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Research Article

Ethnopharmacological Survey of Medicinal Plants in Malaysia, the Kangkar Pulai Region

A. Alsarhan, N. Sultana, M.R.A. Kadir and T. Aburjai
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The medicinal plants play an important role in rural health care system throughout the world in remedying and preventing various kinds of diseases. This study documented the use of plants as traditional herbal medicine in the Kangkar Pulai region Johor, Malaysia. It also identified the homogeneity of informant knowledge on medicinal plants suitable for different ailments and types of plants most favored for the treatment of each ailment in the study. The information was gathered through semi-structured interviews, discussions with key informants and informal conversations with local people and herbal practitioners. The data was calculated based on informant consensus factor (Fic) and use value (UV). Information on 40 medicinal plants species from 29 taxonomic plant families used for traditional treatment of different diseases/ailments was documented. The informant consensus factor values (Fic) showed that the local people tend to agree more with each other in terms of the plants used to treat sexual weakness (0.95), blood pressure (0.94), diabetes (0.93), delivery and female problems (0.90), hair problems and dandruff (0.87), respiratory disorder (0.86) and kidney problems (0.85). By contrast, digestive problems (0.76) and skin problems (0.71) and inflammation pain (0.70) were found to have low Fic values. Calculated values of the UV and Fic indicate that this community is knowledgeable on healing and treatment using traditional herbal medicines.

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A. Alsarhan, N. Sultana, M.R.A. Kadir and T. Aburjai, 2012. Ethnopharmacological Survey of Medicinal Plants in Malaysia, the Kangkar Pulai Region. International Journal of Pharmacology, 8: 679-686.

DOI: 10.3923/ijp.2012.679.686

Received: September 12, 2012; Accepted: December 08, 2012; Published: January 04, 2013


Traditional medicine as an alternative is now accepted all over world for health care. The World Health Organization (WHO, 1991) recognizes traditional medicine as an important contributor to its health care objectives. At the primary health care level, it is estimated that nearly 80% of the world population depends on traditional medicine for their healthcare needs (WHO, 1991). Indigenous medicine provides economic benefits (Azaizeh et al., 2003). Herbal plants used as medicines in the forms of drugs, herbal and nutritional supplements play an important role in health care. However, many ethnic groups fail to maintain and preserve the collective knowledge on the use of medicinal plants (Panyaphu et al., 2011).

Despite the availability of modern medicine, herbal medicines are popular in developing countries for cultural and historical reasons. Information on the use of herbal plants for treatment of specific diseases from all over the world is available, however, the use of these plants must be investigated, correlated and documented (Alzweiri et al., 2011).

Malaysia is one of the countries in South-East Asia with an estimated population of 26 million. It is located in the tropical rain forest region which is rich with natural resources comprising plants of medicinal value as well as other plants. Besides that, Malaysia is the world’s oldest and fourth largest biodiversity rich country in Asia after India, China and Indonesia (Muhammad and Awaisu, 2008).

There are three major ethnic groups comprising Malay, Indian, Chinese in Malaysia and the majority users of traditional medicines are Indians (45.2%) followed by Chinese (32.4%) and the Malays (22.4%) (Muhammad and Awaisu, 2008). Among the thirteen types of traditional medicines identified, medicinal plants considered a natural source of vitamins and supplements 48.2% of Malaysians who suffer from chronic diseases in Malaysia use these supplements. The next common traditional medicines used by Malaysians are herbal medicines (26.4%), ginseng (4.7%) and traditional Chinese medicine (4.0%) (Che Nor Din, 2010). This study aimed to gather and document traditional ethnobotanical knowledge from practitioners and users of traditional medicines in the Kangkar Pulai region. For which, the following questions had been answered: (1) What were the common types of diseases and species of plants used in the treatment of these diseases in the Kangkar Pulai region and (2) What were the methods used in the preparation of traditional herbal medicines?


Study area: Kangkar Pulai whose original name is Kampung Kangkar Pulai with geographical coordinates 1°33'0" North, 103E36'0" East is situated in Johor, Malaysia (Fig. 1) ( It is located in the southern part of Peninsular Malaysia. This region has a tropical rainforest climate that has an annual monsoon rainfall coming from the South China Sea beginning in November until February. The average annual rainfall is 1778 mm with average temperatures ranging between 25.5°C (78°F) and 27.8°C (82°F). The humidity is between 82 and 86% in a year , with an average low of 22°C and a high of 31°C (Keenan et al., 2003).

