In the past, Malaysian herbal plants were taken from the jungle areas and its fringes. It is only recently, that some of these plants are cultivated in organised farms. They are consumed as food supplements or as ‘ulam’ (appetite enhancer) by the rural populace mainly for their medicinal properties. Public awareness on the potential economic benefits of these herbs has spurred the interest of commercial producers among the local entrepreneurs and business community trading in this area is the natural outcome of the availability of the raw materials.
The herbal industry is now firmly established in this country and cross-border trading is picking up rapidly. With the encouragement from the Government in infusing integrated medicine in our local hospitals, the use of herbal products is expected to be increasing within the country. It is also reported that other countries are using and importing raw materials from producing countries, thereby encouraging the growth of trading of herbal products between countries and further development of the industry can be expected.
The global market for herbal and phytochemical based industries is a worth USD 32 billion and is estimated to grow at 16% annually. The herbal related market includes herbs used as food or food additives, cosmetic ingredients, and herbal medicines. The current estimates for this market ranges between USD 40- 100 billion with an average annual growth rate of 15% to 20 %.
Most of the chemical industry was based on agricultural and animal materials before the advent of petrochemicals. Many dyes, industrial chemicals, solvents, food additives and the like were derived from these sources. At present, the Malaysian market for herbal and natural products has been estimated to be worth RM4.55 billion of which 90% of the raw materials used are imported. The main reasons for the rapid growth of the industry in Malaysian domestic market are the changes in lifestyle, the growing emphasis and awareness on healthy living, and the rising cost of synthetic medicines.