Eurycoma longifolia

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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. The plant is a medium-sized slender shrub that can reach 10 meters in height, and is often unbranched. The root of the plant has been used in folk medicine of the South East Asian region, and in modern times has common use as supplements, as well as food and drink additives.


E. longifolia is also known by the common names penawar pahit, penawar bias, bedara merah, bedara putih, lempedu pahit, payong ali, tongkat baginda, muntah bumi, petala bumi (all Malay); Malaysian ginseng;[2] bidara laut (Indonesian); babi kurus (Javanese); cây bá bệnh (Vietnamese);[3] tho nan (Laotian);[4] lan-don, hae phan chan, phiak, plaa lai phuenk, tung saw (all Thai);[5] "long jack" (US); langir siam (Bahrain).[6] 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".[7] Older literature, such as a 1953 article in the Journal of Ecology, may cite only penawar pahit as the plant's common Malay name.[8]

As mentioned above, E. longifolia is known by common names "tongkat ali" and "pasak bumi" in the South East Asian region, but these names are also used for the physiologically similar species Polyalthia bullata.[9] The bark and root of E. longifolia is more white/yellow-ish compared to the darker-colored P. bullata, which has led to the former being known as "tongkat ali/pasak bumi putih" or "tongkat ali/pasak bumi kuning", and the latter as "tongkat ali/pasak bumi hitam".[9] ("Putih" means "white", "kuning" means "yellow", and "hitam" means "black" in Malay/Indonesian.) Indonesia also has a red-coloured variety known as "tongkat ali/pasak bumi merah" ("merah" meaning "red"), which is being studied by researchers and has not had its species classified.[10]


A medium size slender shrub reaching 10 meters in height, often unbranched with reddish brown petioles. Leaves compound, even pinnate reaching 1 meter 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.[11] The plant grows in the understorey of lowland forests, and survives on a variety of soils but prefers acidic, well-drained soil.[12]

Chemical composition[edit]

Eurycoma longifolia has been reported to contain the compounds eurycomanol, eurycomanone, and eurycomalactone.[12]


The plant is used in the traditional medicine of Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam. In Indonesia and Malaysia, the root of the plant is boiled in water, and the water is consumed as a health tonic for post-partum recovery, as an aphrodisiac, as well as the relief of fever, intestinal worms, dysentery, diarrhoea, indigestion, and jaundice.[12] In Vietnam, the flower and fruits are used to treat dysentery,[12] and the root is used to treat malaria and fever.[13] In Malaysia, a paste of the plant is applied topically to relieve headaches and stomach-aches.[12]

In modern times, E. longifolia is generally known as an aphrodisiac.[12][14][15] Other health benefits attributed to this plant include antimalarial, antidiabetic, antimicrobial, and antipyretic activities.[16] There has been some scientific research carried out on E. longifolia towards analyzing its benefits.

In Indonesia and Malaysia, E. longifolia has been widely commercialized. Its root, which is highly bitter,[14] has been used as the basis for supplements, as well as food and drink additives. As a supplement, it has been marketed for the supposed benefits of sexual health improvement, as an energy and stamina booster, for improving blood circulation,[12] and as a testosterone booster.[17][18] In the drinks market, it is a common ingredient for coffee and functional beverages positioned as energy drinks.

Commercialization issues[edit]

Adulteration and contamination[edit]

There have been a number of cases of products falsely claiming to contain E. longifolia as an ingredient, as well as E. longifolia product contamination cases. Examples are listed below.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has banned numerous products, such as Libidus,[19] that claim to include E. longifolia as a principal ingredient, but which instead contain illegal prescription drugs and even analogues of prescription drugs that have not yet been tested for safety in humans, such as acetildenafil.[20] In February 2009, the FDA published warnings about nearly 30 illegal sexual enhancement supplements,[21] but the names of these products change faster than the FDA can investigate them. Libidus, for example, is now sold as Maxidus, and still claims to contain E. longifolia as its principal ingredient.[22] To fight such tactics, preventive measures taken in 2008 saw the U.S. Food and Drug Administration seize more than 14,000 dosages of products originating from China under multiple names.[23]

In Malaysia, there are over 200 registered E. longifolia products. However, one study determined, following quality testing, that 36% of these were contaminated with mercury beyond legally permitted limits.[24][25] The Malaysian government 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 for one product name, sellers of fake tongkat ali use many different names for their wares.[26]

In February 2015, the New York Times and Washington Post reported that the New York attorney general examined major brand supplements and found them to be mostly fillers.[27] Although, the validity of using DNA testing to identify plant species when no testing standard exists has been disputed. There has been some research into developing DNA fingerprinting techniques for E. longifolia specifically.[28]


