Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Bunga Perak - Bauhinia acuminata,

In Thailand it is called Kalong or กาหลง while in India it is called Kachna. The Javanese call it Kupu-kupu or butterfly while the Sundanese call it Penawar seribu (a thousand panacea). This is a shrub from the family of Leguminosae. It is a native of the Malay Peninsula and is distributed throughout Southeast Asia. The leaves are typical of the genus which has the shape of camel's feet or horse feet, thus, some of the species has been called by that name by the Malays eg. Tapak unta, tapak kuda or kuku kerbau.

Bauhinia acuminata has very beautiful white flowers but unfortunately they are not laced with fragrance. Once they starts blooming it seem endless. Mine has remained dormant for quite sometime until I decided to remove much of its damaged leaves to allow for new leves to grow. Within a few days I started seeing buds sprouting and now it is magnificently flowering.

Nothing much has been done wih regards to their medicinal values by researchers probably because it is not much used in traditional medicine. In Malaysia this plant was used to treat ulceration of the nose in the form of a poultice. The javanese however used the roots to treat cough by making cold extracts. This is usually done by rubbing the root on the back of an earthen pot with a little water. The resulting liquid mixed with fragments of the roots is then given to the patient either mixed with lime or honey. In India the roots are used to treat urinary problem probably by means of hot extraction.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Bunga Hantu - Strophanthus gratus (Wallich & Hook. ex Benth.) Baill

This plant from the Apocyanaceae family is a native of West Africa. In Somalia it is called Wahbain. The beautiful flower imparts a significant rose or candy fragrance especially more at night than during the day. I have obtained this plant from a friend in Thailand. For years it has not bloomed but for the past few months it has really showed it colour and added to the fragrance of the air around my little garden.

Medicinally this plant has been used to treat severe illness and weakness in Ghana. While in other places in West Africa where it is native, it is used to treat fever, various skin afflictions both being by local application of macerated leaves. A decoction of the leaves has been used to treat gonorrhoea. Generally the seed has been used in arrow poison for hunting and warfare.

It is the from observation of its use as an arrow poison that Sir Livingstone reported a probable cardiac action of the plant. This brought to the isolation of Ouabain or Gamma Strophantin which is a cardiac glycoside. Now this is being used to treat congestive heart failure.

It is imortant to note that this plant is very poisonous especially the seeds where the cardiac glycoside is in abundance. In India it has been used by those who wants to commit suicide successfully. If you decide to add this plant in your garden please be wary of your children less they may get poisoned by the latex it produces.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Pisang-pisang - Michelia figo (Lour.) Spreng.

Michelia figo (Lour.) Spreng. or also called Michelia fuscata (Andrews) Walls. is amongst the fragarant flowering plants I have in my garden. Everytime I water my plants in the vicinity of this plant I could pick up the fragrance of the flowers that are in buds. I have never seen them bloom except on very rare ocassion. SO this time around I was just mumbling to myself asking the plat why I only see the buds but never see the flower bloom. Viola!! The next morning seems like magic I get to see several of the buds blooming in great spendour releasing the fragrance contianed there in. It was really wonderful and today I have a few in full view. I remember the fragrance since my younger days. My mother had it growing in our family home and knowing I was a enthusiatice gardener she one day showed me this plant with flowers imparting the fragrance of banana. She aptly called it bunga pisang or banana flower. Sometimes she calls it pisang-pisang.

The fragrance is due to
isobutyl acetate depicted below. This compound is a solvent used in pharmaceutical industries

This plant is native of Southern China and is distributed throughout East Asia. In China it is called 含笑花 (Ham Siu fa) or Smiling flower. It is the favourite of women in Hong Kong in the past where they place one or two flowers in their hair to impart the fragrance as they walk pass people. Today such natural fragrance has been replaced by artificial perfumeries.

It is basically planted as ornamentals for the fragrance it imparts. However, it have found some used in medicine where it is known to have a vasodilatory effects and has been advocated in the treatment of hypertension. It is also cardiotonic and thus used to strengthen the heart. The leaves are also used to make fragrant tea. In Indonesia it is used as a hair tonic to treat alopecia. The flower on the other hand is used to treat vertigo when 5 - 10 flowers is steep in hot water and the resulting tea is drank to relieve the veritgo.

Thai researchers has isolated two bioactive alkaloids from the leaves of the plant i.e magnoline and magnolamine which prove to have potent antimalarial activities agianst both chloquine resistant and chloroquin sensitive Palsmodium falciparum.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Fever Root - Ruellia tuberosa, Linn.

Ruellia tuberosa, Linn has no local name because it is not used locally as medicine or at least not to my knowledge. It is a plant brought here as an ornamental plant from Tropical America. Since its introduction it has become ferral growing especialy by the road sides in the northern part of Peninsula Malaysia. I first noticed it on the road to Arau from Kangar just after the roundabout. The lilac coloured flowers were striking and I couldn't resist taking a look at it eventhough I knew Dayang is already late for her lectures at UITM Arau. That is why I love her, she is so obliging. Upon my return home that day I noticed the same plant flowering just outside our Kuah home. So I picked it up and grew it in tiny pots to enhance my garden.

