Eurycoma longifolia

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This article is about the small Asian tree in the genus Eurycoma. For the tall Australian tree also known as "Long Jack", see Flindersia xanthoxyla.
Eurycoma longifolia
Singapore Science Centre 17, Jul 06.JPG
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Sapindales
Family: Simaroubaceae
Genus: Eurycoma
Species: E. longifolia
Binomial name
Eurycoma longifolia

Eurycoma longifolia (commonly called tongkat ali or pasak bumi) is a flowering plant in the family Simaroubaceae, native to Indonesia, Malaysia, and, to a lesser extent, Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos. It is also known under the names penawar pahit, penawar bias, bedara merah, bedara putih, lempedu pahit, payong ali, tongkat baginda, muntah bumi, petala bumi (all Malay); bidara laut (Indonesian); babi kurus (Javanese); cây bá bệnh (Vietnamese)[2] and tho nan (Laotian).[3] Many of the common names refer to the plant's medicinal use and extreme bitterness. Penawar pahit translates simply as "bitter charm" or "bitter medicine".[4] Older literature, such as a 1953 article in the Journal of Ecology, may cite only penawar pahit as the plant's common Malay name.[5]

Botanical description[edit]

A medium size slender shrub reaching 10 m in height, often unbranched with reddish brown petioles. Leaves compound, even pinnate reaching 1 m in length. Each compound leaf consists of 30-40 leaflets, lanceolate to obovate-lanceolate. Each leaflet is about 5–20 cm long, 1.5–6 cm wide, much paler on the ventral side. Inflorecense axillary, in large brownish red panicle, very pubescent with very fine, soft, grandular trichomes. Flowers are hermaphrodite. Petals small, very fine pubescent. Drupe hard, ovoid, yellowish brown when young and brownish red when ripe.[6]

Folk medicine[edit]

A 2010 ethnopharmacological inventory study on E. longifolia stated: "The plant parts have been traditionally used for its antimalarial, aphrodisiac, antidiabetic, antimicrobial, and antipyretic activities ..."[7]

Biological effects[edit]

According to WebMD, while evidence suggests one specific E. longifolia supplement might have some role in boosting sperm quality, evidence to rate it for any other claimed use including treatments for cancer, malaria and tuberculosis is insufficient.[8]



In Malaysia, the common use of E. longifolia (apart from traditional medicine and dietary supplements) are as food and drink additive. Specifically, it is a common ingredient for coffee and functional beverage positioned as energy drinks.

Given the availability of abundant and cheap varieties of herbs (and the significant higher pricing of well-extracted E. longifolia), instances where products may falsely claim the content of its ingredient is rampant. An electronic taste sensor was devised to detect the presence and concentration of quassinoids and determine the use of genuine E longifolia.[9]

Quassinoids, the biologically active components of E. longifolia root,[10][11][12] are extremely bitter. They are named after quassin, the long-isolated bitter principle of the quassia tree. Quassin is regarded the most bitter substance in nature, 50 times more bitter than quinine.[13]


The USFDA has banned numerous products such as Libidus,[14] claiming to use E. longifolia as principal ingredient, but which instead are concoctions designed around illegal prescription drugs, or even worse, analogues of prescription drugs that have not even been tested for safety in humans, such as acetildenafil.[15]

In February 2009, the FDA warned against almost 30 illegal sexual enhancement supplements,[16] but the names of these products change quicker than the FDA can investigate them. Libidus, for example, is now sold as Maxidus, still claiming E. longifolia (tongkat ali) as the principal ingredient.[17]

The government of Malaysia has banned numerous fake products which use drugs such as sildenafil citrate instead of tongkat ali in their capsules. To avoid being hurt by bad publicity on one product name, those who sell fake tongkat ali have resorted to using many different names for their wares.[18]

In relation to such tactics, the USFDA preventive measures taken in 2008 saw the seizure of more than 14,000 dosages of products originating from China under multiple names.[19]


Products claiming various E. longifolia extract ratios of 1:20, 1:50, 1:100, and 1:200 are sold. Traditionally, E. longifolia is extracted with water and not ethanol. However, selling E. longifolia extract based on extraction ratio may be confusing and is not easily verifiable, but extracts of the higher strength ratios tend to be darker in colour, a very dark brown at the 1:200 ratio. To date, there are no active marker identified for E. longifolia. Chemical standards or markers commonly used are the glycosaponin content (35–45%) and eurycomanone (>2%). While eurycomanone is one of many quassinoids in E. longifolia, it also contains saponins.


Over 200 E. longifolia products were registered in Malaysia consisting of products which have been locally manufactured and those sourced from Thailand and Indonesia. From (36 of 100) have been shown to be contaminated with mercury beyond legally permitted limits.[20]

However, the author had commented 64% of the products complied with the quality requirement for levels of mercury and 92% of the products complied with the quality requirement for levels of lead in traditional medicines in Malaysia (Ang HH, 2004).


