Eurycoma longifolia – Tongkat Ali for strength and libido
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, Laos and India. 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.
Eurycoma 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; bidara laut (Indonesian); babi kurus (Javanese); cây bá bệnh (Vietnamese); tho nan (Laotian); lan-don, hae phan chan, phiak, plaa lai phuenk, tung saw (all Thai); “long jack” (US); langir siam (Bahrain). 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”. Older literature, such as a 1953 article in the Journal of Ecology, may cite only penawar pahit as the plant’s common Malay name.
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. 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”. (“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.
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, and much paler on the ventral side.
Inflorecense axillary, in large brownish red panicle, very pubescent with very fine, soft, granular trichomes. Flowers are hermaphrodite. Petals are small, very fine pubescent. Drupe hard, ovoid, yellowish brown when young and brownish red when ripe. The plant grows in the understorey of lowland forests, and survives on a variety of soils but prefers acidic, well-drained soil.
Eurycoma longifolia has been reported to contain the compounds eurycomanol, eurycomanone, and eurycomalactone.
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. In Vietnam, the flower and fruits are used to treat dysentery, and the root is used to treat malaria and fever. In Malaysia, a paste of the plant is applied topically to relieve headaches and stomach-aches.
In modern times, E. longifolia is generally known as an aphrodisiac. Other health benefits attributed to this plant include antimalarial, antidiabetic, antimicrobial, and antipyretic activities. There has been some scientific research carried out on E. longifolia towards analyzing its benefits. In Indonesia and Malaysia, E. longifoliahas been widely commercialized. Its root, which is highly bitter, 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, and as a testosterone booster. In the drinks market, it is a common ingredient for coffee and functional beverages positioned as energy drinks.