Last Updated On : Sunday, June 14, 2015 08:04:35 PM

Plants for Life Trial at Gunung Mulu

Approximately 7,000 medical compounds prescribed by doctors today are taken from plants. It is estimated that about 25% of these plant based medicines come from tropical rainforest such as those in Sarawak.

For sicknesses ranging from headaches and boils to fatal diseases such as malaria and HIV, rainforest medicines are providing modern society with a variety of cures and pain relievers.

Countries around the world are now recognizing the value of tropical plants and are showing great interest in understanding the secrets and mysteries of the rainforest.

Local people have understood the importance for centuries.

Wherever people live they need food and shelter. In the rainforest many plants can be used if you know how -

The petals of the Kajoh busaka 2 (rhododenden) are crushed and rubbed on a wound by the Berawan to reduce scarring.

For decoration Penan make a rattan dye from the leaves of the Sebangat 3 tree. Berawan ladies used the Begonia 4 leaf to polish their heavy brass earrings and the metal boxes used to store their betel nut mixture.

Some plants have many uses. Luppe 5 is used by the Berawan who split the soft green leaves to make temporary repairs for baskets when they are traveling and use the tuber to treat diarrhea.

The Penan call it Levak, using the leaf to make a thread for sewing, to wrap their food in and they enjoy eating its small banana shaped fruits.

Knowledge of plants to treat sickness is crucial for survival and some are still used today.

Penans cure headaches with leaves from the Ari 7 creeper, put Gogong 8 sap on a sore tongue and the latex from the Gita tawan kenakap 9 tree relieves itchy rashes.

The leaves of the Uroh uba sakae tuleh bitoh 10 are brewed by the Berawan into a tonic for kidney infections. A Penan child with a belly ache will feel better after warmed Muya 11 leaves are placed on his stomach.

Berawan place Akka benggong 13 leaves on boils to draw out infection and beat the Uba Suyek 14 leaves into a paste to stop a wound from bleeding.

With no supermarkets in the forest, necessity makes you learn what is edible. On the waters edge are the edible young leaves of the Kangkong 15 (water convulvulus) and yams such as Ginjal 16 provide a constant supply of tubers and leaves.

The young petals of the Tou bi'oh 19 (wild ginger) adds flavor to soups. Fern tips or Pakoh 20 are gathered before the young bud unfurls, a common vegetable all over Sarawak. When food is wrapped in Tisheh 21 (wild banana) leaves, a fragrance and flavor is infused.

The same leaf is used as a wrapper for home-made cigarettes. Many trees like the Tepang 27 have young shoots that make a nutritious 'stir-fry' or can be eaten raw.

Many useful plants are nearby when the hunters go out to catch their daily food.

Kajoh mu'ponn 28 is a good hunting site as the fruit attract many small animals and its sticky latex can be used to trap small birds. Berawan people use the long cane of palms such as the Lemusin 30 to make fishing rods but the Penan call it Lemujan and use it to make darts for their remarkable blowpipes.

Valuable hunting dogs injured in the hunt can be treated with the latex of the Gita 34 tree to stop infection.

But the most useful plant of all is the Rattan known as Mai 38 by the Berawan and Wel to the Penan. Once used to make hardy work baskets and soft sleeping mats it now provides an income to the long house when you buy souvenir mats and baskets.

The rainforest is truly a treasure chest.


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