Tuesday, July 15, 2003


YVONNE LEE SHU YEE visits a nursery and finds herbs with all sorts of curative qualities.

THESE days, sicknesses, syndromes and stress make good health much sought after. Whilst many resort to pill popping, some become fervent followers of herbal power. Along the green belt of Sungai Buloh in Selangor, the Pandarosa nursery is a popular haunt for herbal enthusiasts.

With trucks plying along the main road into nearby industrial areas, the dust and noise are in stark contrast to Pandarosa’s peaceful herb haven. The overhead signboard “Your Journey to Good Health” greets the visitor. Once inside, the drone of traffic trails off. Instead, there is a calming ripple from the fountain, the welcoming sight of greenery and sweet scent of soothing herbs.

At the tea table, three Germans are sipping dandelion tea whilst discussing herbal choices for certain illnesses with the herbal guru. Pandarosa’s Tan Hock Peng said in jest that herbs are in his veins. Well, even his initials HP Tan can mean Herbal Plant Tan.

Tan’s “affair” with herbs began from his passion and belief that God created everything with a purpose. “Plants are not just food for man but also remedies for various illnesses,” he said.

History shows that healing with herbs was practised by the Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese and Indians.

Tan’s interest in herbs has an “accidental” beginning. His parents were poor and couldn’t afford to consult doctors. When he had a recurring ear infection, someone told his mother to give him some leaves that miraculously cured his infection. Forty-five years later, he discovered that the leaves he took actually had medicinal value.

Through a course he took in Universiti Pertanian Malaysia, he came across the same leaves that cured his ear infection. Called Saxifagra, the leaves have been documented to contain plant compounds that destroy pus-forming bacteria and cure ear infections.

That discovery further fuelled his interest in herbs and their medicinal properties. He divulged: “Many decorative plants and even roadside weeds have medicinal value. Only we do not know their usage. But with more scientific research on herbs, we are learning the medicinal properties.”

According to a herbal expert in Lausanne, Switzerland: “Eighty per cent of the world’s population uses medicinal plants. In developed countries, about 36% of prescription drugs are of natural origin and over 50% of over-the-counter drugs are of plant origin. In the last decade, the use of products based on medicinal plants has doubled in Western Europe. Plants have always been and will always be a source of our medicines. Herbs are beautiful chemical factories that can produce up to 10,000 different chemicals.”

Seeing a chick and a cat roaming in his nursery, I jested if his pets are into herbs too. That got him started on an amusing rat tale. “You wouldn’t believe it but rats can find antidotes here! Restaurant owners poisoned the pests. While some died, the setengah mati (half dead) ones found their way to my nursery and chewed only this herb.” He pointed at the fenced-up pots of herb with chewed-up leaves.

I recall seeing stray cats and dogs chewing grass and after swallowing the plant fluids, they spat out the green mess and went off feeling perhaps better. It could be possible that these animals knew something about detoxification.

Indeed, nature has its secrets. Tan showed me plants with shapes that look like the organ which they supposedly treat. Pointing at a Ficus deltoide or cotek mas plant, popularly known as the “female Viagra”, he turned a leaf over and showed me its veins that resembled the womb. The plant is known to improve a woman’s libido and help those with kidney and high-blood pressure problems.

The herb that Tan took for his ear infection when he was a child has the distinctive shape of the ear and is from the Saxifagra plant which the Chinese call foo yee choeh. The reniform (kidney-shaped) leaf is also used to treat skin infections, prickly heat, mouth ulcers and cough.

For the common cold, there’s the “Panadol” plant. An exceptionally bitter herb, it is what the Malays call hempedu bumi (anbrograpis) and it is also used for tonsillitis and snake bites.

Interestingly, herbs are not only for the sickly or aged. Parents have been going to the nursery to get “smart” herbs for their children preparing for examinations. Bacopa, an Ayurvedic herb, is known to enhance memory and improve concentration power with antioxidants that neutralise free radicals in brain tissues.

I tried dried Stevia leaves, which were pleasantly sweet. Tan revealed: “It is for diabetics. A natural sweetener, some beverage factories use it as a natural sweetener for diet drinks.”

The best “medicine” for all illnesses is a strong immune system. Most herbs have anti-oxidants, help boost immunity and also detoxify. The popular ones are pegaga (Centella asiatica), misai kucing (Arthosiphon species), selasih (Oscimum scantum), kacip fatimah and tongkat ali.

To incorporate herbs into our lifestyle, it would be a good idea to have a few potted herbal plants to grow at home. Remember those days when grandmother plucked ulam for the kerabu dish. Herbs like basil, local oregano, mint or coriander can be added to dishes or eaten raw with chopped chilli and soy sauce with rice. They can also be infused. Some can be pounded and used for wounds. Herbs can be dried and stuffed under your pillow as aromatheraphy packs. Some people even bathe in its infusion. Some herbs can be an insecticide when soaked in water and sprayed on other plants.

Herbs grown in our own environment create good qi. Herbs, as holistic healer Deepak Chopra defined, “are indeed packets of vibrations. They’ve ‘matching’ patterns with the systems.”

Looking at his flourishing expansive nursery, Tan explained that his passion is not that profitable. He jested: “The money I earn from you will never make me rich. And buying my herbs will also not make you poor.” Yet his determination to run Pandarosa is from his belief that God has blessed him with great health and now that he is in his golden years he should contribute to society by helping others live healthier lives through God’s creations.

His work as “nature’s pharmacist” can be laborious. It involves much research and time to constantly update his knowledge on herbs. Regularly, he scours the jungle for herbal specimens to study or cultivate besides single-handedly maintaining his organic nursery.

From harvests of 6-7kg, he gets merely 2-3kg in dried form after processing. Some herbs are packed in tea bags for the convenience of customers.

A humble person, he commented that his customers are his teachers. The regulars are aficionados who give lots of feedback from the herbs used. He also increases his knowledge with regular trips into the jungle and reading lots of herb-related books from overseas. Being experienced, he has been invited by one herbs and plants academy to take part in their research expeditions into the jungle.

Tan said there are detractors who think herbal medicine is pseudo-science. “I’ve patrons who initially thought it was hogwash. But they quietly tried the herbs and began seeing their effects on their health. They became converts! Sceptics are abundant, but I say to them, ‘Have an open mind.’ All is natural here and illnesses are treated at the root of the cause.

“How effective herbs are depends on how motivated and consistent one is. If taken correctly and consistently, one would feel its effects. Some share with others their remedies. Most patrons know of my nursery by word of mouth,” he added.

Finally, to quote European herbalist Abbe Kneipp, “There is a plant for every illness.”

The Star, 15 Julai 2003

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