The utilization of medicinal plants by the indigenous people in Peninsular Malaysia

The aborigines (Orang Asli) are known for their skills in combining herbal remedies from forest products. Their close relationship with the forest is the basis for their survival. They basically use the plants available to cure or alleviate a variety of ills from bruises, bee or snake bites, tooth or stomach ache, rashes, kidney pains to healing haemorrhoids, tongue or mouth ulcers, bone fractures and malaria (Kumari et al., 1998). Most of the medicinal plants used by the aborigines are quite similar to the plants used in traditional Malay medicine. It is estimated that about 25% of modern herbal medicine which used the resources from the forest is believed to have been formerly used by the aborigines (Anon, 2001a). 
 
A number of studies indicate the extent of medicinal forest plants used by the Orang Asli. The Orang Asli community in the Air Hitam Forest Reserve collected about 20 plant species for various purposes other than the construction of houses. About 30% of the plants were used for making handicrafts and medicine (Rusli et al., 1998). The species normally collected for medicinal purposes are akar bertam (Eugeisonna utilis), tengkuk biawak (Ficus calicarpa), kacip fatimah (Labisia pumila), serapat (Mapina petiolata) and tongkat ali (Eurycoma longifoliai). A study on the use of traditional and modern traditional medicines among the aborigines in Perak and Pahang found that modern medicines were used by the aborigines living near to the development areas where cheap or free modern medicines were available (Lim, 1997). Another study on the uses of medicinal plants by aborigines in Perak, Pahang and Kelantan found that 80% of the respondents still rely on the traditional methods health care (Kumari et al., 1998). However, the study also found that there seems to be a declining trend in the use of traditional medicine for the treatment of illness amongst the aborigine (Orang Asli) communities as they have been exposed to modern medicine through the government’s provision of free medical health care and facilities. Table 8 shows some of the medicinal plants used by the aborigines in the study.
 
Table 8. Common medicinal plants used by Orang Asli
IllnessMedicinal plants used
Malaria
Eurycoma longifolia, Pometia pinnata, Artocarpus rigidus, Alstonia sp., Elateriospermum tapos, Carica papaya, Lansium domesticum
Headache
Zingiber officimale, Scleria sp.
Cough
Eugeissona tristis, Areca catechu, Calamus exilis, Alphonsea sp.
For others species of medicinal plants used by aborigines, refer to Lim (1997)
      
 
Another study conducted by Kamarulzaman (1989) found that there are some medicinal plants species which have been used by the aborigines for many generations. Those species were tongkat ali (Eurycoma longifolia), kacip fatimah (Labisia pumila), rafflesia (Rafflesia cantley), rempah gunung (Leptospermum flavescens), serai gunung (Cymbopogon sp), dewa muda, ubi careng, gajah beranak (Goniothalamus scortechinii), and tengkuk biawak (Allomorphia malaccensis). It is clear that the aborigines rely on the availability of the resources from the forest to sustain their knowledge and practice of traditional medicine. Therefore, the management of the resources as well as the forest is really crucial for the purpose of conservation.