Despite the modernisation of Cambodia’s health-care system, traditional Khmer medicines are still widely used for ailments ranging from contusions to viruses and long-term illnesses.
Traditional remedies such as pseth soukrom, a mushroom used for centuries to relieve body pain, continue to be popular among young and old Cambodians living all over the country. While most doctors do not suggest ignoring advances in medical technology, they agree that natural supplements can improve your health in combination with modern medicines.
“What is unique about Khmer medicines is that they are natural and made of herbs,” said Leng Songheng, the owner of Sun Khmer Herbal Medicines shop. “My medicines are not mixed with any chemical substances, and they can help people recuperate from illnesses.”
But just because herbal medicines are not mixed with chemicals does not mean that they don’t have potential dangers. According to Dr Ly Chhenghoy, patients should apply the same scrutiny to traditional medicines as they do to modern cures. “Both Khmer herbal medicines and modern drugs can affect people’s health if they misuse medicines in an inappropriate way,” he warned. “Khmer herbal medicines can have an impact on patient’s liver or bladder depending on the herbs they are drinking.”
While Leng Songheng defends herbal medicine as not containing substances that will harm a patient’s organs, medical experts generally agree that natural remedies have many of the same risks as modern medicines. Websites such as personalhealthzone.com list the side effects of hundreds of different herbal medicines.
Leng Songheng, who learned to create herbal remedies from his father many years ago, now runs an herbal medicine empire, with 120 branches distributing his products around Cambodia and even selling to Cambodians in America. Leng Songheng’s medicines, which he says have been shown to cure a variety of illnesses, were accredited by the Ministry of Health in 2006. There are currently 48 herbal medicines licensed by the Department of Drugs and Food. While vendors such as Leng Songheng are licensed to distribute herbal medicines, patients do not have any legal right to make claims if the herbal remedies prove to be damaging.
Leng Songheng purchases herbs from Kampong Speu, Kampong Chhnang, Pursat and other locations, and uses his expertise to combine them into an elixir for just about every problem that plagues the human body. “Most of my patients are those who have had illnesses for a long time and could not be treated with modern medicine,” he said. “However, they were completely cured when they bought my medicines and followed my instructions.”
Forty-eight-year-old housewife Seab Sophorn said that herbal medicines have been very helpful to her. “I started using Khmer herbal medicines when I had my first child to assist me in delivery,” she said. “They can also heal my illnesses such a Coeliac disease, an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine, and stomach problems, but it takes a lot of time and effort to drink,” she said, adding that she thinks people should use herbal medicine to compliment modern drug regimens.
While everyone agrees that herbal medicines have scientific value, they are still strong substances that have a great impact on our bodies. It is a good idea to figure out how herbal medicines can help you, just don’t get carried away.