Open access peer-reviewed chapter

Medicinal Plants of the Indigenous Tribes in Peninsular Malaysia: Current and Future Perspectives

By Pozi Milow, Sorayya Malek and Raznan Mohd. Ramli

Submitted: June 17th 2016Reviewed: October 31st 2016Published: March 8th 2017

DOI: 10.5772/66658

Downloaded: 1972


The main aim of this paper is to compile information on plant that is known to be medicinal to the indigenous tribes in Peninsular Malaysia. Information is compiled from various sources. Current trends on studies of medicinal plants of the indigenous tribes and threats to the sustainability of the plants are also discussed. Focus of future studies on medicinal plants utilized by the indigenous tribes will also be discussed.


  • Jah Hut
  • medicinal
  • Negrito
  • Semai
  • Semang
  • Temuan
  • proto-Malay

1. Introduction

The indigenous tribes in Peninsular Malaysia are collectively known as the Orang Asli. The Orang Asli consists of 18 subethnic groups or tribes which anthropologists and administrators grouped into the Semang (Negrito), Senoi, and aboriginal Malay (proto-Malay). Documentation on the plant resources, particularly medicinal plants, utilized by the people is still far from complete as most of the villages of the tribes have not been studied. Documentation on traditional uses of medicinal plants is important because it helps to preserve traditional culture of indigenous tribes, provide leads to the discovery medicinal compounds, and find ways to conserve the medicinal plants.

The main aims of this paper are to compile information on medicinal plants of the indigenous tribes in Peninsular Malaysia based on previous studies and to provide direction for future studies on the medicinal plants of the indigenous tribes.


2. List of medicinal plants of the indigenous tribes in Peninsular Malaysia

Two hundred and thirteen species of plants (Table 1) have been reported as medicinal to the indigenous tribes in Peninsular Malaysia. The medicinal plants were based on uses by the tribes Jah Hut, Semai, Semang and Temuan. Information on the plants is compiled from Refs. [18]. Leaves and roots are the most common parts that have medicinal uses. Destructive harvest, i.e., those that involve the removal of barks, roots, or whole plants, is among the most susceptible to overharvest because of destruction of the entire plants [9].

