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Tiger Balm: Common and Uncommon Uses for this Singaporean Staple


In most cultures, there are old home remedies and cure-alls that are passed down from generation to generation. In my very Western, very American home, it was penicillin. Whatever seemed to be ailing you – runny nose, cough, congestion – it was nothing a small dose of penicillin couldn’t handle.  

Now that I’ve had the chance to travel, I am more and more interested in more natural remedies that have worked thousands of years. It wasn’t long after my arrival in Singapore that I began to hear more and more about Tiger Balm. Sore throat? Tiger Balm. Cough? Tiger Balm. Headache? Tiger Balm. The skeptic in me was sure it was just like Vick’s Vapor Rub but the curious believer in me was sure it had to be more. Even the name is mysterious and powerful!

So what is it?

First created in Burma, this secret blend of herbs and oils dates back to the 1870s. According to the Tiger Balm website, “Aw Chu Kin, a Chinese herbalist working in the Emperor’s court, left China and set up a small medicine shop called Eng Aun Tong in Rangoon in the late 1870s, where he would make and sell his special ointment that was effective in relieving all kinds of aches and pains.” His sons then took the business to Singapore and from there it grew.

I did read unverified claims that the original recipe included elements from Tiger bones but the officially Tiger Balm site calls the name simply “marketing genius.” I can see why the legend of tiger bones exists…WAY cooler.

There are several types on the market but the two most common are red and white. Red is the “warm” variation for muscle aches and pains while white is “cool” for headaches and stuffy noses.  


What can you use it for?

Anything. Everything. Ok, not everything but most people who are fans will tell you, you can use it for almost anything.

Some of the most common uses:

  • Muscular pains – rub it on the affected area
  • Joint pain – rub on the affected area
  • Headache – rub on temples or forehead to relieve pain
  • Mosquito and insect bites – to relieve the itch (it really works!)
  • Cough – rub on chest and back
  • Stomach ache – rub on abdomen to relieve upset stomach
  • Nasal congestion – place a small amount under the nostrils.
  • Sore Throat – personal testimonies swear that rubbing a small amount on the outside of your neck can help.
  • Toothache – apply a very small amount to affected tooth (though not recommended by manufacturer)


More uncommon uses:

  • To remove remnants of stickers on glass
  • To remove ink stains
  • To remove stubborn chewing gum
  • Use as a room deodorizer by leaving an open box in the room
  • To remove paint (either on your skin or clothes). Apply to stained area and rub off with cotton ball.


Finder Tip: Tiger balm is strong and while the icy/hot sensation can be soothing, it can “sting” sensitive areas so try a small amount on a small area before slathering all over. (But it is quite a nice sensation with a pleasant smell.)

Where can I get it?

Any pharmacy or major grocery store will have.


For more information:





By Kathleen Siddell, June 2015

Photo: 123rf.com

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