Malaysia, well known with its richness in flora and fauna is endowed with about 2,000 plants of medical value. Medicinal plants or herbs have long been used in traditional medicine. Interests in herbs and herbal products have increased rapidly in recent years not only amongst scientists but also consumers. Efforts have been made to stucy in depth and document the use of herbs in this country. Amongst herbs given emphasis are Tongkat Ali, Kacip Fatimah, Mas Cotek, Kerdas and Candlenut (Buah Keras).
Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma longifolia)
Tongkat Ali inhabits the lower stratum of the lowland forest. It is a small tree growing to a height of 10 metres. The main stem grows upright with only one or two branches and sometimes none at all. At each end of the stem or branch, the leaves are arranged to form a rosette or umbrella-like canopy. The leaves are odd-pinate compound, consisting of 20-30 pairs of leaflets with one terminal leaflet. They are dark green and shiny. The flowers are small, dark red, arranged in long panicles which arise from the leaf axils. The fruits are drupe and yellowish brown in colour.
Tongkat Ali is very popular for its aphrodisiac properties and also as tonic for afterbirth and general health. Besides, it is effective for hypertension, pains in the bone, jaundice, dropsy, fever, diarrhoea, indigestion, lumbago and dysentry. The stems are used as febrifuge and are one of the ingredients to cure malaria.
Kacip Fatimah (Labisia pumila)
Kacip Fatimah thrives in shady places, normally as undergrowth in the forests It is a herbaceous shrub with creeping rhizome. The leaves are elliptic-lanceolate in shape, the base is alternuate. The petioles are relatively short and slightly flattened. The surface of the leaves are shiny, dark green and lighter green in the margin. The stems are erect, dark brown with distinct scars of fallen leaves. The nodes of the stem are capable of rooting. The flowers are borne on racemes, about 6 cm in length arised from leaf axils. the fruits are berry, globose, red in colour.
Kacip Fatimah is one of the most popular and potent ingredients in traditional herbal "jamu" for afterbirth care. A decoction of the plant is used to expedite labour and as a protective medicine after childbirth. It is also used to treat gonorrhoea, dysmenorrhoea, rheumatism, dysentry, and flatulence.
Buah Keras (Alleurites moluccana)
Buah Keras or candlenut is native to Malaysia but now is distributed throughout the tropics. It is a medium or large sized tree. The leaves are tomentose. They are oval in shape but sometimes with shallow lobes. They have long petiole, 5 - 15 cm with two glands at the base. The flowers are small, about 1 cm in diameter, white and in large terminal cymes up to 20 cm long. The fruits are 2 - 5 cm in diameter, green and fleshy and are 1-2 seeded.
The fruits are dried and used in cooking as seasoning. The pulped kernel enters into poultices for headache, fevers, ulcers and swollen joints. The bark is used fro dysentry and the juice mixed with coconut milk is used to cure sprue. The leaves are used for headache and gonorrhoea.
Kerdas (Pithecellobium bubalinum benth)
Kerdas is found in Peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra mostly wild in the forest. The tree is of medium size reaching to 15 metres in height. The canopy is round, bushy and compact. The leaves are compound consisting of 2-3 pairs of leaflets. The leaflets are lanceolate and asymmetric. The matured leaves are green and glossy while the young shoot is purple.
The panicle is borne either at the terminal shoot or at the leaf axil. The pod is straight and slightly curved, green when young but turning reddish brown at maturity. The young seeds are green and shiny turning reddish brown and then almost black when fully ripe. The seeds are eaten raw as "ulam", normally with rice and "sambal". They are crispy and tasty. The young shoot is also edible and can be eaten raw. The seeds and shoots are known for the diuretic and purgative effects.
Mas Cotek (Ficus deltoidea jack)
Mas Cotek is a wild plant which can be found in Kelantan, Pahang and Terengganu. It grows well in the forest near the beach but can also thrive in the hilly areas up to 700 metres from sea level.
It is a shrub that grows up to a height of 2 metres, but can also grow as epiphyte on other plants. The leaves are thick, deltoid in shape and rounded at the apex but tapering at the base. There are black, rusty or golden spots (therefore "mas cotek") on the upper and lower sides of the leaves but are more pronounce below. The main vein has three branches on the lower surface of the leaves. Flowers and fruits are borne at the leaf-axils, singly or in pairs.
Mas Cotek is used traditionally to cure lung diseases. It is also a well known herb for women after childbirth.