By Adirukmi N.S., Halilah A. and Salleh M.N

A Paper Presented at



( Progress Through The Ages )

June 24 – 28, 1995

Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.


Research on traditonal medicinal herbs is becoming increasingly difficult to perform due several obstacles, among them being a scarcity in obtaining specimen due to habitats being converted to indestrial ares, housing estates and excessive logging, also the herbs themselves have fallen victim to indiscriminate plundering without replanting e.g tongkat ali (Eurycoma longifolia) or they have not been cultivated artificially e.g Raflesia spp. (bunga pakma), this has caused available plants to becoome scare. The bomohs who pessess intimate knowledge are getting old while the younger generation have expressed little odr no interest in inheriting this knowledge, dueto dpendence on modern medication, especially in urban areas. Also, it is assumed that working as a bomoh brings little returns. As a result, both knowledge, due to dependence on modern medication, especially in urban areas. Also, it is assumed that working as a bomoh brings little returns. As a result, both knowledge and plant are becoming increasingly scarce and if no action is taken would end it extinction. To prevent that from happening, several steps need to be taken so that traditional medication and medicinal plants would be perpetuated and developed.

Some of the steps that should be taken include:

  1. Protect forest areas that are rich in medicinal herbs.
  2. Enforce protection laws particularly on plants nearing extinction.
  3. Organize the collection and cultivation of traditional medicinal herbs in botaical gardens, herbarium collection and species identification.
  4. Conduct a research on traditional medicinal herbs based n taxonomy, natural product ant its effetiveness in healing a particular illness.

A seldom discussed issue happens to be inclusioan of research on traditional medicinal herbs and the udage thereof as a teaching aid for all higner levels of education namely high scholl, college abd university, if tis can be carried out on a wide scale, in a well organised manner and with through planning, not only would knowledge and interest among students themselves to investigate and develop traditional medicine and other related maters, and this will benefit not only the students and the surrounding eviroment but also the world of traditional medicine in general.


A few observation have been made and categorised in this research:

  1. Literature on the advantages of several medicinal herbs used by the Bajau tribe.
  2. Laboratory and field research to identify morphology, taxonomy, essential oils and it effects on pathogenic bacteria. Plant used include tongkat ali (Eurycoma longifolia), bunga pakma (Rafflesia spp) and jarum mas (Striga asiatica).
  3. A comparison of the traditional mediinal plants used by the Bajau tribe with other Malaysia races like Malays, Chinese, Indians, Dayaks and Semai-Senoi.
  4. As a coemetical plant, traditional medicinal plants are also used as slimming aids, in a research using papaya leaves ( carica papaya ) and lemuni leaves (Vitex pubescens ).
  5. Use ao traditional medicinal herbs as a projest in Botany course practical.
  6. Use traditional medicinal plants as a research material and as school science projects secondary schools on a State and National Level.
  7. Using local traditional medicinal plants as a teaching and learning material.


  1. Literary research has shown tht traditional medicinal plnats possess both healing as well as negatives side-effect, so much that an in depth scientific research require to discover their absolute effects. A few samples of the aforementioned traditional medicinal plants can be seen in Table 1 below. The data serves only as an illustrative example because anly through literary research will yield more data.
  2. Field and laboratory research has found the following:
  1. Eurycoma longifolia (tongkat Ali )
  2. The genus tongkat ali consist of two species namely common tongkat ali (Eurycoma longifolia) and hill tonkat ali (Eurycoma apiculata) and both are known as tongkat Ali collectively. Although morphologically similar they are used rather differently because hill tongkat ali can be used as fish poison. Table 2 illustrates the difference between the common and hill types of tongkat Ali. Common tong ali consists two types of plants, a barren type which flowers but does not fruit and a fertile type which fruits even before the flowers bloom. Table 3 illustrates the chemical components of the essential oil of common tongkat ali contin chemicals which have a striking difference from the other types and this enforces the villagers claim of the medical effectiveness of the sterile tongkat ali. Table 4 show the effect tongkat ali essential oil has on suppressing growth of pathogenic micro arganism.

