
Plai - 10 drops 
Helichrysum - 8 drops
R. Chamomile - 8 drops
Atlas C’wood - 10 drops
Patchouli - 6 drops

Pain on top of head:
I had a funny kind of discomfort on the very top of my head, and it seemed to be getting worse. There was no obvious cause, but I used the following blend, and it worked really well (the hair gets rather oily, but rather that than the discomfort).

10 ml carrier oil
Plai - 12 drops
Myrrh - 8 drops
R. Chamomile - 6 drops
irg. C’ wood - 8 drops
Patchouli 6 drops

References:
“White Lotus Aromatics”
Stewart, David, The Chemistry of Essential Oils, Made Simple, page 539.