This is my petite Dayang showing off a branch of Teak fruit. We were photographing the Le' tour d'Langkawi which finally returned to Langkawi after 3 years absence. I though they were going to rename the event ....

After many years of researching I finally found a picture of the flower in one of the websites on the net. I told Dayang - I knew it this plant must have medicinal properties because of the tuberous roots. Our neighbour the Indonesians have found use for the leaves as a remedy for kidney stones. I assume mainly because of the thick and rather stiff leaves of this plant almost similar to Hemgraphis colorata, Ruelia repens and Strobilanthes crispus which have been used successfully in the treatment of kidney stones. In Indonesia they call this plant Ceplikan (Javanese). The Indians (Tamil) call it Pattaskai which describe the explosive phenomenon when the pod of this plant explode upon contact with water droplet to release the seeds in contain. On this account the English gave the names Snap Dragon and cracker plant. In Caymans Island, Florida where it is native it is called the heart bush because the roots are being used to treat cardiac ailments. While further south on Grenada Island the tuberous roots, leaves and flowers are used in the treatment of common cold, fevers and hypertension. In the South Pacific region it is calle Minnie root. In Thailand it is called Toi Ting. There you are we just got to give ur own name for this plant. Or do we that I do not know of. I must ask Pak Ali of Taman Herba Perlis the next time I go there. I am sure he has the answer.

P.S. It is also included in a concotion for treatment of male impotency in a drink called mamajuana in the Dominican Republic.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Legundi - Vitex trifolia, Linn

Lengundi is also known as Lemuni Puteh here in Langkawi. It is basically a sea side shrub from the family Verbenaceae. I have seen at leas one growing in the wild at Pulau Jemurok. It was on the landward edge of the beach there. The one on Pulau Jemurok differs slightly from the one I have in my collection in the shape of the flower. The leaflet of the Pulau Jemurok plant is more acute than the one I have at home. Did took a cutting of the plant but unfortunately it did not grow.

This is a profile of Pulau Jemurok. A small island situated along the north coast of Pulau Langkawi. Position between 6 23' 58.11" N - 6 25' 45.09"N and 99 44' 40.92" E - 99 44' 31.72" E. A very nice little island with a nice beach. It is basicaly made up of Quartzite of the Machinchang Formation. Fossils were seen which has been used to date the rocks at 500 Million Years ago.

For those who wants to see where Pulau Jemurok is I have edit a satellite photo from Google Earth to show you where it is.

This is the Pulau Jemurok tree.

Now let get back to the plant itself. This particular plant I received from my neighbour Pak Mat Shah and elder of the island who was the OCPD (if I am not mistaken) during the time Tun Dr. Mahathir was the Medical Officer at the District Hospital in Langkawi. I suppose they must know each other very well.

Where it grew it has been used as medicine and picked up local names eg. in China it is called Man Keng Ji, the Japanese called it Man Keishi and the Koreans called it Manhyongja. Further east the people of the Phillipines called it by various names Danglang, lagundi, lagundian, lagundiang dagat, lingei, lipuk, tigau to name a few. In Samoa it is namulega.

Lemuni Puteh is said to have the following properties: bitter, acrid and slightly cold. It has sedative, analgesic and antipyretic activities. On this basis the Chinese advocate its used in the treatment of common cold, dizziness associated with wind and heat, headaches and migraine headaches and gingivitis. I suppose the Japanese and the Koreans used it in the same manners since they the drug by almost the same name. In the Philippines it has been found that the leaves effectively treats burning of the feet (? Plantar fasciitis). I must use this the next time I get a patient with Plantar Fasciitis. They (the Filipino) also use a decoction of the leaves in aromatic baths.

Closer to home here in Malaysia the leaves are used in poultices and lotions to treat various complaints like ulcerations in the nose (called Restong which is Tertiary Syphillis/ Leprosy). A hot decoction of the roots or leaves is used to reduce high fever by inducing perspirations. In Indonesia's Maluku Island the leaves are used as vegetable after it has been treated by boiling in salt water to remove some of its irritant properties.

These are just some of the ways this plant is used in traditional medicine.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Kemuning - Murraya paniculata, (Linn.) Jack

I never realized that this plant grows wild in Langkawi's rainforest until I read the write up on the Philippines' Department of Public Health's website on Murraya paniculata which they also called Kamuning. The phrase that struck me was " ..... the yellow wood which is greatly in demands for making canes. The wood is also used for kris-handle." I remember vividly now in my expedition to Pulau Langgun I heard the very same words coming out of Pak Long Bashah's mouth as we passed over the kemuning tree. Pak Long said " the kemuning wood is yellow in colour and is good for making tongkat and hulu keris (tongkat = walking stick = cane; hulu keris = kris-handle).

This is Pak Long Bashah on the day he mentioned about the Kemuning Tree on Pulau Langgun
He is indeed a load of information on trees. Sometime I wonder whether he has ever heard of I.H. Burkill or his book The Dictionary of Economic Products of the Malay Peninsula. I know I am the only one in possession of the book in Langkawi. Every trip we make into the rainforest is just like reading Burkill's book. The names the uses everything written in the book is exactly as what Pak Long would relate to me.

