Open access peer-reviewed chapter

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

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Pozi Milow, Sorayya Malek and Raznan Mohd. Ramli

Submitted: 17 June 2016 Reviewed: 31 October 2016 Published: 08 March 2017

DOI: 10.5772/66658

From the Edited Volume

Active Ingredients from Aromatic and Medicinal Plants

Edited by Hany A. El-Shemy

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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 indicum L.Semang [leaves][3]
2.Acorus calamus L.Semai [rhizomes][6]
3.Acrotrema costatum JackSemang [roots and leaves][7]
4.Agelaea macrophylla (Zoll.) Leenh.Semang [leaves][3]
5.Aglaia odorata Lour.Semang [flowers][3]
6.Aglaia yzermannii Boerl. & Koord.Semang [leaves][1]
7.Albizia myriophylla Benth.Jah Hut [roots][5]
8.Aloe barbadensis Mill.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 extensus Wall. ex PlanchJah Hut [roots][5]
12.Ancistrocladus tectorius (Lour.) Merr.Semang [roots][7]
13.Annona muricata L.Semang [leaves][3]
14.Apama tomentosa Engl.Temuan [roots][4]
15.Aquilaria malaccensis Lamk.Jah Hut [stems and leaves], Semai [barks][5, 6]
16.Archidendron ellipticum BlumeSemang [leaves][3]
17.Archidendron jiringa Niels.Temuan [barks, leaves, and roots][4]
18.Ardisia colorata Roxb.Semang [leaves][3]
19.Ardisia crenata Sims.Jah Hut [leaves], Semang [whole plants][3, 5]
20.Ardisia crispa (Thunb.) DCSemang [whole plants][7]
21.Ardisia sanguinolenta Bl.Jah Hut [roots][5]
22.Areca catechu L.Semang [fruits][7]
23.Argostemma pictum Wall.Semang [whole plants][7]
24.Artemisia argyi Levi. et Vant.Semang [leaves][3]
25.Arthrophyllum diversifolium BlumeSemang [roots][3]
26.Averrhoa bilimbi L.Semang [leaves][3]
27.Averrhoa carambola L.Temuan [barks, leaves, and roots][4]
28.Azadirachta indica Juss.Temuan [leaves][4]
29.Barringtonia acutangula (L.) Gaertn.Semang [stems][7]
30.Baccaurea motleyana (Muell. Arg.) Muell. Arg.Temuan [fruits][4]
31.Baccaurea ramiflora Lour.Jah Hut [roots][5]
32.Barleria lupulina Lindl.Semang [leaves][3]
33.Barleria prionitis L.Semang [leaves][3]
34.Bauhinia semibifida Roxb.Semang [roots][3]
35.Bixa orellana L.Semai [seeds][6]
36.Blechnum orientale L.Semai [leaves][6]
37.Bombax ceiba L.Semang [leaves][3]
38.Bonnaya veronicaefolia Spreng.Temuan [leaves][4]
39.Bulbophyllum mutabile (Bl.) Lindl.Semang [leaves][3]
40.Caesalpinia crista L.Semang [seeds][3]
41.Calamus ornatus Bl.Semai [stem saps][6]
42.Cassytha filiformis L.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.Chassaliachartacea CraibSemang [roots][7]
47.Chroesthes longifolia (Wight) HansenJah Hut [roots][5]
48.Cinnamomum aureofulvum Gamb.Jah Hut [roots][5]
49.Cinnamomum iners Reinw. ex BlumeSemang [roots][7]
50.Cinnamomum javanicum Bl.Temuan [leaves][4]
51.Citrus medica L.Jah Hut [fruits][5]
52.Cnestis platantha Griff.Semang [leaves][3]
53.Cnestis ramiflora Griff.Semang [roots][7]
54.Cocos nucifera L.Temuan [fruits][5]
55.Connarus grandis JackJah 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 asiaticum L.Temuan [leaves][4]
59.Croton caudatus GeiselSemang [roots][3]
60.Curcuma longa L.Temuan [rhizomes][4]
61.Curcuma petiolata Roxb.Semang [rhizomes][3]
62.Curcuma xanthorrhiza Roxb.Semang [rhizomes][7]
63.Cyclea laxiflora MiersSemai [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 pendula Bl.Jah Hut [roots][5]
67.Daemonorops didymorphyllus Becc.Semang [saps][1, 7]
68.Dendrophoetoe constricta Dans.Semang [leaves][3]
69.Desmos chinensis Lour.Jah Hut [roots][5]
70.Dianella ensifolia Red.Semai [roots][6]
71.Dicranopteris linearis (Burm.) Underw.Semai [leaves][6]
72.Dioscorea hispida Dennst.Temuan [tubers][4]