  3. Rafflesia spp

    Table 5 illustrate the essential oil components of the bunga pakma extracted from part of the flowerbud. It is not possible to obtain the flower in full bloom and anyway, traditional medication only involves using the flowerbud. Table 6 shows the effect of the essential oil of rafflesia spp. On inhibiting pathogenic micro organism growth.

  4. Striga asiatica

There are three types of jarum mas, i.yellow flowered (var lutea) which is most abundant, red flowered ( var. coccinea) and white flowered (var. alibiflora) found in Sarawak and Sabah. Table 7 shows the use of jarum mas as a traditinal medication based on an interview with several bomohs and it can be seen how its advenatge as well as its negatiive aspects both from subjects of interest in scientific research. Table 8 shows the essential oil of yellow jarum mas. The ather varieties were not available in sufficient quantities to perform a research. (Extraction of essential oil requires 1kg of jarum mas).

C. Traditional medicinal herbs used by other tribes in Malaysia

  1. Malay Medical Herbs in Kampung Bangau, Pahang
  2. The are of study covers riverside tractx, swamps, dams, hillslopes, orchards, villages and small forest. The plants used as traditional medicine in this village cisisted of 80 species that can be grouped into 38 families. Among te commonly used ones are Justicia gendarussa L. (Acabthaceae), Blumea balsamifera D.C (Compositae) Macaranga diepenhorsiti M.A (Euphorbiacaeae), Melastoma malabathricum L. (Melastomataceae). Psyhotria rostrata B1. (Rubiaceae), Eupatorium odoratum L. (Compositae), Tinospora tuberculata Beumee. (Menispermaceae), Curanga amara Juss (Acanthaceae), Clidemia hirta D. (Melastomataceae) and also herbs from the paku-pakis type like Helminthostachys zeylanica L. (Ophioglossaceae) and others.

  3. Chinese Medical Herbs in Bukit Bendera, Penang
  4. Research on identification and growth distribution of Chinese medicinal herbs was carried out along the ‘jeep tracg’ to Bukit Bendera, Penang. 54 species of medicinal herbs from 35 families were found. Distribution of medicinal herbs in all 7 ecosystem (between altitudes of 0-700m) were studied. The dominant species along the jeep track was Dicronopteris dichotoma (Thunb.) Bernh. Beside that, Grewis eriocarpa Juss., Lycopodium cernuum L., Neocheiropteris palmatopedata (Baker) Christ., Pogonatherum paniceum (Lamk.) Hack were also present in the entire ecosystem. The pH value was between 4 to 6. Suitable conditions for the plants different habitats were also observed.

  5. Indian medical herbs in Perak and Penang
  6. 83 plant species from 41 families were identified. The family with the largest number of species were Euphorbiaceae Compositae and Labiatae. The majority of medicinal plant species found were cultivated ones, numbering 50 species. There were 28 species of weed-type medicinal plants and 5 species of wild-growing tree-types. Most of the speies abtained from Perak consisted of rare and scare types while whose from Penang were common and easily found.

  7. Dayak and Semi-Senoi medicinal herbs

The research was carried out on traditional medicinal herbs used by the natives Cameron Highlands and the Dayaks in Kuching. As many as 35 species from 26 families from Kuching were obtained. This researche demonstrates the striking difference in the distribution and use of medicinal herbs in both ares. Abundant species found in Cameron Hinglands were Sphagnum roseotinctum, whereas in Kuching, Curaga fel-terrae, sida rhombifolia scoparia dulcis, Ageratum conyzoides, Imperata cylindrica, Nephrolepis biserrata and Mimosa pudica were widely encountered. Both tribes used different species to treat the same illness.

D. Medicinal herbs from the Bajau tribe were also used as an aid for reducing body weight and research with rats have shown that papaya leaves (Carica papaya) and lemuni (Vigna pubescens) were effective in reducing the body weght of rats. This can be seen in Figs. 1 and 2.

E. The uses of traditional medicinal herbs as project materials in botany practical courses. Due to the fact that medicinal herbs posses special properties not found in oters , they are used as project meterials in practical and some of the activities were :

  1. Physiological development of several medicinal herbs. Example: leaves, flowers, stem and roots.
  2. Plant anatomy of several organs of traditional medicinal herbs.
  3. Taxonomy of several highly endangered traditional medicinal herbs.
  4. Planting of traditional aromatic plants used as medicine.
  5. Planting of several rare fruit that also function as medicine.