Kemuning is from the family of citron or Rutaceae. The Brits called it the Orange Jasamine. When I first came across this I thought now how did they come to call it the orange jasamine when I have never seen its flowers to be orange in colour. Until it occured to me that it is called thus probably because it is placed in the orang family and has flowers with the fragrance of jasamine !! Problem solved!!

Kemuning's fragrance indeed has the taint of jasamine in it and one can catch it early in the morning and late in the evening just as the sun is setting. These are the two times in the day that I spend time in my garden doing the gardening. As I pass around the plant's vicinity I can smell the fragrance of Kemuning alternating with kenanga near by. Both very refreshing and invigorating.

Now how do we use this tree apart from making tongkat and kris handles. It has the following properties:
Mildly bitter Warming
Analgesic Activates circulation
Astringent Tonic
Stomachic Digestive
Refrigerant Aromatic

On this basis it is beng used in the treatment of the following conditions:
Diarrhoea and dysentery
Mouth wash for tootache
Sprains and contusion
Rheumatism and boneaches
Poisonous snake bites

Monday, March 5, 2007

Seri Gading - Nyctanthes arbor-tristis,

To Linneus the person who coined the latin name for this plant he probably saw this plant as being in a state of sorrow every morning when he woke up. This is due to the fact that these plants blooms at night and by sunrine the flowers would fall off to the ground as though the tree was in tears. Thus Nyctanthes means Night flower while arbor-tristis tree in tears. Two Hindu myths are related to this tree:

1. This plant apparently is a heavenly tree brought down to earth by Krishna. A quarrel ensure between Satyabhama and Rukmini, the two wives of Krishna, over the tree. In order to quieten them down, Krishna planted it in the courtyard of Satyabhama in such a way that when the flower falls it will fall into the courtyard of Rukmini. This has resulted in their reconcilation. Thus in a way it is a tree of joy. Thus it is believed in the Hindu community that having this plant in the garden will help ally any tension in the family. (This is of course an abridged version of the story told many times before with many versions)

2. A romantic story about a princess Parijataka who fell in love with the sun. However, the sun deserted her which resulted in her commiting suicide. Where her ashes fell to the ground this tree had sprung up. Disappointed with her lover she only blooms at night and in the morning sheds her flower off like tears falling to the ground upon the appearance of the sun.

Flower falling to the ground

The flowers are fragrant and has a mild sandalwood smell (bau chendana) and can be detected in late evening when the flowers begin to bloom and remains until early hours of the morning when it falls to the ground. Even when it has fallen the fragrance still lingers on when one walks over the flower covered path. Young ladies used to sting up the flowers and wear them as necklace or dressing for their hair. The bright orange colour of the tube of the flower is used as a dye to colour silk in the past. A bath with the flower is refreshing especially in the morning and it will impart the fragrance of the flower on the body of the bather. It is also believed that the flowers in a bath will smoothen the skin and it of pathological lesions. It also promotes good hair growth when applied on the hair. The flower again is believed to have the power to purify water a tradition still practiced in far reaches of India to this day i.e dropping a few flowers in a water body on full moon nights to bring good fortune and prosperity.

It is indeed interesting to note that this flower as written by one over the net and I quote here again:

"The flower itself conveys a very special message to those who know how to read its language. If one closely observes its delicate beauty one will observe that it has a vibrant orange center. This color is a symbol of fire in the Hindu tradition. Fire, in turn, is considered that power which purifies a persons heart and mind so that all desires for the world are consumed. leaving only a pure consciousness which directly communes with the Hidden Power within that has been and is called by many names. The white petals which surround the orange center symbolic of that pure consciousness. In the ancient times Buddhist monks and Hindu ascetics dyed their robes a rich fiery color to show that they had renounced the world. This dye was produced from the very same orange centers of the parijat. When the flowers would fall to the ground, people would collect them and separte the orange tube from the white petals and dry them. Once they were dried they could be used for making this saffron-colored dye. " I feel enlightened learning the language of plants.

Enough on mythology now to a more down to earth matters. The medicinal significance of this beautiful and sentimantal flower.

The Flower: Is bitter and astringent. Because of the pure white and orange colour of the flower, it is being used to by the Hindu to puriy water as noted above. And when used in bath it not only refreshes one but also help cleanse one's skin of all skin complains. When taken orally in a decoction it helps ward off wind in the stomach, stimulate gastric secretions and improves expectorantion from the lungs. It is also astringent thus helps in clearing out mouth ulcers. It is also being advocated for use in the treatment of gout.

The leaves are bitter and acrid. It is being used to treat fever, fungal skin infection and also dry cough. It can also be used to expell intestinal worms and is a safe purgative for children. The shoots on the other hand together with black pepper is a female tonic.

The tree bark: It is used in treatment of bronchitis and also as an antidote to snakebite.

The seeds: Main use of the seeds is in the treatment of haemorrhoids. Decoction of it is also used as hair tonic.