A water extract has been copatented by the government of Malaysia and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology[21] for sexual dysfunction and male infertility. A polar organic solvent have also been patented with approximately similar claims.[22] Other patents in relation to tongkat ali have also been filed which claims use for maintaining anabolic hormone profile during weight loss and intense exercise.[23]

However, the idea that products of nature on which exist a large body of knowledge among indigenous peoples can be the subject of intellectual property rights, even of national governments, has long been challenged in peer-reviewed law journals.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Eurycoma longifolia information from NPGS/GRIN". Retrieved 2008-03-14. 
  2. ^ vi:Bá bệnh
  3. ^ Medicinal Plants, International Technology Center, United Nations International Development Organisation, UNIDO, Trieste, Italy
  4. ^ Free Indonesian and Malay dictionary search
  5. ^ Wyatt-Smith, J. (August 1953). "The Vegetation of Jarak Island, Straits of Malacca". Journal of Ecology 41 (2): 207–225. doi:10.2307/2257036. JSTOR 2257036. 
  6. ^ Malaysian Herbal Monograph Technical Committee (1999). Malaysian Herbal Monograph. Vol. 1. Forest Research Institute Malaysia. ISBN 983987019X, 9789839870190
  7. ^ Bhat, R; Karim, AA (2010). "Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma longifolia Jack): a review on its ethnobotany and pharmacological importance". Fitoterapia 81 (7): 669–79. doi:10.1016/j.fitote.2010.04.006. PMID 20434529. 
  8. ^ "Eurycoma longifolia". WebMD. Retrieved 17 October 2013. 
  9. ^ Abdullah, M.Z.; Rahman, A.S.A.; Shakaff, A.Y.M.; Noor, A.M. (2004). "Discrimination and classification of Eurycoma longifolia Jack in medicinal foods by means of a DSP-based electronic taste sensor". Transactions of the Institute of Measurement and Control 26: 19. doi:10.1191/0142331204tm0103oa. 
  10. ^ Jiwajinda, S; Santisopasri, V; Murakami, A; Sugiyama, H; Gasquet, M; Riad, E; Balansard, G; Ohigashi, H (2002). "In vitro anti-tumor promoting and anti-parasitic activities of the quassinoids from Eurycoma longifolia, a medicinal plant in Southeast Asia". Journal of Ethnopharmacology 82 (1): 55–8. doi:10.1016/S0378-8741(02)00160-5. PMID 12169407. 
  11. ^ Ang, H (2000). "Eurycolactones A–C, novel quassinoids from Eurycoma longifolia". Tetrahedron Letters 41 (35): 6849. doi:10.1016/S0040-4039(00)01159-X. 
  12. ^ Tada, H; Yasuda, F; Otani, K; Doteuchi, M; Ishihara, Y; Shiro, M (1991). "Nouveaux quassinoïdes antiulcéreux à partir d'Eurycoma longifolia". European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry 26 (3): 345. doi:10.1016/0223-5234(91)90069-Y. 
  13. ^ Scientific Committee on Food Opinion of the Scientific Committee on Food on quassin SCF/CS/FLAV/FLAVOUR/29 Final
  14. ^ FDA Warns Consumers About Dangerous Ingredients in "Dietary Supplements" Promoted for Sexual Enhancement
  15. ^ FDA Warning Letter
  16. ^ Hidden Risks of Erectile Dysfunction "Treatments" Sold Online
  17. ^ [1] This no-follow link to a spam site is included only as evidence and reference that the illegal drug Libidus is now sold as Maxidus, still with the claim that it is mostly E. longifolia.
  18. ^ "Etumax products banned by ministry". 
  19. ^ USFDA Consumer Health Information link
  20. ^ Ang, Hooi-Hoon; Lee, Ee-Lin; Cheang, Hui-Seong (2004). "Determination of Mercury by Cold Vapor Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometer in Tongkat Ali Preparations Obtained in Malaysia". International Journal of Toxicology 23 (1): 65–71. doi:10.1080/10915810490269654. PMID 15162849. 
  21. ^ U.S. Patent 7,132,117Inventors: T.G. Sambandan, ChoKyun Rha, Azizol Abdul Kadir, Norhaniza Aminudim, Johari Md. Saad. Assignees: Government of Malaysia, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  22. ^ US Patent 20100221370 A1 link
  23. ^ US Patent 20070224302 A1 link
  24. ^ Huft, Michael J. (October 1995). "Indigenous People and Drug Discovery Research: A Question of Intellectual Property Rights". Northwestern University Law Review 89.