Consumption of medicinal plants in Malaysia

In Malaysia, the potential of tropical forest medicinal plants in medication and health   improvement cannot be taken for granted. Basically, the roots, leaves or other parts of some medicinal plants are known for their medicinal value. Their effectiveness and popularity depend not only on new research findings but also the usage experience and ethnic beliefs of the multi-ethnic Malaysian society.
 
The practice of traditional medicine is common among various ethnic groups such as the Malays, Chinese, Indians and aborigines with the knowledge being passed down through the generations. The use of plant materials as traditional medicines either formally or informally is widespread among the local rural communities. Latiff (1989) states that there are four sources of traditional Malaysian medicine, namely, Malay village medicine (including Orang Asli medicine), Chinese medicine (introduced from China), Indian medicine (introduced from India) and other forms of traditional medicine (including those introduced by the Javanese, Sumatrans, Arabs, Persians, Europeans etc.). Table 1 shows the common medicinal plant species used by the various ethnic groups in Malaysia.
 
Table 1. Selected list of medicinal plants used by different races and ethnic groups  in  Malaysia
Medicinal plants
Racial and ethnic groups using medicinal plants
Goniothalamus macrophyllus (selayak hitam)
Andrographis paniculata (hempedu bumi)
Eurycoma longifolia (tongkat ali)
Brucea javanica (lada pahit)
Acorus calamus (jerangau)
Orthosiphon aristatus (misai kucing)
Labisia pumila (kacip fatimah)
Melaleuca cajaputi (gelam)
Cymbopogon citratus (serai wangi)
Curcuma xanthorrhiza (temu lawak)
Zinziber zerumbet (lempoyang pahit)
Costus speciosus (setawar)
Datura metel (kecubung)
Areca catechu (pinang)
Oldenlandia diffusa (kerak nasi )
Piper nigrum (lada hitam)
Myristica fragrans (buah pala)
Vitex rotundifolia (legundi)
Centella asiatica (pegaga)
Pergularia daemia (bunga Siam)
Aristolochia indica 1
Holarrhena antidysenterica 1
Trachyspermum ammi (jemuju)
Hygrophila auriculiculata 1
Trianthema portulacastrum 1
Semecarpus anacardium 1
Eugeisonna utilis (akar bertam)
Ficus calicarpa (tengkuk biawak)
Mapina petiolata (serapat)
Pometia oinnata (kasai)
Artocarpus rigidus (temponek)
Alstonia sp (pulai)
Elateriospermum tapos (buah perah)
Carica papaya (betik)
Lansium domesticum (duku)
Zingiber officinale (halia)
Scleria sp (sialit)
Eugeissona tristis (bertam)
Calamus exilis (rotan gunung)
Alphonsea sp (pisang)
Polyalthia cauliflora (mempisang)
Cyrtandra oblingifolia 1
Bauhinia kockkiana 1
Mussaenda elmeri (pokok balek adap)
Schizophyllum commune (kulat sisir)
Amaranthus spinosus (bayam duri)
Mangifera pajang 1
Annona muricata (durian belanda)
Malays, Kelabit (Sarawak)
Malays, Kadazan (Sabah)
Malays, aborigines
Malays
Malays
Malays
Malays, aborigines
Malays
Malays
Malays
Malays
Malays
Malays
Chinese, aborigines
Chinese
Chinese
Chinese
Chinese
Indians
Indians
Indians
Indians
Indians
Indians
Indians
Indians
Aborigines
Aborigines
Aborigines
Aborigines
Aborigines
Aborigines
Aborigines
Aborigines
Aborigines
Aborigines
Aborigines
Aborigines
Aborigines
Aborigines
Kelabit (Sarawak)
Kelabit (Sarawak)
Kelabit (Sarawak)
Kelabit (Sarawak)
Kadazan (Sabah)
Dusun/Kadazan(Sabah)
Dusun/Kadazan(Sabah)
Dusun/Kadazan(Sabah)
Sources :
Latiff (1985a, 1985b, 1997), Chan (1992); Shankar & Majumdar (1997); Rusli et al. (1998); Lim (1997); Fasihuddin et al. (1995); Fasihuddin et al. (1996), Fasihuddin & Hasmah (1992)
1 Local name not available
 
Some medicinal plant products utilized by Malaysians have shown great economic value and have been traded for a long time in Malaysia. According to Poh (1994), medicinal plants that have potential economic value are Eurycoma longifolia, Areca catechu, Oldenlandia diffusa, Myristica fragrans, Piper nigrum, and Melastoma decemfidum. Most of the plants grow wild in the lowland and hill depterocarp forests which are under serious threat of being replaced by mono-specific tree crops (rubber and oil palm), intensive logging or conversion to non-forestry land use such as hydroelectric dams and rural settlements.
 
It is estimated that about 20% (3,000 species) of angiosperma and gymnosperma plant species found in Malaysia have medicinal properties and have been used in traditional medicine preparation for a considerable time. Those species are from the families of Annonaceae, Apocynaceae, Araceae, Compositae, Dioscoreceae, Ebenaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Flacourtiaceae, Lauraceae, Leguminosae, Menispermaceae, Myrsinaceae, Myrtaceae, Rubiaceae, Rutaceae, Simaroubaceae, Thymelaeaceae, Zingiberaceae and some others (Soepadmo, 1995). Table 2 shows the number of genera and medicinal plant species from selected family groups, which are normally used in the preparation of traditional medicine.
 
Table 2. Number of genera and plant species from selected family groups normally used in the traditional medicinal preparations
Family
Number of genera
Number of species
Number of endemic species
Annonaceae
Apocynaceae
Euphorbiaceae
Lauraceae
Leguminosae
Myrsinaceae
Myrtaceae
Rubiaceae
Zingiberaceae
38
35
69
16
70
9
9
80
20
198
125
370
213
270
108
209
555
140
54
5
101
60
30
49
80
122
unknown
Source: Soepadmo (1995)
 

A study on the consumer demand for traditional medicine products in the Klang Valley found that about 71% of the respondents used traditional medicine. Most of the respondents used the products daily, some consumed them weekly whilst a few consumed them on a monthly basis (Kumari et al., 1998). This shows that medicinal plants are still accepted by urban people as a supplementary health care means, despite advances in the modern medical health care system.

In Malaysia, traditional complementary medicine practitioners are required to register with the Ministry of Health. There are six (6) traditional medicine associations that represent various traditional and complementary practices with 1,499 practitioners as shown in Table 3.

 
Table 3.  Six (6) Traditional associations under the Ministry of Health
Traditional Medicine Association
No of Registered Members/Organisations
Persekutuan Perubatan Tradisional Melayu Malaysia (PUTRAMAS)
500
Federation of Chinese Physicians and Medicine – Dealers Associations of Malaysia (FCPMDAM)
42
Federation of Chinese Physicians & Acupuncturists Association of Malaysia (FCPAAM)
16
Chinese Physician’s Association of Malaysia (MCPA)
837
Pertubuhan Perubatan Tradisional India Malaysia (PEPTIM)
100
Majlis Perubatan Homeopathy Malaysia (MPHM)
4
 *As at April 2007