By Kuah Guan Oo
Photo by Marina Ismail
SERDANG, 25 June (UPM) – Mention the word “tongkat Ali” or “kacip Fatimah” to a Malaysian and you are more likely than not, to elicit a knowing smile or two. This is because these two herbs belong to their herbal lore pertaining to the marital bedroom.
The names of these two herbs are, in the first place, suggestive enough to cue you in – “Tongkat Ali” means the “walking stick or cane of Ali” and “kacip Fatimah” means “Fatimah’s nut-cracker”.
Both herbs are said to enhance the health and libidos of the male and female, respectively. But as in most cases in traditional medicine, skeptics abound, until you happen to talk to Assoc Prof Dr Hawa ZE Jaafar of Universiti Putra Malaysia about kacip Fatimah or scientifically called Labisia pumila Benth.
The scholar and researcher of UPM had spent more than five years working on the herb and had published dozens of papers, apart from winning various awards, including the Vice Chancellor Fellowship Award; the latest being a Silver medal at the Malaysian Technology Expo 2013 for her novel way of enhancing the growth of kacip Fatimah, a slow growing and difficult to grow plant with shallow roots that is found in the forest.
(She was also awarded another Silver medal at the same expo for another of her research work on the herb called “Novel Antioxidant Activities and Secondary Metabolite Enhancement of Labisia Pumila Benh Under Manipulation of Greenhouse Irradiance).
She said although kacip Fatimah is known worldwide nowadays for its pre-natal and post-natal uses by women, much more researches are needed to enable commercial farming for the raw materials needed for pharmaceutical manufacturing as well as other laboratory tests on the other uses of the herbs. Currently, a number of her projects are investigating impact of various environmental factors on phytochemical contents of kacip Fatimah. This would determine the best time for high secondary metabolite harvesting index.
“Our research and those of other scientists also found kacip Fatimah to be anti-cancer, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory, apart from its pro-estrogenous properties,” she said, adding that more researches also are needed to confirm the last findings.
For herself, she is now doing more work on kacip Fatimah’s ability to protect cells during chemotherapy, or alleviating chemotoxicity effect for cancer patients under treatment.
She said three varieties of Labisia pumila Benth are found to have the phytochemical content like phenolics and flavonoid compounds for its medical efficacy.
The traditional remedy for those in the know, is to boil the leaves of kacip Fatimah by itself or with two or three other herbs before the concoction is drunk or used for bathing by the ladies.
But the plants, which are harvested in the wild, are in a real danger of over-exploitation like her cousin, tongkat Ali, unless they are domesticated and cultivated on a large scale.
Even the raw materials of the kacip Fatimah capsules for women (for general and post-natal health), manufactured by many companies, are mostly sourced from the forest.
For Dr Hawa ZE who is a specialist in plant environmental physiology and secondary metabolites, and a pioneer in Malaysia to establish the “Novel Carbon Dioxide Enrichment Technique for Growth and Pharmaceutical Enhancement” of plants especially of medicinal nature, declared that this technique could be the best way to farm Labisia pumila Benth” and many other herbs for industrial use, especially for niche production of targeted compound.
Her novel method of strategically introducing extra doses of carbon dioxide onto kacip Fatimah raised in a closed structure has among other things:-
* reduced the time to harvest to 7-8 months from 16-18 months;
* reduced cost;
* enhanced total and specific phytochemical compounds by 180 to 1,000 percent as a result of larger leaf area, leaf number and leaf mass;
* offered highest recovery rate of the phytochemical compounds and
* resulted in uniform, sturdy plants with high secondary metabolites, as against those with weak seedlings and low secondary metabolites when grown under normal conditions.
* ensured authenticity of plant materials and continuous production
She said when the leaves were harvested at seven months after growing from leaf cuttings, the phytochemical content was very high. Presently, her research team is investigating if this is the peak and most effective stage of the herb to establish the “secondary metabolite harvesting index” of kacip Fatimah for the industry
While some of her fellow researchers are trying to propagate the herbs through tissue culture in the labs, she said she grew hers through leaf cuttings.She believed there is still a lot to be done since kacip Fatimah, like the tongkat Ali, misai kuching, hempedu bumi, pegaga, mengkudu, roselle, mas cotek, halia and the snake grass, have been identified as one of the top10 + 1 most important herbs to be developed for commercial purposes under the National Key Economic Areas of development under the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry
The ministry’s target is 10 pharmaceutical and 5 botanical drugs by 2020, and as a result, there are research grants available for scientists to delve further into one of the most famous herbs in the country.
Asked if kacip Fatimah is really effective, Dr Hawa ZE, who has just celebrated her 59th birthday, answered with an emphatic “yes!”.
She has started taking the herbs in capsule form since July or August last year and she can personally vouch for it any time.
“It is not a myth… it is real and it has been used for so many generations in the Malay world like the majun and jamu (two herbal concoctions),” she said, adding that the first scientific documentation of kacip Fatimah was recorded by Burkill in 1935. – UPM
For more information, plse call
Assoc Prof Dr Hawa ZE Jaafar
Tel: + 603 8947 1804/4821
43400 UPM Serdang
Selangor Darul Ehsan