Thursday, September 06, 2007

Malaysian Herbal Medicine History

Malaysian Herbal Medicine History

Traditionally, Malaysian herbal medicines include teas (infusions & decoctions), tinctures, poultices and salves. The usual practice was very much on a patient-herbal practitioner basis.

The earliest documentation on herbal medicines in Malaya dated back to 1886. It was by Munshi Ismail, a language teacher and translator. His translation was subsequently edited and published by Gimlette and Burkill in 1930. This document described a total of 543 prescriptions using about 260 identifiable plant species used in the treatment of various illnesses and disorders.

In that same year, Burkill and Haniff published another account on the "Malay Village Medicine" which documented the uses of about 650 native plants. Following this was the publication of the monumental and still highly referred to account, A Dictionary of the Economic Products of the Malay Peninsula, by Burkill (1935) which documented the
uses of about 1,200 native and exotic plants.

The beginning of the 19th century heralded an era during which there were efforts to purify the active, secondary-metabolite principles of medicinal plants. These purified constituents were then introduced into therapy as evidenced in the formulation of
morphine, qUinine, atropine, papaverine, cocaine and pilocarpine. Scientific research into the medicinal or biological properties of Malaysian plants or herbal recipes was unheard of in those olden years of the 1950s-I960s. While the greater part of the world in China, Japan, Europe and USA was busy making novel discoveries from medicinal plants, little local scientific research was conducted on Malaysian plants.

Some unsystematic scientific investigations kicked off in the 1970s. However, the earliest record of phytochemical screening could only be traced back to 1959. The main reason for this unsatisfactory scenario is the lack of trained scientists, limited infrastructure and funding for such endeavors. There was also inadequate coordination among those involved.