No.SpeciesIndigenous tribe(s) [plant part(s) used]Sources of information
1.Abutilon indicumL.Semang [leaves][3]
2.Acorus calamusL.Semai [rhizomes][6]
3.Acrotrema costatumJackSemang [roots and leaves][7]
4.Agelaea macrophylla(Zoll.) Leenh.Semang [leaves][3]
5.Aglaia odorataLour.Semang [flowers][3]
6.Aglaia yzermanniiBoerl. & Koord.Semang [leaves][1]
7.Albizia myriophyllaBenth.Jah Hut [roots][5]
8.Aloe barbadensisMill.Jah Hut [leaves], Temuan [leaves][4, 5]
9.Alpinia galanga(L.) Willd.Temuan [rhizomes][4]
10.Alstonia angustiloba(L.) Miq.Jah Hut [leaves][2]
11.Ancistrocladus extensusWall. ex PlanchJah Hut [roots][5]
12.Ancistrocladus tectorius(Lour.) Merr.Semang [roots][7]
13.Annona muricataL.Semang [leaves][3]
14.Apama tomentosaEngl.Temuan [roots][4]
15.Aquilaria malaccensisLamk.Jah Hut [stems and leaves], Semai [barks][5, 6]
16.Archidendron ellipticumBlumeSemang [leaves][3]
17.Archidendron jiringaNiels.Temuan [barks, leaves, and roots][4]
18.Ardisia colorataRoxb.Semang [leaves][3]
19.Ardisia crenataSims.Jah Hut [leaves], Semang [whole plants][3, 5]
20.Ardisia crispa(Thunb.) DCSemang [whole plants][7]
21.Ardisia sanguinolentaBl.Jah Hut [roots][5]
22.Areca catechuL.Semang [fruits][7]
23.Argostemma pictumWall.Semang [whole plants][7]
24.Artemisia argyiLevi. et Vant.Semang [leaves][3]
25.Arthrophyllum diversifoliumBlumeSemang [roots][3]
26.Averrhoa bilimbiL.Semang [leaves][3]
27.Averrhoa carambolaL.Temuan [barks, leaves, and roots][4]
28.Azadirachta indicaJuss.Temuan [leaves][4]
29.Barringtonia acutangula(L.) Gaertn.Semang [stems][7]
30.Baccaurea motleyana(Muell. Arg.) Muell. Arg.Temuan [fruits][4]
31.Baccaurea ramifloraLour.Jah Hut [roots][5]
32.Barleria lupulinaLindl.Semang [leaves][3]
33.Barleria prionitisL.Semang [leaves][3]
34.Bauhinia semibifidaRoxb.Semang [roots][3]
35.Bixa orellanaL.Semai [seeds][6]
36.Blechnum orientaleL.Semai [leaves][6]
37.Bombax ceibaL.Semang [leaves][3]
38.Bonnaya veronicaefoliaSpreng.Temuan [leaves][4]
39.Bulbophyllum mutabile(Bl.) Lindl.Semang [leaves][3]
40.Caesalpinia cristaL.Semang [seeds][3]
41.Calamus ornatusBl.Semai [stem saps][6]
42.Cassytha filiformisL.Semang [whole plants][3]
43.Catharanthus roseus(L.) DonTemuan [whole plants][4]
44.Centella asiatica(Linn.) UrbanSemang [whole plants], Semang [leaves] Temuan [whole plants][3, 4, 7]
45.Champereia manillana(Bl.) Merr.Semang [roots][7]
46.ChassaliachartaceaCraibSemang [roots][7]
47.Chroesthes longifolia(Wight) HansenJah Hut [roots][5]
48.Cinnamomum aureofulvumGamb.Jah Hut [roots][5]
49.Cinnamomum inersReinw. ex BlumeSemang [roots][7]
50.Cinnamomum javanicumBl.Temuan [leaves][4]
51.Citrus medicaL.Jah Hut [fruits][5]
52.Cnestis platanthaGriff.Semang [leaves][3]
53.Cnestis ramifloraGriff.Semang [roots][7]
54.Cocos nuciferaL.Temuan [fruits][5]
55.Connarus grandisJackJah Hut [roots][5]
56.Coptosapelta tomentosa(L.) (Blume) Valeton ex K. HeyneJah Hut [roots][2]
57.Costus speciosus(Koenig.) SmithSemang [stems], Jah Hut [leaves], Semai [leaves][57]
58.Crinum asiaticumL.Temuan [leaves][4]
59.Croton caudatusGeiselSemang [roots][3]
60.Curcuma longaL.Temuan [rhizomes][4]
61.Curcuma petiolataRoxb.Semang [rhizomes][3]
62.Curcuma xanthorrhizaRoxb.Semang [rhizomes][7]
63.Cyclea laxifloraMiersSemai [whole plants][6]
64.Cymbopogon citratus(DC.) Stapf.Jah Hut [leaves][5]
65.Cymbopogon nardus(L.) RendleJah Hut [leaves], Temuan [leaves][4, 5]
66.Cyrtandra pendulaBl.Jah Hut [roots][5]
67.Daemonorops didymorphyllusBecc.Semang [saps][1, 7]
68.Dendrophoetoe constrictaDans.Semang [leaves][3]
69.Desmos chinensisLour.Jah Hut [roots][5]
70.Dianella ensifoliaRed.Semai [roots][6]
71.Dicranopteris linearis(Burm.) Underw.Semai [leaves][6]
72.Dioscorea hispidaDennst.Temuan [tubers][4]
73.Dipteracanthus repens(L.) Hassk.Semang [leaves][3]