F. Use of traditional medicinal herbs as research material for science preoject competitions. Among the school of higher learning that cooperates with U.S.M. in holding science projects, a handful have emerged as winners, and these are :

  1. Essential oils of Betel (Piper betel) and its effectiveness as an antipathogen. 2nd runner-up of the national level M.R.S.M. 1992.
  2. Essential oils of five types of lemgkuas (Alpinia galanga) and its effectiveness as an anti-pathogen. 1st prize winner of the science project competition in M.R.S.M. marticulation in Kulim
  1. Use of traditional medicinal herbs as a teaching and learning aid. These can be used in anatomical courses because Rafflesia spp. (bunga pakma) and tongkat ali (Eurycoma longifolia) posses unique properties. This is also true of cells in rare fruits, and highly endangered medicinal plants, most of which posesss unique anatomical structures. For taxonomical research for example, three types of jarum mas (Striga siatica) defferent species of pitcher plants (Nepenthes spp.) cluster papaya and common papaya (Carica papaya) all possess unique properties as comparative material. There is plenty that can be done to arouse sufficient interest in student to explore further into the study of herbs which they have heard about but never seen before.


The research above have shown that traditional medicinal herbs of the Bajau tribe can be expanded as a research material in school of advanced studies or universities and with the cooperation of students can clear up their surrounding areas with the help of bomhs, elderly folks, and users of traditional medicinal herbs n their surrounding areas. by getting the students to carry out projects on plants within their vicinity or nearby villages/forest, they can add to their collection of traditional medicinal herbs and this would accelerate and increase the interest of student to learn more about traditional medicines and near-extinct plants in the vicinity of their homes as well as promote the need to cemserve the natural world and the plant population.


Burkill I.H. (19). A Dictionary Of the Malay Peninsular, Vol 2. Ministry of Agriculture Cooperative, Kuala Lumpur, published 1966.

Kominato, K (1969). Chem. Pharm. Bull. 17(11): 2193

Kirtikar, K.R. and Basu, B.D. (1918). Indian Medicine, Volume II. Jeyyed Press Delhi 6. In Tan Soon Chye (1990). Biokimia Tumbuha Hijau. DBP.

Suhaimi, M.M, and Mohsin, S.S (1979). Proc. 3rd Scientific Meeting Malaysia Soc. Pharmacology and Experimental Theraputic, Kuala Lumpur.

Sinclair, A. (1958). Gargen Bulletin of Singapore. 16 : 205-472

Varshney, I.P. and Sharma, S.C. (1968). Indian J Chem. 6 : 474

Table 1. Effects Of Traditonal Medicinnal Herbs

Species Local Name Advantages Disadvantages
Tinospora crispa Miers

patawali (seruntun)

deworming agent cure for Cholera, small-pox, snakebites, Coughs eye-strin, scabbies, Syphilis, diabetes. (Burkill, 1966) mild anti-hypertension side effect in mice (Shahimi and Mohsin, 1979)
Piper nigrum lada hitam
Lada putih
cancer chemotherapy and relieves headache traces of diuresis
Myristica fragrans buah pala tonic, post-natal medication, malaria intestinal inflammation (Varshey & Sharma,1968)
Allium setivum bawang putih treatment of dry cough (Kirtikar & Busu,1979). Muscular aches, paralysis, Dental problems, sex-appeal (Widjojo,1963). Strenghten uterus, produces of milk (Abdoh & Kafawi, 1969) kills insect larve, mould and pathogenic bacteria (Kominato, 1969)
Zingiber officinale halia tonic for nerves deworming agent colds, diarrhoe, nausea headaches and body-aches stimulates production gastric juice

Table 2 Morphological Differences Between Two Species Of Tongkat Ali.