73.Dipteracanthus repens (L.) Hassk.Semang [leaves][3]
74.Durio zibethinus MurraySemang [leaves][1, 2, 7]
75.Dysoxylum alliaceum (Bl.) Bl.Semang [roots][7]
76.Elephantopus scaber L.Temuan [leaves][4]
77.Elephantopus tomentosus L.Temuan [leaves][4]
78.Etlingera elatior (Jack) SmithSemang [leaves][7]
79.Eleiodoxa conferta (Griff.) BurretSemang [stems][8]
80.Epiprinus malayanus Griff.Jah Hut [roots][5]
81.Eranthemum borneense Hook f.Semang [leaves][3]
82.Eugenia urceolata King.Jah Hut [roots][5]
83.Eupatorium odoratum L.Semang [leaves][3, 7]
84.Euphorbia hirta L.Jah Hut [latex][5]
85.Euphorbia tirucalli L.Semang [latex][3]
86.Eurycoma apiculata Benn.Semai [leaves][6]
87.Eurycoma longifolia JackSemang [roots], Jah Hut [roots], Temuan [leaves, roots], Semang [roots][25, 7]
88.Fibraurea chloroleuca MiersSemang [roots][7]
89.Ficus aurantiaca Griff.Jah Hut [stems and roots], Temuan [stems][4, 5]
90.Freycinetia javanica Bl.Semang [roots][7]
91.Garcinia mangostana L.Semang [fruits][3]
92.Garcinia scortechinii King.Jah Hut [roots][4]
93.Gnetum leptostachyum BlumeSemang [whole plants][3]
94.Gomphandra lanceolata King.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 brasiliensis Muell. Arg.Jah Hut [stems][5]
100.Hedychium longicornutum BakerSemang [roots][7]
101.Helminthostachys zeylanica (L.) Hook.Semang [whole plants], Jah Hut [roots][5, 7]
102.Hibiscus rosa-sinensis L.Temuan [leaves], Semang [roots and barks][3, 4]
103.Hibiscus tiliaceus L.Semang [barks][3]
104.Hippocratea indica Willd.Jah Hut [roots][5]
105Homalanthus populneus (L.) (Geisel.) PaxJah Hut [leaves][2]
106.Homalomena griffithii Hk.f.Semai [stems][6]
107.Homalomena rostrata Griff.Jah Hut [roots][5]
108.Hoya coronaria BlumeSemang [leaves][3]
109.Iguanura geonomiformis Mart.Semai [leaves][6]
110.Imperata cylindrica (L.) Beauv.Semang [whole plants][3]
111.Jasminum sambac (L.) Ait.Semang [leaves][3]
112.Jatropha curcas L.Semai [saps], Semang [leaves][3, 6]
113.Justicia betonica L.Jah Hut [leaves][5]
114.Kaempferia galanga L.Semang [rhizomes][3]
115.Kalanchoe pinnata (Lam.) Pers.Semang [leaves][7]
116.Labisia pothoina Lindl.Jah Hut [roots and stems], Semai [roots][5, 6]
117.Labisia pumila (Blume) MezSemang [roots][7]
118.Languas conchigera BurkillSemang [rhizomes][3]
119.Lantana camara L.Semang [leaves][3]
120.Lasia spinosa ThwaitesSemang [tubers], Jah Hut [leaves][5, 7]
121.Lasianthus oblongus King & GambleJah Hut [roots][5]
122.Lasianthus villosus Ridl.Semai [leaves][6]
123.Lawsonia inermis (L.) Pers.Semang [leaves][7]
124.Leea indica (Burm. f.) Merr.Semang [leaves][7]
125.Lepidagathis incurva Buch.-Ham.Jah Hut [leaves][5]
126.Leptaspis urceolata R. Br.Jah Hut [roots][5]
127.Licuala spinosa WurmJah 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 gracile Brongn.Semang [roots], Semai [roots][7]
132.Loranthus cochinchinensis Lour.Semang [whole plants][7]
133.Luvunga scandens Buch.-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 arundinacea L.Jah Hut [roots][2]
139.Marumia nemorosa Bl.Semai [leaves][6]
140.Melastoma malabathricum L.Jah Hut [roots][2]
141.Mikania micrantha Kunth ex H.B.K.Semang [whole plants][7]
142.Millettia sericea Benth.Semai [stems][6]
143.Mitragyna speciosa KorthSemang [leaves][7]
144.Morinda citrifolia L.Semang [fruits], Jah Hut [leaves and fruits][2, 3]
145.Musa sapientum L.Semang [fruits][7]
146.Neodissochaeta gracilis (Jack) Bakh.Semang [leaves][7]
147.Nephelium lappaceum L.Semang [leaves][7]
148.Oldenlandia diffusa (Willd.) Roxb.Semang [leaves][3]
149.Orchidantha longiflora Ridl.Semai [leaves][6]
150.Oroxylum indicum (L.) KurzSemang [barks][7]
151.Oryza sativa L.Semai [seeds][6]
152.Parameria barbata (Blume) K.Schum.Semang [roots][7]