74.Durio zibethinusMurraySemang [leaves][1, 2, 7]
75.Dysoxylum alliaceum(Bl.) Bl.Semang [roots][7]
76.Elephantopus scaberL.Temuan [leaves][4]
77.Elephantopus tomentosusL.Temuan [leaves][4]
78.Etlingera elatior(Jack) SmithSemang [leaves][7]
79.Eleiodoxa conferta(Griff.) BurretSemang [stems][8]
80.Epiprinus malayanusGriff.Jah Hut [roots][5]
81.Eranthemum borneenseHook f.Semang [leaves][3]
82.Eugenia urceolataKing.Jah Hut [roots][5]
83.Eupatorium odoratumL.Semang [leaves][3, 7]
84.Euphorbia hirtaL.Jah Hut [latex][5]
85.Euphorbia tirucalliL.Semang [latex][3]
86.Eurycoma apiculataBenn.Semai [leaves][6]
87.Eurycoma longifoliaJackSemang [roots], Jah Hut [roots], Temuan [leaves, roots], Semang [roots][25, 7]
88.Fibraurea chloroleucaMiersSemang [roots][7]
89.Ficus aurantiacaGriff.Jah Hut [stems and roots], Temuan [stems][4, 5]
90.Freycinetia javanicaBl.Semang [roots][7]
91.Garcinia mangostanaL.Semang [fruits][3]
92.Garcinia scortechiniiKing.Jah Hut [roots][4]
93.Gnetum leptostachyumBlumeSemang [whole plants][3]
94.Gomphandra lanceolataKing.Temuan [roots][4]
95.Goniothalamus macrophyllus(Bl.) Miq.Jah Hut [roots], Semai [barks][5, 6]
96.Guioa pubescens(Zoll. & Mor.) Radlk.Semang [roots and leaves][7]
97.Gynura procumbens(Lour.) Merr.Semang [leaves][3]
98.Hedyotis capitellata(L.) Wall. ex G. DonJah Hut [roots], Semai [roots][2, 5]
99.Hevea brasiliensisMuell. Arg.Jah Hut [stems][5]
100.Hedychium longicornutumBakerSemang [roots][7]
101.Helminthostachys zeylanica(L.) Hook.Semang [whole plants], Jah Hut [roots][5, 7]
102.Hibiscus rosa-sinensisL.Temuan [leaves], Semang [roots and barks][3, 4]
103.Hibiscus tiliaceusL.Semang [barks][3]
104.Hippocratea indicaWilld.Jah Hut [roots][5]
105Homalanthus populneus(L.) (Geisel.) PaxJah Hut [leaves][2]
106.Homalomena griffithiiHk.f.Semai [stems][6]
107.Homalomena rostrataGriff.Jah Hut [roots][5]
108.Hoya coronariaBlumeSemang [leaves][3]
109.Iguanura geonomiformisMart.Semai [leaves][6]
110.Imperata cylindrica(L.) Beauv.Semang [whole plants][3]
111.Jasminum sambac(L.) Ait.Semang [leaves][3]
112.Jatropha curcasL.Semai [saps], Semang [leaves][3, 6]
113.Justicia betonicaL.Jah Hut [leaves][5]
114.Kaempferia galangaL.Semang [rhizomes][3]
115.Kalanchoe pinnata(Lam.) Pers.Semang [leaves][7]
116.Labisia pothoinaLindl.Jah Hut [roots and stems], Semai [roots][5, 6]
117.Labisia pumila(Blume) MezSemang [roots][7]
118.Languas conchigeraBurkillSemang [rhizomes][3]
119.Lantana camaraL.Semang [leaves][3]
120.Lasia spinosaThwaitesSemang [tubers], Jah Hut [leaves][5, 7]
121.Lasianthus oblongusKing & GambleJah Hut [roots][5]
122.Lasianthus villosusRidl.Semai [leaves][6]
123.Lawsonia inermis(L.) Pers.Semang [leaves][7]
124.Leea indica(Burm. f.) Merr.Semang [leaves][7]
125.Lepidagathis incurvaBuch.-Ham.Jah Hut [leaves][5]
126.Leptaspis urceolataR. Br.Jah Hut [roots][5]
127.Licuala spinosaWurmJah Hut [meristems][5]
128.Limacia oblonga(Miers.) Hk.f. et. Thoms.Temuan [stems][4]
129.Lindera lucida(Bl.) Boerl.Semai [leaves][6]
130.Lindera pipericarpa(Miq.) Boerl.Jah Hut [roots][5]
131.Lophatherum gracileBrongn.Semang [roots], Semai [roots][7]
132.Loranthus cochinchinensisLour.Semang [whole plants][7]
133.Luvunga scandensBuch.-Ham.Semai [leaves][5]
134.Lycopodiella cernua(L.) Pic. Serm.Jah Hut [leaves][2]
135.Lygodium circinnatum(Burm.) Sw.Semang [leaves][3, 7]
136.Lygodium flexuosum(L.) Sw.Jah Hut [leaves][2]
137.Lygodium microphyllum(Cav.) R.Br.Semai [leaves][6]
138.Maranta arundinaceaL.Jah Hut [roots][2]
139.Marumia nemorosaBl.Semai [leaves][6]
140.Melastoma malabathricumL.Jah Hut [roots][2]
141.Mikania micranthaKunth ex H.B.K.Semang [whole plants][7]
142.Millettia sericeaBenth.Semai [stems][6]
143.Mitragyna speciosaKorthSemang [leaves][7]
144.Morinda citrifoliaL.Semang [fruits], Jah Hut [leaves and fruits][2, 3]