Interviews and collection of plants: The survey was conducted in 2011-2012. A total of 25 traditional medicine practitioners (13 women and 12 men) from 23 households participated in the study. The ages of the informants ranged between 40 to 70 years, with the average age being 55 years. The ethnobotanical data were collected through Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA), which was based on interactions with indigenous people and direct observations by being in the field (Rokaya et al., 2010). The selection of the individual informant interviewed was fundamentally important to ensure credibility of the information collected. The informants are practitioners who are considered as professionals because they treat patients outside the circle of their own family and friends and used medicinal plants in all or part of the therapeutic activity.

These informants were aware of their rights to refuse to answer any question, to stop the interview at any time, or simply refuse to correspond completely (Alzweiri et al., 2011). For this study, scientific names of species of plants have been identified based on the International Plant Name Index (IPNI: and Tropics ( (Lee et al., 2008).

Data analysis
Use value (UV):
The relative importance of each plant type known locally to be used as herbal treatment is reported as Use value (UV) (Gazzaneo et al., 2005).

The use value is calculated as follows:

UV = ∑ U/n


UV = Use value of a species
U = No. of uses per species
n = No. of informants

Image for - Ethnopharmacological Survey of Medicinal Plants in Malaysia, the Kangkar Pulai Region
Fig. 1: Location of Kangkar Pulai in Malaysia

The UV is useful in identifying plants with the highest use (most frequently mentioned) in the treatment of a disease with a given informant consensus factor value.

Informant consensus factor: To know if there was a consensus in the use of plants in the disease categories between the plant users in the study area, the informant consensus factor (Fic) was calculated using the following formula (Heinrich et al., 1998; Gazzaneo et al., 2005):

Image for - Ethnopharmacological Survey of Medicinal Plants in Malaysia, the Kangkar Pulai Region


Nur = No. of use reports per each category
Nt = N. of taxa used

Informant consensus factor (Fic) is used to deduce the homogeneity in the information on the use of a specific plant to treat a certain diseases. All citations placed according to the type of ailment for which the plant is claimed to be used with products of this factor ranging from 0 to 1. A high value (close to 1) shows that it is used in comparative species (common species) by a large proportion of the informants. This is an indicator of a more consistent use of this medicine resource. On the contrary a low value shows that the informants dissent on the taxa used in the treatment of the disease within a class (Hudaib et al., 2008).


Survey results and discussion: The results of the ethnopharmacological survey on a total of 40 species of plants were documented and found to belong to 29 families. Other findings such as conventional use of these plants, methods of preparation and route of administration are shown in Table 1. The main reported families of the species of plants are Malvaceae (4 species) and Zingiberaceae (3 species). Besides these main families, Apiaceae, Arecaceae, Rubiaceae, Rutaceae and other species are also presented in the Table 1.

The results of the study showed that people in the Kangkar Pulai region still employ medicinal plants as part of their health care system. This might not be the case in the future with modern medicines becoming continuously easily obtainable to them. This might result in habitat degradation causing several kinds to become less available or not available within walking distance (Ong et al., 2011a, b). Knowledge of medicinal plants itself could become reduced or lost and young citizens could be less keen to learn and utilize medicinal plants (Ong et al., 2011a, b; Ong and Nordiana, 1999; Ong and Norzalina, 1999). Previous studies conducted by researchers in Malaysia have been concerned only on mentioning the plant species and method of using it but they did not mention the importance of using the use value or informant consensus factor (Che Nor Din, 2010; Khatun et al., 2011; Norhayati et al., 1998; Ong et al., 2011a, b, 2012; Ong and Nordiana, 1999; Ong and Norzalina, 1999).

In this study, as shown in Table 1, the use value of each plant was calculated. This is very important for pharmaceutical studies because it shows the importance of each plant. The current use value of medicinal plants shows that they are actively used as conventional medicine. There could also be a number of plants which are not currently employed for medicinal purposes, but can have implications in the medical reality (Kaya, 2006).

In this study, as shown in Table 1, the use value of each plant was calculated. This is very important for pharmaceutical studies because it shows the importance of each plant. The current use value of medicinal plants shows that they are actively used as conventional medicine. There could also be a number of plants which are not currently employed for medicinal purposes, but can have implications in the medical reality (Kaya, 2006).

Parts of plants used as medicines: The parts of plants used to make herbal preparation are roots, fruits, leaves, sepals, bulbs and flowers. The roots were the most frequently used (32%), followed by fruits (28%), leaf (24%), sepals and bulbs and flowers (4%) each (Fig. 2).

Image for - Ethnopharmacological Survey of Medicinal Plants in Malaysia, the Kangkar Pulai Region
Fig. 2: Parts of plants used as medicines

Table 1: Plants used for treatment of various human ailments in Kangkar Pulai region
Image for - Ethnopharmacological Survey of Medicinal Plants in Malaysia, the Kangkar Pulai Region

Traditional healers believe that the roots are more effective than the other parts of the plant. Other studies have shown that the roots and other parts of plants which are under the ground have high concentrations of biologically active compounds (Maroyi, 2011).

