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What Do We Know About Our Medicinal and Culturally Important Plants ?: Current Status of Malaysian Ethnobotany1

K. Mat-Salleh and A. Latiff Pusat Pengajian Sains Sekitaran & Sumber Alam Fakulti Sains dan Teknologi Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia 43600 Bangi & M. Nazre World Wide Fund For Nature Malaysia 49 Jalan SS23/15, 47301 Petaling Jaya Abstract Scientific progress and deeper insights into the unexploited potential of our country's flora for pharmaceutical, curative and essential oil markets have led to a greatly renewed interest in our natural products. Medicinal and aromatic plants are always regarded as one of the most pivotal ethnobotanical elements of human civilisation. However, our rich and diverse floristic resources of Malaysia has not been fully documented. There has been no attempts to revise I.H. Burkill's monumental Dictionary of Economic Products which was published 65 years ago. The Herbarium UKMB has initiated the Ethnobotany of Malaysian Plants database and has been online since 1997. Following a general survey by UKM on the current status of ethnobotanical coverage in the local universities in 1994, WWF People and Plants Initiative has agreed to fund an extended nationwide survey in 2000 in which all known and available ethnobotanical resources would be made available in UKM whenever possible. With basic frame work and data from Burkill's Dictionary already in our system, we are hoping to complete a new comprehensive compilation of our ethnobotanical resources. Introduction Although many medical books on Malaysian medicines and its biological components were written in 1880's, most of these books were not available to western world. The scripts were written in the traditional Jawi texts and only learned Malays were able to understand them. Nevertheless, one of these books were made available to J.D. Gimlett and it was translated into English by him with botanical input from I.H. Burkill who was then the Director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The script was written by Munshi Ismail in 1886 and was published as"The Medical Book of Malayan Medicine" by Gimlett and Burkill (1930). Inspired by this detail account, Burkill initiated a noble effort to compile various ethnobotanical records previously published by Holmes (1892), Ridley (1893, 1894, 1906), his own work with Haniff (Burkill & Haniff 1930), into a Dictionary of Economic Product of the Malay Peninsula. His Dictionary has elaborate and detail notes on each known ethnobotanically important plants known to them then, being sought by scientists as de facto ethnobotanical reference for Malaysian medicinal, aromatic, poisonous and culturally important plants. Post-independence era has seen very little work on this aspect, and no further update of Burkill's Dictionary until it was reprinted in 1966. The establishment of several local universities in the 1970's especially Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), rejuvenates new interest on the relationship

Paper presented at the International Conference on in-situ and ex-situ Biodiversity Conservation in the New Millenium, Jointly organised by Sabah Moseum & Yayasan Sabah, with financial support from MacArthur Foundation and DANCED; 20-22 June 2000, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah



