In massage, a poultice is a mass of blended plant material placed in a muslin or cotton cloth which is steamed to release the natural essential oils. The oils are released with the hot water condensate when the poultice is applied to the body by massaging with the compress. A poultice is specifically applied in secondary Thai massage to relieve aching, inflamed or painful joints and muscles. I’ve had dozens of massages using various poultice compositions in SE Asia, and I will attest to the muscle relaxation and soothing qualities. Not all poultices are the same – they are local concoctions or blends of often different materials. Most poultices contain plai, though. Perhaps the best way to experience a poultice is to have a vigorous and deep Thai traditional massage the first day, and follow with a Thai massage emphasizing the poultice the second day. I assure you – your muscles will be rather sore from a good Thai massage. See if the poultice provides relief. These techniques are meant to be paired.
The Thai developed this form of herbal relief, combined with massage, in the 14th century to help their soldiers recover from battle. Massage, combined with application of Thai herbs and rhizhomes such as Plai, was used to treat inflammation, sprains, infections, contusions and other battle injuries. A poultice was used to treat infection and topical wounds. The massage itself increases blood flow and encourages the essential oils to penetrate and help heal affected areas. For wound or treatment of infection, the paste was directly applied to the wound or infection and covered.