Harvesting the whole plant or roots or excessive use of the fruit or seeds of a drug has a negative effect on plant population, which may lead to a strong reduction in the growth of many of these medicinal plants (Ayyanar and Ignacimuthu, 2011).

Medicinal plants and remedies: Many people living in Kangkar Pulai used herbal plants for the treatment of various ailments. It is worth mentioning that the usual complaints mainly deal with minor digestive disorders, colic, kidney stones, constipation, abdominal pain, cough and asthma. In certain circumstances, the herbal plants are used for treating more serious diseases such as diabetes and heart disease (Alzweiri et al., 2011; Ong et al., 2011a, b). Twenty-seven plant families from the list of plants have been found to be of medicinal importance (Table 1).

According to the calculation of the use-value (UV), Annona muricata, Zingiber officinale Rosc. and aloe vera were reported to have the highest use values (Table 1). It was found that Annona muricata is being used to treat sexual weakness diseases and Zingiber officinale Rosc is used to treat respiratory problems and abdominal swelling, stomachache. These plants are reported to have UVs of up to (0.64). Besides that, the aloe vera is used to treat skin diseases and dandruff and reported to have a UV of (0.56).

Table 2 summarizes the informant consensus factor (Fic) for 10 types of ailments: inflammation and pain, digestive problems, diabetes, blood pressure, respiratory problems, kidney problems, skin problems, delivery, female problems, hair problems, dandruff and sexual weakness. The highest (Fic) value (0.95) was cited for sexual problems. It was found that Annona muricata L (UV: 0.64) and Eurycoma longifolia (UV: 0.32) were the plants most frequently used to treat sexual problems. The second highest (Fic) value (0.94) was recorded for blood pressure and vascular system. Hibiscus sabdariffa L (UV: 0.24), the plant with the highest UV has been used for the treatment of blood pressure.

For diabetes problems (Fic: 0.93), Orthosiphon grandiflorus (Blume ) Bold (UV: 0.32), Momordica charantia L. (UV: 0.24) and Orthosiphon grandiflorus (Blume ) Bold (also used to treat the fever) are the plants most frequently used for this ailment. Delivery and female problems were ranked as the fourth type of ailment with (Fic) value of (0.90) used Paederia foetida L. (UV: 0.40) and Sida rhombifolia L (UV: 0.24) as the plants mostly used to treat the ailments.

Table 2: Informant consensus factor value of different types of ailments
Image for - Ethnopharmacological Survey of Medicinal Plants in Malaysia, the Kangkar Pulai Region

Treatment of Hair problems and dandruff, recorded as the fifth category with (Fic) value of (0.87) would include Aloe vera L. (UV: 0.56). This is the best plant used as anti-dandruff and treatment for scalp problems (by rubbing the leaves and applying them on the scalp), (Table 1). The sixth ailment is respiratory problems (Fic: 0.86), which include common cold, cough, asthma and influenza. For the treatment of blood pressure, Zingiber officinale Rosc (UV: 0.64) as the plant with the highest UV (Table 2) is used.

Kidney problems as the seventh ailment, include kidney stones and urinary tract infections with (Fic) value of (0.85), Polyalthia bullata King has a (UV: 0.12) is principally imputed to its effects under the latter category. Digestive problems cited as the eighth category includes relief of symptoms such as spasm, indigestion, stomachache, flatulence, nausea and abdominal pain with the use of Psidium guajava L (UV: 0.24) and (Fic: 0.76). The ninth category (Fic: 0.71) was recorded for the skin problems and infections including acne. Musa paradisiaca L. (UV: 0.32) is one of the plants used for the treatment of skin problems.

The last type of ailment is inflammation and pain with value of (Fic: 0.70) and it was reported that Cocos nucifera L with (UV: 0.48) (Table 2) was the most commonly used plant.


The current study showed that traditional medicines are still commonly used by the people in the Kangkar Pulai region. Moreover the interviews showed that the traditional knowledge of medicinal plants was limited to traditional healers and elders in this region. The medicinal plants with the highest (UV) in the current study may point to a possible occurrence of valuable phytochemical compounds, but this would require further research of these herbal plants as potential new drugs to treat different diseases.


We thank study participants/villagers from the Kangkar Pulai area and traditional plant practitioners for their kind support and shared with us indigenous knowledge on medicinal plants during the ethnopharmacological field survey work. The authors also acknowledge the financial support provided by UTM research grant GUP Tier 1 (Vote: 03H13), FRGS (vote: 4F126), Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) and RMC.


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