between local culture and their surroundings, natural resources and ethnobiology. It was during the early formative years of UKM, that we saw bioprospecting researches were being initiated by teams of young and energetic botanists and phytochemists in the local institutions, led by one of us (Professor A. Latiff) and members of his Kumpulan Ubatan Tradisional (KUBATRA). There were numerous theses deposited in UKM with ethnobotanical themes such as Hussin (1981), Mat-Salleh (1982), Hazidah (1987), Zakaria (1987), Goh (1986), Sabariah (1987), Nadar (1987), Arumugam (1988), Noriyah (1990), Azmah (1989), Othman (1991). Similarly other universities such as Universiti Malaya (UM), Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) and Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) have many faculties with interest in the subject. According to Latiff et al. (1984), in early 1980's there are at least 16 research groups in the local universities and research institutes. By early 1980's similar initiatives were carried out in Sabah, especially some pioneering works of Guntavid (1983) and Yasili (1984) complimenting Sabah ethnography series of Latiff (1982, 1985a, 1985b). This were followed by reports form various expeditions or specific projects in Sabah such as Ghazally et al. (1989), Gumpol et al. (1988), Amandus (1989), Ajik (1990), Lasimbang (1991), Fasihuddin and Hasmah (1991, 1992). In Sarawak, indigenous knowledge were first compiled by Van Steenis (1958) and later expanded by Chai (1975, 1978). Various other reports were also published by Kedit (1982) Saigol (1986), Chai et al. (1989), Muli (1989), Pungga (1989), Fasihuddin (1993) and Fasihuddin and Din (1996). Taxonomic and Ethnic Coverage In an effort to understand the full coverage of ethnobotanical research in Malaysia, Gopinathan Kusalah, then a student in UKM Sabah, carried out a initial survey in 1994 on the extent of ethnobotanical research in the universities in the Klang Valley. His report then formed a basis for more extensive review which was later published by Mat-Salleh, Kusalah & Latiff (2000). From 148 publications reviewed in the report, covering papers in refereed journals, books, proceedings and technical reports (such as theses, dissertations and academic reports) we have seen the several trends. While most (61 %) of the publications were referring to the work on Peninsular Malaysia's ethnic groups only 20 % and 19 % are for Sabah and Sarawak natives respectively (Fig. 1). As expected major ethnic such as Jah Het, Semai, Semaq Beri, Senoi, Hulu and Temuan have already been addressed along with the Malay, Jawa, Jawa/ Banjar, Minangkabau, Malaysian Indian and Malaysian Chinese communities. Many reports on ethnobotany of Iban, Kenyah, Kedayan, Kelabit, Melanau, Melayu, Selako and Penan communities in Sarawak and Idahan, Kadazan/Dusun, Murut, Pagan and Sungai in Sabah were already been published (Fig. 3). Our analysis of the published data also revealed uneasy trend. There are only 32 % of the reports were published in the journals and the rest were technical reports, theses, dissertations and proceeding papers. These reports are only available in the institutions where they were submitted and not easily available for reference (Fig. 2). Ethnobotany of Malaysia in the New Millennium Although a lot of new data were generated since the publication of Burkill's Dictionary, there has been no effort to update this classical reference. Many species cited by him have been revised and no longer in use, creating confusion and incorrect usage in many publications related to plants in current use in our traditional medicines and other aspects of ethnobotany. The Ethnobotany of Malaysian Plants Database project was initiated in UKM as a continuation of our effort to develop a comprehensive database for Malaysian (Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak) medicinal, poisonous and aromatic plants. Plants of cultural and historical importance, such as plants used as place names, was also incorporated. It was started in the late 1980's in then the Herbarium Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Sabah Campus to prepare an inventory and document the collection of wild edible plants of Sabah. The computerised Native Edible Plant (NEP) database was completed as a prototype in 1990. It has a compilation of 11,813 specimens for 832 species of known edible plants of Sabah used by the natives.



Under the Intensification of Research in Priority Areas (IRPA) of the 7 Malaysia Plan (RM7), we have applied and supported to start a prototype of the computerised database of Malaysian medicinal and aromatic plant database. These databases have been made available online since the middle of 1997 as one of the important component of Malaysia Biodiversity Online ( These databases are available for free to anyone with Internet access. The Ethnobotany of Malaysian Plant homepage currently hosts nearly 16,000 native plant names and being updated with new informations almost daily. The ultimate aim of our project is to produce a new Dictionary of Economic Products covering all our ethnobotanical knowledge of our people in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak The publication of the catalogue of Malayan vascular plants by Turner (1995) has provided a solid basis on the listing of the vascular plants in our country. A joint effort was initiated in early 1999 which involves the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Forest Research Institute Malaysia and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia to host an online catalogue of this more than 9,000 species of vascular plants of Malaya. This online catalogue is now available in the Internet, in which users can list the species occurring in our country for any given recognized families, genera or epithets. It is also possible for them to query species available from any image-mapped states in the Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore in which distribution pattern and status such as endemic are duly highlighted. These databases are important compliments to the Ethnobotany of Malaysian Plants database. Towards the New Burkill's Dictionary With all known ethnobotanical resources of Malaysia readily available in UKM, and basic frame work and data from Burkill's Dictionary are already in our system, we are hoping to complete a new comprehensive compilation of our ethnobotanical resources. We are hoping that the first 6 series of the Flora of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants of Malaysia covering the dicots would be ready by the middle of 2001. This would be followed with the monocots and other culturally important plants. The series would also included a new authoritative Dictionary of Malaysian Medicinal, Aromatic and Poisonous Plants. Ultimately we will strive for the publication of the new dictionary similar to Burkill's monumental reference. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS We would like to express our gratitude to Organizing Committee for inviting us to present our review. We thanks WWF People and Plants Initiative for financial support and to MPKSN for their continuous support for our research programmes (IRPA 09-02-02-013, IRPA 08-02-02-022, IRPA 08-02-02-009, IRPA 09-02-02-0106). We are also grateful for assistance from many friends and contacts during our survey. Literature Cited Ajik, M. 1990. Etnobotani suatu masyarakat di Bukit Garam, Sandakan, Sabah: Kajian kes ke atas Orang Sungai. Tesis SmSn. Jabatan Botani, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi. Amandus, T.J.V. 1989. Mengenai beberapa nilai tumbuhan di kalangan masyarakat Kadazan di Sabah: Satu kajian kes di Daerah Papar. Tesis SmSn Kep., Jabatan Botani, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi Arumugan, S. 1988. Nilai-nilai tumbuhan di kalangan orang-orang India di Semenanjung Malaysia: Satu kajian kes di Pulau Carey, Selangor. Tesis SmSn. Jabatan Botani, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi. Azmah, M.N. 1989. Nilai tumbuhan ubatan di kalangan orang Jawa khusus di Kampung Sepintas, Sabak Bernam, Selangor. Tesis SmSn. Jabatan Botani, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi. Burkill, I.H. 1935. A Dictionary of Economic Products of the Malay Peninsula. 2 Vols. Crown Agents for The Colonies, London


