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Ramuan is a uniquely Malaysian concept, referring to a blend of plants or plant parts which are selected and mixed to create pleasing or healthful effects in the preparation of food or the creation of herbal medicines.
Most often, the term is used to denote a holistic formulation of mixed leaves, stems, barks, fruits and roots, traditionally gathered from the rainforest. Generally ramu or ramuan is considered to have capabilities to enhance beauty, and/or to promote health. It also commonly refers to a blend of seasonings for cooking.
In traditional Malay language, ber-ramu means to collect or to look for leaves, fruits and roots for medicinal ingredients. Another commonly used term is rempah ratus (a term to denote a polyherbal preparation which requires a hundred kinds of medicinal plants and spices).
In a broader context, the term ramuan is almost interchangeable with the idea of “mixture”. However, it further encompasses the sense of ingredient harmonization; it implies a ‘melting pot’, of unity and integration as well as the sense of ‘many held together within unity’.
Today, the concept of ramuan is considered most significant in its application to holistic herbal health and beauty preparations. Home to some of the world’s oldest rainforests, Malaysia boasts remarkable biodiversity with a great range of plant species. Predictably, the indigenous peoples experimented with this wealth of herbal resources, creating and testing the effects of various blends of botanical components. Over thousands of years of experimentation, certain ramuans became favored for their healing, restorative or beautification effects. These were incorporated into everyday life through practice or ritual, often taking on strong cultural meanings within native traditions. Examples include preparations to aid with pregnancy, childbirth and recovery from childbirth; along with men’s preparations designed to improve virility and vitality. Further examples expand into nearly all aspects of daily life, including Malaysia’s renowned spa culture, with preparations designed to tone the skin and enhance overall beauty.
Malaysia’s geographic location has also influenced its holistic herbal practices. The unique placements of its lands, with broad coastlines, has invited many explorers and settlers from surrounding areas. Consequently, the various cultures and people who traded, fought, settled and inter-married in the region have contributed to the traditions of Malaysia. Settlers from India and China in particular brought their own traditions developed by Indian ayurvedics and Chinese herbalists, which were incorporated with native wisdom and experimentation, while being expanded by the extensive rainforest resources offering new herbal materials. This cross-pollination of herbal cultures has become its own kind of “ramuan”, blending the various holistic health and beauty practices into a single culture that is now considered uniquely Malaysian.
Health and beauty
‘Outer beauty is a reflection of inner health’, is a notion that has passed through many generations among Malay women; in addition, men concern themselves with their health and well-being throughout life; the belief in inner and outer wellness as a totality is eminent in the Malaysian culture.
As the approach to adulthood becomes apparent in a young Malay girl’s life, she receives a wealth of herbal health knowledge from facial and skin care to herbal remedies. The Malays believe the face is a reflection of the whole body. A fresh facial complexion of radiance is believed to be an indication of a well-balanced mind, body and spirit. Dark circles under the eyes, puffiness, blemishes, dryness and wrinkles reflect an imbalance within the wider body system. Malays hold the belief that internal cleanliness has direct outer consequences, therefore, a once-a-week herbal brew of leaves and herbs such as senna leaves (Cassia angustifolia), betel leaves (Piper betle), ginger (Zingiber officinale), sepang (Caesalpinia sappan) and other ingredients are often used for internal cleansing, seeking results of detoxifying the body of waste, removing fat and purifying the blood, resulting in a beautiful, youthful complexion.
Malay women also benefit from the ready availability of Kacip fatima (Labisia pumila) and Akar Serapat (Parameria polyneura). These powerful herbs have been used for centuries to firm vaginal muscles and strengthen the uterus, as well as assisting the pre- and post-natal stages of pregnancy. Kacip Fatima is also sought for a variety of health benefits, from alleviating fatigue to promoting hormonal balance and emotional well-being.
Traditionally the rituals of Malay men are geared toward masculine strength and wellness, and most notably to enhance sexual ability. In the Malaysian culture, a man’s overall health is measured by his virility. Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma longifolia) and Ubi Jaga (Smilax myosotiflora) have been traditionally sought to increase overall energy, enhance sexual potency, boost metabolism and improve fertility. Ubi Jaga is believed to increase blood circulation while Tongkat Ali has undergone many experimental trials. It has proven to promote sexual arousal and has been shown increase testosterone levels.