145.Musa sapientumL.Semang [fruits][7]
146.Neodissochaeta gracilis(Jack) Bakh.Semang [leaves][7]
147.Nephelium lappaceumL.Semang [leaves][7]
148.Oldenlandia diffusa(Willd.) Roxb.Semang [leaves][3]
149.Orchidantha longifloraRidl.Semai [leaves][6]
150.Oroxylum indicum(L.) KurzSemang [barks][7]
151.Oryza sativaL.Semai [seeds][6]
152.Parameria barbata(Blume) K.Schum.Semang [roots][7]
153.Parkia speciosaHassk.Semai [roots], Temuan [roots], Semang [seeds][3, 4, 6]
154.Peliosanthes luridaRidl.Semang [roots][7]
155.Peliosanthes violaceaWall.Semang [roots], Jah Hut [roots], Semai [leaves][57]
156.Pellacalyx saccardianusScort.Semai [leaves][6]
157.Peltophorum pterocarpum(DC.) K. HeyneSemang [barks][3]
158.Peristrophe acuminataNeesJah Hut [leaves][5]
159.Peucedanum japonicaThunb.Temuan [roots][4]
160.Phyllagathis rotundifolia(Jack) Bl.Jah Hut [roots][5]
161.Phyllanthus niruriL.Semang [whole plants][3]
162.Phyllanthus oxyphyllusMiq.Temuan [whole plants][4]
163.Phyllanthus pulcherWall. ex Muell. Arg.Jah Hut [roots][5]
164.Phyllanthus urinariaL.Semai [whole plants][6]
165.Physalis minimaL.Jah Hut [leaves][2]
166.Pinanga polymorphaBecc.Jah Hut [leaves][5]
167.Piper betleL.Temuan [leaves][4]
168.Piper caninumBlumeSemang [fruits and barks][7]
169.Piper muricatumBl.Semai [leaves][6]
170.Planchonella obovata(R. Br.) PierreSemang [leaves][3]
171.Platycerium bifurcatum(Cav.) C. Chr.Semang [tubers][7]
172.Plumeria obtusaL.Semai [flowers][6]
173.Polyalthia bullataKing.Jah Hut [roots][5]
174.Pongamia pinnataL.Semang [leaves and seeds][3]
175.Pseuderanthemum crenulatum(L.) Lindl.Jah Hut [leaves][2]
176.Pseuderanthemum piloselloides(L.) M.G. PriceJah Hut [leaves][2]
177.Psidium guajavaL.Jah Hut [leaves], Temuan [leaves][4, 5]
178.Psychotria montanaBl.Jah Hut [roots][5]
179.Rafflesia cantleyiSolms.-Laub.Semai [flowers][6]
180.Rennellia speciosa(Wall. ex Kurz) Hk.f.Jah Hut [roots][5]
181.Rourea concolorBl.Temuan [roots][4]
182.Salacca affinisGriff.Jah Hut [leaves][5]
183.Sambucus javanicaReinw. ex BlumeSemang [leaves][3]
184.Sansevieria trifasciataPrainSemang [leaves][3]
185.Smilax calophyllaWall.Semang [roots], Temuan [whole plants][4, 7]
186.Smilax lanceifolia(L.) Roxb.Jah Hut [leaves][2]
187.Smilax myosotifloraL.Jah Hut [bulbs][2]
188.Solanum nigrumL.Semang [fruits and leaves][3]
189.Spilanthes paniculataWall. ex DC.Semang [flowers][7]
190.Stachyphrynium jagoranumSchum.Jah Hut [roots][5]
191.Stachytarpheta jamaicensis(L.) Vahl.Semang [whole plants][3]
192.Striga asiatica(L.) KuntzeJah Hut [whole plants], Temuan [whole plants][4, 5]
193.Strobilanthes crispusBlumeSemang [leaves][3]
194.Styrax benzoinDryandJah Hut [resin], Semai [resin][5, 6]
195.Syzygium cerinaHend.Semang [roots][3]
196.Syzygium samarangeneseBlumeSemang [leaves][3]
197.Tagetes patulaL.Semai [flowers][6]
198.Talinum triangulare(Jacq.) Willd.Semang [flowers][3]
199.Tectaria angulata(Willd.) CopelSemang [roots][7]
200.Tetracera macrophyllaWall. ex Hk.f. & ThomsJah Hut [leaves], Temuan [leaves][4, 5]
201.Timonius wallichianus(Korth.) Val.Semang [roots], Jah Hut [whole plants][5, 7]
202.Tinospora crispa(L.) Miers. ex Hk.f. and Thoms.Temuan [stems], Semang [stems][3, 4]
203.Trema orientalis(L.) Bl.Temuan [leaves and shoots][4]
204.Trichilia trijugaRoxb.Semang [barks][3]
205.Urena lobataL.Semai [stems][6]
206.Uvaria sorsogonensisC.Presl.Semang [leaves][3]
207.Vernonia arboreaBuch.-Ham.Jah Hut [roots][5]
208.Vernonia cinerea(L.) Less.Jah Hut [leaves and roots][2]
209.Zingiber griffithiiBakerSemai [rhizomes][6]
210.Zingiber officinaleRosc.Temuan [rhizomes][4]
211.Zingiber ottensiiValetonSemang [rhizomes][3]
212.Zingiber spectabileGriff.Jah Hut [leaves], Semai [leaves][5, 6]
213.Zingiber zerumbet(L.) Roscoe ex Sm.Semang [latex][7]