Burkill, I.H. dan Hanif, M. 1930. Malay village medicine. Gard. Bull. Str. Settl. 6: 167-332. Chai, P.P.K. 1975. Ethnobotany Part 1. Sarawak Museum Journal 44: 36-51. Chai, P.P.K. 1975. Ethnobotany Part 2. Sarawak Museum Journal 47: 243-270. Chai, P.P.K. 1991. Traditional uses of plants in medicine among the ethnic groups in Sarawak. In K.H. Teh (Ed.). Ke arah menghidupkan penggunaan tradisional tumbuh-Tumbuhan Tempatan: Prosiding Seminar Kebangsaan Etnobotani Pertama, Serdang, Pp. 177-179 Chai, P.P.K., B.M.H. Lee, H.O. Ismawi. 1989. Native Medicinal Plants of Sarawak. Sarawak Forest Deprtment Report No. FB 1, Forestry Department, Kuching. Fasihuddin, B.A dan R. Hasmah. 1991. Medicinal plants of the Murut community in Sabah. In Ghazaly, I., Siraj, O. Dan Murtedza, M (Eds.). Forest Biology and Conservation in Borneo. Kota Kinabalu: Center for Borneo Studies. Pp. 460-467. Fasihuddin, B.A. 1993. . Medicinal plants used by Kedayan community in Sarawak. Sarawak Museum Journal 65: 45-57 Fasihuddin, B.A. dan L.B. Din. 1996. Medicinal plants used by various ethnics in Sarawak. In A. Abd. Kadir, K. Shaari, I. Jantan, J. Ismail, N.M. Mustapha (Eds.) Pembangunan Industri Tumbuhan Ubatan: Peranan Agensi Kerajaan , Industri, dan Saintis. Kepong. Forest Research Institute Malaysia. Pp. 188-193 Fasihuddin, B.A. dan R. Hasmah. 1992. Penggunaan tumbuhan ubatan oleh suku kaum di Sabah. In S. Khozirah, A.Abd. Kadir, A.R. Mohd. Ali (Eds.) Medicinal Products From Tropical Rain Forests. Kepong. Forest Research Institute Malaysia. Pp. 80-92 Fasihuddin, B.A., B.I.Ipor dan L.B. Din. 1995. Medicinal plants used by the Kelabit community in Bario, Sarawak. In I. Ghazally, M. Murtedza & L.B. Din (Eds.) Chemical Prospecting in the Malaysian Forest. Petaling Jaya, Pelanduk Publication. Pp. 43-46 Ghazally, I., Ahmad Kamal, A. H, Boniface, T. dan Lamri, A. 1989. Medical Plants of the Idahan community in Kampung Segama, Lahad Datu, Sabah. Sabah Museum Monograph 3: 67-72. Gimlett, J.D. and Burkill, I.H. 1930. The medical book of Malayan medicine. Gard. Bull. Str. Settl. 6: 333-499. Goh, B.Y. 1986. Kajian etnobotani dan penggunaan tumbuhan tempatan sebagai ubatan tradisi oleh orang Cina di Malaysia. Tesis SmSn. Jabatan Botani, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi. Gumpol, T., Miller, J.D. dan Mognil, A. 1988. Village medical treatment among the coastal kadazan. The Sarawak Museum Journal. 39 (60): 149-167. Guntavid, Joseph P. 1983. Tinjauan awal terhadap tumbuh-tumbuhan ubatan tradisonal negeri Sabah. Tesis SmSn. Jabatan Biologi, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Kampus Sabah, Kota Kinabalu. Hazidah, D. 1987. Unsur botani dalam pantun Melayu. Tesis SmSn. Jabatan Botani, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi. Holmes, E.M. 1892. Malay Materia medica (Native remedies received by Holmes from Meldrum, J., Johore). Bull. Pharm. 6: 108-117. Hussin, M. 1981. Kajian-kajian awal ke atas kegunaan ubat-ubatan dari famili Menispermaceae di Semenanjung Malaysia. Tesis SmSn. Jabatan Botani, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi. Kedit, P.M. 1982. An ecology survey of the Penan. Sarawak Museum Journal. 36 (57): 174-184 Lasimbang, R. 1991. Tradisional herbal medicines used by the Dusun/Kadazan people. In K.H. Teh (Ed.). Ke arah menghidupkan penggunaan tradisional tumbuh-Tumbuhan Tempatan: Prosiding Seminar Kebangsaan Etnobotani Pertama, Serdang, Pp. 27-43 Latiff, A. 1982. Etnobotani Residensi Pantai Barat, Sabah: Satu laporan awal. In Latiff, A., Abdullah, H dan Dahlan, H. N (Eds.) Laporan tinjauan awal. Kajian etnografi Sabah. Kota Kinabalu: Yayasan Sabah. Latiff, A. 1985a. Etnobotani. In Sulong Mohamad (Ed.) Persekitaran sosio fizis dan pembangunan di Residensi Sandakan Sabah: Kajian etnografi Sabah. Bangi: Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. Latiff, A. 1985b. Satu nota mengenai tiga komuniti etnik di Residensi Pantai Barat dengan rujukan khas kepada vegetasi, flora dan etnografinya. In A. Latiff (ed.) Persekitaran biofizik Residensi Pantai Barat, Sabah. Kajian Etnografi Sabah Jld 7: 67-74 Latiff, A., Ismail, G., Omar, M., Said,M.I, dan Kadri, A. 1984. A Multivariate approach to the study of medicinal plants in Malaysia. Sing. Natl. Acad. Sci. 13: 101-113