153.Parkia speciosa Hassk.Semai [roots], Temuan [roots], Semang [seeds][3, 4, 6]
154.Peliosanthes lurida Ridl.Semang [roots][7]
155.Peliosanthes violacea Wall.Semang [roots], Jah Hut [roots], Semai [leaves][57]
156.Pellacalyx saccardianus Scort.Semai [leaves][6]
157.Peltophorum pterocarpum (DC.) K. HeyneSemang [barks][3]
158.Peristrophe acuminata NeesJah Hut [leaves][5]
159.Peucedanum japonica Thunb.Temuan [roots][4]
160.Phyllagathis rotundifolia (Jack) Bl.Jah Hut [roots][5]
161.Phyllanthus niruri L.Semang [whole plants][3]
162.Phyllanthus oxyphyllus Miq.Temuan [whole plants][4]
163.Phyllanthus pulcher Wall. ex Muell. Arg.Jah Hut [roots][5]
164.Phyllanthus urinaria L.Semai [whole plants][6]
165.Physalis minima L.Jah Hut [leaves][2]
166.Pinanga polymorpha Becc.Jah Hut [leaves][5]
167.Piper betle L.Temuan [leaves][4]
168.Piper caninum BlumeSemang [fruits and barks][7]
169.Piper muricatum Bl.Semai [leaves][6]
170.Planchonella obovata (R. Br.) PierreSemang [leaves][3]
171.Platycerium bifurcatum (Cav.) C. Chr.Semang [tubers][7]
172.Plumeria obtusa L.Semai [flowers][6]
173.Polyalthia bullata King.Jah Hut [roots][5]
174.Pongamia pinnata L.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 guajava L.Jah Hut [leaves], Temuan [leaves][4, 5]
178.Psychotria montana Bl.Jah Hut [roots][5]
179.Rafflesia cantleyi Solms.-Laub.Semai [flowers][6]
180.Rennellia speciosa (Wall. ex Kurz) Hk.f.Jah Hut [roots][5]
181.Rourea concolor Bl.Temuan [roots][4]
182.Salacca affinis Griff.Jah Hut [leaves][5]
183.Sambucus javanica Reinw. ex BlumeSemang [leaves][3]
184.Sansevieria trifasciata PrainSemang [leaves][3]
185.Smilax calophylla Wall.Semang [roots], Temuan [whole plants][4, 7]
186.Smilax lanceifolia (L.) Roxb.Jah Hut [leaves][2]
187.Smilax myosotiflora L.Jah Hut [bulbs][2]
188.Solanum nigrum L.Semang [fruits and leaves][3]
189.Spilanthes paniculata Wall. ex DC.Semang [flowers][7]
190.Stachyphrynium jagoranum Schum.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 crispus BlumeSemang [leaves][3]
194.Styrax benzoin DryandJah Hut [resin], Semai [resin][5, 6]
195.Syzygium cerina Hend.Semang [roots][3]
196.Syzygium samarangenese BlumeSemang [leaves][3]
197.Tagetes patula L.Semai [flowers][6]
198.Talinum triangulare (Jacq.) Willd.Semang [flowers][3]
199.Tectaria angulata (Willd.) CopelSemang [roots][7]
200.Tetracera macrophylla Wall. 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 trijuga Roxb.Semang [barks][3]
205.Urena lobata L.Semai [stems][6]
206.Uvaria sorsogonensis C.Presl.Semang [leaves][3]
207.Vernonia arborea Buch.-Ham.Jah Hut [roots][5]
208.Vernonia cinerea (L.) Less.Jah Hut [leaves and roots][2]
209.Zingiber griffithii BakerSemai [rhizomes][6]
210.Zingiber officinale Rosc.Temuan [rhizomes][4]
211.Zingiber ottensii ValetonSemang [rhizomes][3]
212.Zingiber spectabile Griff.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 citrifolia L. 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 caninum Blume. 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 longifolia Jack has been studied by examining the effects of E. longifolia Jack on sexual qualities in middle-aged male rats. They demonstrated that E. longifolia Jack enhanced the sexual qualities of the middle-aged male rats. Bhat and Karim [13] reviewed the ethnobotany and pharmacological importance and E. longifolia Jack 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 Tilia and 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.


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Written By

Pozi Milow, Sorayya Malek and Raznan Mohd. Ramli

Submitted: 17 June 2016 Reviewed: 31 October 2016 Published: 08 March 2017