Table 1.

Annotated medicinal plant species list of the indigenous tribes in Peninsular Malaysia.

3. Current approaches of research on medicinal plants of indigenous tribes in Peninsular Malaysia

The most common approach to illicit information on the medicinal plants of the indigenous tribes is through semistructure interviews with traditional medicine practitioners known as batin. Two issues that have not been adequately addressed in previous studies are the veracity of information obtained from such approach and the extent of use or usage of medicinal by the indigenous tribes.

The veracity of information on medicinal properties plants utilized by the indigenous tribes in Peninsular Malaysia can be verified by laboratory analysis of bioactive compounds extracted from the plants. Several such studies have already been carried on some of the species that are listed in Table 1. Mohd Zin et al. [10] had carried out antioxidative activity of extracts from Morinda citrifoliaL. and had concluded that active compounds in root of the plant might be both polar and nonpolar in nature, whereas compounds that contribute to antioxidative activity of both its leaf and fruit are probably nonpolar in nature. Hakimi Wan Salleh et al. [11] studied the chemical compositions and antioxidant and antimicrobial activities of essential oils of Piper caninumBlume. Safrole, β-caryophyllene, β-pinene, and germacrene D were the main components from the leave and stem oil of the plant. They noted that the highest activity was observed for inhibition of lipid peroxidation in the β-carotene/linoleic acid system by the stem oil and the essential oil showed strong antimicrobial activity. Ang et al. [12] studied that aphrodisiac property of Eurycoma longifoliaJack has been studied by examining the effects of E. longifoliaJack on sexual qualities in middle-aged male rats. They demonstrated that E. longifoliaJack enhanced the sexual qualities of the middle-aged male rats. Bhat and Karim [13] reviewed the ethnobotany and pharmacological importance and E. longifoliaJack and noted that the plant possesses adequate therapeutic potential and could be explored further for commercial purposes and could be designated as a “wonder drug plant.”

