Think before you weed!

By Patricia Hului
[email protected]

I remember how my late, great-grandpa used to pick one specific grass from our neighbour’s lawn. To my neighbour, an avid golfer, his lawn was a source of entertainment as he had turned it into a mini golf course. To my great-grandfather, the grass he used to pick was to make his daily cup of tea.

That was 20 years ago. What was the plant he picked? Why did he drink it every evening? Was it a medicinal drink? Sadly, these were the questions I failed to ask then and now he has already passed on.

But not all is lost. The Sarawak Biodiversity Center (SBC) which specialises in biotech-based research and development has a dedicated programme to document all the traditional knowledge on herbs and traditional medicines of our forefathers in Sarawak.

The Traditional Knowledge Documentation programme seeks to preserve the traditional knowledge of indigenous communities through proper recording or documentation techniques.

‘Biodiversity for a better tomorrow’, that is the tagline for SBC.

‘Biodiversity for a better tomorrow’, that is the tagline for SBC.

It is done by equipping local communities with skills such as documentation techniques, propagation and management of useful indigenous plants.

Sarawak itself has over 36 different indigenous groups and each of these ethnic groups have inherited their own sets of traditional knowledge which includes the indigenous communities’ practice on how to grow food and to survive in their environment.

The project also inspires local indigenous communities to cultivate useful plants for their own uses.

On February 4, US Ambassador to Malaysia Joseph Y Yun visited SBC located at KM20 Jalan Puncak Borneo.

There to accompany him were his wife Melanie Billing-Yun and Environment, Science, Technology and Health Officer of the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Brock Fox.

SBC senior scientist Dr Charlie Yeo Tiong Chia and senior research officer for traditional knowledge documentation, Margarita Naming took them on a tour of the species of plants under research and study at SBC.

LET’S TAKE A LOOK: Billing-Yun taking a sniff of one of the plants cultivated in SBC.

LET’S TAKE A LOOK: Billing-Yun taking a sniff of one of the plants cultivated in SBC.

Plants planted in SBC are very well maintained in a mixture medium of soil and charcoal and are placed according to which community cultivated it.

Among the interesting medicinal plants Margarita pointed out, one that stuck in my mind was a plant that was reportedly used by the local community to commit suicide. To add more mystery about the plant, animals who consume it apparently cannot be killed by it.

Most of the plants found not just in our secluded forest but also in our grandparents’ orchards have not yet been fully studied and understood. SBC is working to research and develop these natural products as there are more demands for natural products development in the market and customers seeking organic products.

TRADITIONAL MEDICINE:  This plant is used by the local communities as a medicine for boils.

TRADITIONAL MEDICINE: This plant called the ‘Akar Nganap’ is used by the local communities to treat boils.

Currently they are developing what is known as Pahkak to the Bidayuh or Tenem to the Kelabit and Lun Bawang communities, for their range of personal care products.

In the scientific world, the name of this local plant is Litsea cubeba.  It is known by these communities for culinary and healing purposes. The essential oil, or Litsara, from the leaves and fruits have anti-microbial properties.

So, before you start cutting down the trees or weeding your backyard or clearing your farm, pause. Because who knows? The cure for cancer might just be in your backyard. Just a thought.

Visit Sarawak Biodiversity Center’s website at for more information.

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