E. apiculata E. longifolia sterile E. longifolia fertile
Height (m) 1.0-1.2 20 20
Circumference (cm) 6-10 30-40 30-40
Leaf shape ovate lanceolateo-oblong lanceolate oblong lanceolate ovate lanceolate oblong
Leaf length (cm) 14 10 8
Leaf breadth (cm) 4 2.5 4
No. of leaf pairs 20-30 20-30 20-30
Leaf phylotaxis far apart close far apart
Stem colour reddish brown with white stripes dark brown with white stripes light brown
Root colour yellowish white yellow yellow
Presence of "trunk" +++ + -
Hairs present + +++ ++

Table 3. Chemial Components of The Essential oil of Eurycoma sp.

Species / Parts i ii iii iv v
E. apiculata
Leaf 87.5 - + 2.8 +
Stem 50.9 - + 1.4 18.7
Root 83.8 + ++ 2.9 +
E.longifolia sterile
Leaf 72.1 + + 13.6 +
Stem 42.9 6.5 4.9 9.9 ++
Root 92.8 + ++ 0.9 ++
E. longfolia fertile
Leaf 93.8 + + 3.8 +
Stem 67.7 + + 5.7 +
Root 64.3 + + 6.1 +

Key (column):

  1. – 1,2-Benzenedicarboxylic, bis (2ethylhexyl) ester acid.
  2. - 1-H-2 Benzopiran-1-one, 3,4-dihydro-8-hydroxy-3-methyl.
  3. – 1,2-Benzenedicarboxylic, buyl-2-methyl propyl ester acid.
  4. – Hexadecanoid acid.
  5. – 1,2-Benzenedicarboxylic, 3-nitro acid.


+ Trace presence (<0.04%)

++ Presence of more than ‘+’ but now having a determined %

- presence not detected.

Table 4. Effect of Tongkat Ali Essential Oil on Bacterial Growth

Test Microorganism

Average Diameter of Zone of Growth Inhibition (mm)

25% 50% 75% 100%
Bacillus cereus - ++ ++ +++
Bacillus subtilis + + ++ +++
Escherichia coli + + + +
Proteus mirabilis + + + +
Staphylococcus aureus - - - -
Streptococcus faecalis + + +++ ++++

Key :

- - no inhibition

+ - diameter of zone of growth inhibition <10>

++ - diameter of zone of growth inhibition between 10 to 12 mm.

+++ - diameter of zone of growth inhibition between 13 to 15 mm.

++++ - diameter of zone of growth inhibition between 16 to 18 mm.

Table 5. Essential oil component of Rafflesia spp.

Chemical Component Molecular Formula
2-Cyclohexane-1-one, 3-methyl C7H10O
Cycloocta-1, 5-diene-7-one C8H10O
1H-2-Benzopyran-1-one,3,4-dihydro-8-hydroxy-3-menthyl C10H10O3
Hexadecanoic acidl C16H32O2
9-Octadecenoic acid (Z) C18H34O2
1,2-Benzenedecarboxylic acid, bis (2-ethylhexyl) ester C24H38O4

Table 6. Effect of Raffesia spp. Essential oil on bacterial growth

Test Microorganism Average Diameter of Zone of Growth Inhibition (mm)
Bacillus cereus ++
Bacillus subtilis ++++
Escherichia coli ++
Proteus mirabilis +++
Staphylococcus aureus ++++
Streptococcus faecalis +++++

Table 7. Traditional uses of jarum mas (Striga asiatica).

Advantage Disadvantage Source
Body freshness blood in stools Hj. Othman Hj. Mohammed
Warms up the body, Tighten the vagina irregular defecation
Alor Setar (personal contact)
Heals backaches
Warms up body
blood in urine & stools, boils Hj. Ramli Abdullah, Penang
boils (personal contact)
Warms up body
Rids body fat
irregular defecation boils En. Ali Hj. Othman, Kuala Lumpur (personal contact)
Breaks down fats, sexual heatiness, Stimulant, alleviates leg, Hand cramps, strenghten body heatiness, boils, blood in urine Puan Samsiah Othman,Kuala Lumpur (personal contact)
Appetiser, streghthen, alleviates backache, shoulder and knee-aches heatiness, blood in urine Puan Kalsom Ahmad, Bangi, Selangor (personal contact)

Table 8. Essential oil components of jarum mas (Striga asiatica)

Chemical component

1,2-benzene carboxylic acid, 3 nitro




1,2-benzene carboxylic dibutyl acid

Benzoic ethyl ester acid

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