Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine has been practised for more than two thousand years worldwide (Zakaria & Zaiton, 1998). Immigrant communities are believed to have taken the lead the growing use of medical systems from their countries, such as traditional Chinese medicine, and the situation included the practice of the traditional medical system in Malaysia. It is estimated that about 1,000 plant species are commonly used in Chinese medicinal preparation (An He & Sheng, 1997). About 500 species of medicinal herbs have been found and used by local Chinese physicians in Malaysia. In China, about 5,136 medicinal plant species were recorded during the nationwide survey project that was carried out in 1987 (Xiao, 1987). The total number of plant species recorded is given in Table 5.

Table 5. Chinese medicinal plants identified in the 1987 survey
Number of species
Source: Xiao (1987)
In China, traditional medicine is largely used for treating 40% of urban patients and 90% of rural patients (BGCI Fact Sheet). With the increasing use of medicinal plants in China, about 700,000 tons of medicinal plants had been used for direct decoction in the traditional Chinese doctor's prescription, and it is recorded that about 100 species are under cultivation, covering an area of 460,000 hectares (Pei-gen, 1991). However, 80% of the raw materials were collected from the wild (BGCI Fact Sheet). The presence of Chinese philosophy, theory and practice of traditional medicine in Malaysia originated in China. The medicinal plants normally used by the Chinese practitioners could be seen mostly at `Sinseh’ shops or medical halls. According to a study done in the nineties, there were about 1,000 `Sinseh’ shops in Malaysia and almost half of them were Chinese Medical Association members (Muhamad & Mustafa, 1994). However, most of the medicinal plants sold at the Chinese Sinseh shops are imported from China and hence do not rely on the forest resources of Malaysia.
The superior herbs used to adjust and restore health, according to the Chinese practitioners, are renshen (ginseng), dihuang (rehmannia root), huangqi (astraglus root) and fuling (poria). Some common herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine are ginseng (Panax ginseng), garlic (Allium cepa), ginger (Zingiber officinale), dong quai (Angelica sinensis), ho shou wu (Polygonum multiflorum) and cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis) (Anon, 1996a). It is believed that the Chinese have used ginseng for over 5,000 years (Anon, 1999a). Some of the tropical plants used in traditional Chinese medicine are shown in Table 6.
Table 6. Medicinal plants used in the Chinese traditional preparations in Malaysia
Medicinal plants
Areca catechu L.
Used as anthelmintic against fasciola, tapeworms and roundworms. The husk of the fruit is used to treat abdominal distension, edema, oliguria and constipation.
Oldenlandia diffusa Roxb.
Used as antimicrobic and anti-inflammatory agent for the treatment of dysentery, colitis, appendicitis, arthritis and snakebites. Also acts as an injectable drug for the treatment of pneumonia.
Piper nigrum L.
Used to diminish sputum production, alleviate abdominal pain, vomiting and indigestion. Also used for topical application as a paste for the treatment of malaria and scorpion bites.
Myristica fragrans Houtt.
Used for alimentary tract disorders like diarrhoea, vomiting, indigestion and abdominal pain.
Vitex rotundifolia L.f.
Used to treat colds, headache, migraine, sore eyes, night blindness, myalgia, and neuralgia while the leaves are applied to treat traumatic injuries.
For other uses of medicinal plants, refer to Chan (1992)
Other medicinal plant species generally used by the Chinese in Malaysia for cleansing the body are rhubarb root, tangerine peel, wild chrysanthemum blossom, honeysuckle, atrium seeds, black cohosh, liquorice root, peppermint, dendelion, scutellaria root, processed aloe vera (luhui), forsythia fruit, laminaria seaweed and ling zhi mushroom spores (Anon, 1998b)