Mat-Salleh, K. 1982. Kajian awal ke atas Simaroubaceae sebagai punca utama ubatan tradisional di Semenanjung Malaysia. Tesis SmSn. Jabatan Botani, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi. Mat-Salleh, K., G. Kusalah & A. Latiff. 2000. Peranan Tumbuhan Di Dalam Budaya Masyarakat Tempatan: Status Kajian Etnobotani Masa Kini Di Malaysia. Sains Malaysiana (in press). Muli, J. A. 1989. Aktiviti mengumpul dan mengutip bahan-bahan dari hutan serta kepentingannya kepada keadaan sosio ekonomi kaum Iban di Ulu Empit, Bahagian ke-6 Sarawak. Tesis SmSn Jabatan Botani, Universiti Malaya. Nadar, B.T. 1987. Kajian etnobotani dua masyarakat dan masyarakat India Malaysia. Tesis SmSn. Jabatan Botani, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi. Noriyah, M. 1990. Kajian etnobotani dengan merujuk kepada tumbuhan ubatan di daerah Dungun, Terengganu. Tesis SmSn. Jabatan Botani, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi Othman, A. 1991. Penggunaan sumber tumbuhan dalam kehidupan masyarakat Jah Het di Lembah Krau, Temerloh, Pahang. Tesis SmSn. Jabatan Botani, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi. Pungga, R. S. 1989. Mengenai beberapa nilai tumbuhan di kalangan masyarakat Iban di Sarawak: Satu kajian kes di daerah Sri Aman. Tesis SmSn. Jabatan Botani, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi. Ridley, H.N. 1894. Malay Materia medica. J. Str. Med. Assoc. 5: 122-138. Ridley, H.N. 1906. Malay drugs. Agric. Bull. Str Fed. Mal. States 5: 193-206, 245 - 254, 269 - 282 Sabariah, Z. 1987. Kajian tumbuhan ubatan di daerah Sering, Kota Bharu, Kelantan. Tesis SmSn. Jabatan Botani, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi. Saigol, P. 1986. Kegunaan Palmae, Gramineae, Marantaceae dan Pandanaceae dari segi etnobotani oleh kaum Bidayuh, Iban dan Melayu di Sarawak. Kertas kerja Universiti Pertanian Malaysia. Turner, I. 1995. A catalogue of the vascular plants of Malaya. The Garden's Bulletin, Singapore, 47:1757. Van Steenis, C.G.G.J. 1958. Magic plants of Dayaks. Sarawak Museum Journal 8: 432-436. Yasili, Y. 1984. Tinjauan awal ke atas tumbuh-tumbuhan beracun yang menyebabkan dermatitis di Sabah. Tesis SmSn. Jabatan Biologi, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Kampus Sabah. Zakaria, S. 1987. Kajian Tumbuhan Ubatan di Daerah Sering, Kota Bharu, Kelantan. Tesis SmSn, Jabatan Botani, UKM, Bangi.





Peninsular Sabah Sarawak

Figure 1. Percentage of ethnobotanical publications in Malaysia for Peninsular Malaysian, Sabah and Sarawak ethnic groups


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Figure 2. Total of publications various ethnics in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak


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Figure 3. Percentage of publications for journal papers in comparison with other types of publications


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