Information on usages of medicinal plants by the indigenous tribes was very limited in previous reports, thus making the assessment of this aspect of traditional culture practice difficult. Persistent usage of the medicinal plants by the tribes is important to ensure that the knowledge on the medicinal uses of plants is conserved and subsequently should contribute to the conservation of the plants. This is of concern because as modernization moves toward the doorstep of the indigenous tribes, knowledge and usage of biodiversity decrease and eventually become adulterated or lost to humanity [4].

4. Future studies on medicinal plants of indigenous tribes in Peninsular Malaysia

Future studies on medicinal plants should be extended to more villages of the indigenous tribes in Peninsular Malaysia. The studies should include aspects that have not been adequately addressed in the previous studies. Other aspects that can be included in future studies are the use of geographical information system to analyze the spatial trend on medicinal plants of the indigenous tribes and also the development of automated identification system for medicinal plant species.

Geographic information systems (GIS) have not been used in any studies on the medicinal plants in Peninsular Malaysia, although the use of GIS for conserving medicinal and herbal plants elsewhere has been reported [1417]. GIS application together with remote sensing data could be used for comprehensive vegetation mapping and analysis of data attained from ground surveys. In terms of mapping medicinal plants, remote sensing data can be useful to obtain information on land usage or coverage, vegetation, terrain attributes, distribution, and accessibility to area. Besides this, GIS could be used to produce map layers and to develop comprehensive databases on physical, biological, and environmental parameters which govern the spatial distribution and abundance of medicinal plants.

Serious consideration should be given to the use of machine learning for rapid identification of medicinal plants, especially those utilized by the indigenous tribes in Peninsular Malaysia. As medicinal plants utilized by most of the indigenous tribes have not been studied, these techniques will facilitate urgent documentation of the plants which are needed for their conservation. Machine learning methods such as artificial neural networks (ANN) and support vector machine (SVM) have been used to develop automated plant species identification despite the claims that leaf morphology is not a reliable indicator in identifying tree species. ANN is a mathematical model composed of many processing units that communicate by interconnected variables. It is trained using data for which the classes are known, followed by being used for class prediction of unidentified data. Multilayer structure of ANN enables learning from complex input image features and generates single output. Support vector machine (SVM) is a supervised learning method proposed by Cortes and Vapnik [18], generating hyperplanes for classification, based on statistical learning theory and structural risk minimization. The boundary of hyperplanes separates the sample data mapped in space, clearly dividing them into categories. New data will be predicted to belong to a category by the hyperplanes.

Studies conducted by Clark et al. [19] applied ANN to extract features from species of the genus Tiliaand achieved 44% accuracy rate. Kumar et al. [20] developed a “Leafsnap,” a computerized system that searches on database for species matching and retrieval. Hearn [21] used a combination of Fourier analysis and Procrustes analysis (a simple shape registration method, based on rotation, translation, and scaling) to perform species identification using a large database of 2420 leaves from 151 different species.

5. Conclusion

Two hundred and thirteen species of plants have been reported as medicinal to the indigenous tribes in Peninsular Malaysia. Leaves and roots are the two most common medicinal plant parts used by the indigenous tribes in Peninsular Malaysia. Medicinal use of roots requires destructive harvesting which may lead to overharvesting of the plant species. Future studies on medicinal plants of the indigenous tribes in Peninsular Malaysia should extend to more tribes as information that is available up to now is only to the Jah Hut, Semai, Semang, and Temuan tribes. Aspects of the medicinal plants of the indigenous tribes have been overlooked in previous studies; such veracity of information and usage need to be emphasized in future studies. To facilitate spatial analysis and identification of the medicinal plants, geographical information system and machine learning techniques can also be employed in future studies.



We would like to thank the Department of Orang Asli Development for granting us permission to carry out study at Kampung Lubuk Legong. We are thankful to the University of Malaya for providing the research grants (PS018/2011A and RG044/09SUS) to carry out this study.

© 2017 The Author(s). Licensee IntechOpen. This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Pozi Milow, Sorayya Malek and Raznan Mohd. Ramli (March 8th 2017). Medicinal Plants of the Indigenous Tribes in Peninsular Malaysia: Current and Future Perspectives, Active Ingredients from Aromatic and Medicinal Plants, Hany A. El-Shemy, IntechOpen, DOI: 10.5772/66658. Available from:

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