Products stating various E. longifolia extract ratios of 1:60, 1:200, and 1:600 are common on the market. However extracts based on this ratio system are often misleading and hard to verify. Scientific research done on herbal products in general indicates that in many cases the content of bioactive constituents varies between products.[29][30] One perception is that a higher extraction ratio indicates a stronger product, but higher extract ratio just means that more of the original material was removed. Another option is for extraction techniques to utilize standardization methods to monitor the bioactive content and quality of the extract against standardization markers. Among standardization markers that have been used for E. longifolia are eurycomanone, total protein, total polysaccharide and glycosaponin, which have been recommended in a technical guideline developed by the Scientific and Industrial Research Institute of Malaysia (SIRIM).[31]


A water extract has been copatented by the government of Malaysia and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology[32] for sexual dysfunction and male infertility. A polar organic solvent have also been patented with approximately similar claims.[33] 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.[34]

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.[35]

Conservation and sustainability[edit]

E. longifolia is mainly used for its roots, which necessitates uprooting the entire plant when it is harvested. This has led to concerns over the long-term sustainability of its use.[36][37]

In Malaysia raw E. longifolia is banned from export,[38] and the plant itself been listed as one of the priority medicinal species for conservation, and the harvesting of wild trees is restricted according to Act 686 on International Trade in Endangered Species.[39][40][41] In 2016, Ahmad Shabery Cheek, the Malaysian Minister of Agriculture, said that the species may go extinct within twenty years if cultivation and replanting efforts are not made quickly.[42] Despite this, the Malaysian government has encouraged the commercialization of high-value herbal products based on this plant,[43] notably in its 2010 Economic Transformation Programme, where Tongkat Ali is listed among the top five herbs to be developed on a large scale until the year 2020.[44][45] To support this commercialization, the Malaysian government made attempts to encourage the long-term commercial cultivation of the plant, through the provision of grants for farmers, enabling agronomy research by MARDI, and the formation of cluster farms under the East Coast Economic Region.[46]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Eurycoma longifolia information from NPGS/GRIN". Retrieved 2008-03-14. 
  2. ^ Ken, Chee Cheong (8 March 2012). "Herbs in exercise and sports". Journal of Physiological Anthropology. 31 (1): 4. doi:10.1186/1880-6805-31-4. 
  3. ^ vi:Bá bệnh
  4. ^ Medicinal Plants, International Technology Center, United Nations International Development Organisation, UNIDO, Trieste, Italy
  5. ^ Lim, T. K. (2016). Edible Medicinal and Non-Medicinal Plants. 11. Switzerland: Springer. p. 250. ISBN 9783319260617. 
  6. ^ Goreja, W. E. (2004). Tongkat Ali: The Tree that Cures a Hundred Diseases. New York: Amazing Herbs Press. p. 3. 
  7. ^ Free Indonesian and Malay dictionary search
  8. ^ Wyatt-Smith, J. (August 1953). "The Vegetation of Jarak Island, Straits of Malacca". Journal of Ecology. 41 (2): 207–225. JSTOR 2257036. doi:10.2307/2257036. 
  9. ^ a b Vimala, S., ed. (2013). Malaysian Herbal Heritage. Forest Research Institute of Malaysia. 
  10. ^ Rachman, Taufik (2015-08-14). "UMP Teliti Pasak Bumi Merah". Retrieved 2016-04-11. 
  11. ^ Malaysian Herbal Monograph Technical Committee (1999). Malaysian Herbal Monograph. Vol. 1. Forest Research Institute Malaysia. ISBN 983987019X, 9789839870190
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Samy, Joseph; Manickam, Sugumaran (2005). Herbs of Malaysia. Times Editions. pp. 104–105. ISBN 9833001793. 
  13. ^ Maneenoon, Katesarin (2015). "Ethnomedicinal plants used by traditional healers in Phatthalung Province, Peninsular Thailand". Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine. Biomed Central. 11 (43). doi:10.1186/s13002-015-0031-5. 
  14. ^ a b Chai, Paul (2006). Medicinal Plants of Sarawak. Lee Miin Press. p. 150. ISBN 9834325517. 
  15. ^ Riviera, Gloria (2014-10-16). "Natural Remedy May Dramatically Transform Sexual Enhancement Market". Retrieved 2016-04-13. 
  16. ^ Bhat, R; Karim, AA (2010). "Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma longifolia Jack): a review on its ethnobotany and pharmacological importance". Fitoterapia. 81 (7): 669–79. PMID 20434529. doi:10.1016/j.fitote.2010.04.006. 
  17. ^ Crane, Michael (2016-03-09). "LJ 100 Tongkat Ali Extract Granted New Safety Confirmation and Health Canada Claims". Retrieved 2016-04-12. 
  18. ^ Alemendarez, Sandy (April 2014). "Addressing Andropause: Natural dietary ingredients that boost testosterone and prostate health for aging men". Natural Products Insider. Virgo Health Nutrition. 
  19. ^ FDA Warns Consumers About Dangerous Ingredients in "Dietary Supplements" Promoted for Sexual Enhancement
  20. ^ FDA Warning Letter
  21. ^ Hidden Risks of Erectile Dysfunction "Treatments" Sold Online
  22. ^ [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.
  23. ^ USFDA Consumer Health Information link
  24. ^ 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. PMID 15162849. doi:10.1080/10915810490269654. 
  25. ^ Ang HH (2004). "An insight into Malaysian herbal medicines". Trends Pharmacol Sci. 25 (6): 297–298. PMID 15165743. doi:10.1016/ 
  26. ^ "Etumax products banned by ministry". 
  27. ^ Kaplan, Sarah (2015-02-03). "GNC, Target, Wal-Mart, Walgreens accused of selling adulterated ‘herbals’". Retrieved 2016-08-19. 
  28. ^ "Pengesah kandungan herba" [Confirmation of herbal content]. Harian Metro (in Malay). Malaysia. 2016-08-28. Retrieved 2017-02-22. 
  29. ^ "Guidance on equivalence of herbal extracts in complementary medicines". Australia: Department of Health - Therapeutic Goods Administration. Retrieved 2016-08-17. 
  30. ^ Liew, D; Kaskin, M (2002). "Approaching the problem of bioequivalence of herbal medicinal products". 16 pg=705-711 (8). Phytotherapy Research. 
  31. ^ Phytopharmaceutical Aspect Of Freeze Dried Water Extract From Tongkat Ali Roots (MS 2409:2011). Malaysia: Scientific and Industrial Research Institute of Malaysia. 2011. Retrieved 2016-08-17. 
  32. ^ U.S. Patent 7,132,117 Inventors: T.G. Sambandan, ChoKyun Rha, Azizol Abdul Kadir, Norhaniza Aminudim, Johari Md. Saad. Assignees: Government of Malaysia, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  33. ^ US Patent 20100221370 A1 link
  34. ^ US Patent 20070224302 A1 link
  35. ^ Huft, Michael J. (October 1995). "Indigenous People and Drug Discovery Research: A Question of Intellectual Property Rights". Northwestern University Law Review. 89. 
  36. ^ Mien, Rifai (2009). "Germplasm, Genetic Erosion, and the Conservation of Indonesian Plants". Conservation of Medicinal Plants. Cambridge University Press. pp. 281–283. ISBN 9780521112024. 
  37. ^ "Flaccid outlook for Tongkat Ali" (PDF). New Sunday Times. 2009-01-25. Retrieved 2016-06-08. 
  38. ^ "Prosedur Operasi Piawaian: Pemeriksaan Konsainan Herba yang Dieksport" [Standard Operating Procedure: Consignment Inspection for Exported Herbs] (in Malay). Malaysian Quarantine and Inspection Services (MAQIS). July 2014. Retrieved 2017-03-20. 
  39. ^ Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Malaysia (2009). 4th Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Government of Malaysia. p. 91. 
  40. ^ Lee, Soon Leong (2009). "Status of Malaysia's forest genetic resources — their conservation and management practices". Forest Genetic Resources: Conservation and Management. Bioversity International. p. 75. ISBN 9789675221217. 
  41. ^ International Trade in Endangered Species, Act No. 686 of 2008-02-14 (in English). Retrieved on 2016-04-14.
  42. ^ "Pokok Tongkat Ali pupus 20 tahun" [Tongkat Ali trees extinct within 20 years]. Harian Metro (in Malay). Malaysia. 2016-02-24. Retrieved 2016-08-11. 
  43. ^ "Malaysia’s government to boost economy with biotech". CCT4 America. 2016-07-01. Retrieved 2016-07-25. 
  44. ^ "EPP 1 High-Value Herbal Products". Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU). Retrieved 2016-06-08. 
  45. ^ Prime Minister's Department, Malaysia (2017). Malaysia Productivity Blueprint: Driving Productivity of the Nation. Economic Planning Unit. p. 4-32. ISBN 978-967-5842-10-8. 
  46. ^ "Malaysia's lucrative herb market". DailyExpress. 2013-12-28. Retrieved 2016-06-08.