Has anyone told you that Tongkat Ali herbal root is quintessentially Malaysian?
What has been used by indigenous people for centuries is now a global household name. You may refer to it in English as “Long Jack” although many locals refer to it as Malaysian Ginseng.
A big part of this growing demand is due to the advancement of science, innovation and continuous human clinical trials to validate its wide range of health benefits.
Tongkat Ali root comes in various forms (eg: capsules or infused in tea or coffee) and widely consumed as part of a natural diet and a healthy lifestyle in recent years.
Strict regulations set by the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) under the Ministry of Health Malaysia has enabled Tongkat Ali to be sold traditional medicine and exported overseas.
Do you know Tongkat Ali is used in functional food, performance ingredients for sports and daily dietary supplements?
There are many untold stories and here we unravel everything you need to know about Tongkat Ali in Malaysia.
Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma Longifolia) is mainly found in remote rainforests of Malaysia, Indonesia and some parts of Southern Thailand.
Malaysia is the largest net exporter of Tongkat Ali in the world, with world consumption of more than 70%.
Tongkat Ali came from the Malay word which means Ali’s crutch or stick.
Three types of Tongkat Ali which are sold in the market today:
- Yellow Tongkat Ali – Eurycoma Longifolia
- Black Tongkat Ali – Polyalthia Bullata
- Red Tongkat Ali – Stema Tuberosa
If you are not an avid reader or rushing for time, here is a quick video that summarizes everything that you need to know about Tongkat Ali in less than 90 seconds.
Tongkat Ali demand is growing in line with herbal sales
The reason behind the growing popularity of Tongkat Ali herb from Malaysia bogs down to many factors such as its versatility, efficacy and proven health benefits.
Now, here is a bigger picture.
There is a growing trend among consumers seeking better health protection. With rising medical costs and the side-effect from non-organic supplements, consumers are seeking better and more proven alternatives in recent years.
Plant-based diets and natural products have been on the rise, and the US sales figures showed an increasing trend against the backdrop of escalating healthcare costs in recent years.
In fact, The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 1 out 5 people have used herbal products as dietary supplements or to improve health.
Here are some facts behind the flourishing herbal market.
of the global population relies on natural and herbal supplements.
herbal sales were recorded in the US, and growing.
decline in your testosterone and immune system as you age.
In addition, paranoia and fear over the global pandemic have now fueled demand for more herbal supplements.
As our immunity system demands greater protection to fight unknown viruses, herbal supplements on Amazon have recorded spikes in online sales.
17 out of 20 vitamin category products sold on Amazon
Herbal supplements such as Tongkat Ali is seen as a viable alternative to Panax Ginseng and other root-based herbs in recent years. As the online market place is bustling with sellers with aggressive marketing claims, most if not all Tongkat Ali products sold on Amazon today originate from two main countries – Malaysia and Indonesia.
on the keyword “Tongkat Ali” found on Amazon.com
on the keyword “Long Jack” found on Amazon.com
When was Tongkat Ali first discovered in Malaysia?
Tongkat Ali had a long history in Malaysia.
It is believed the first Tongkat Ali discovered in Malaysia dated as far the early 1100s although there were no documented records to show sufficient evidence.
The first documented evidence was seen on a Tongkat Ali painting belonging to Major General William Farquhar, who was the Rajah of Malacca (a state in Malaysia) between 1803 to 1818.
The honorable man was also the first British Resident and Commandant of Singapore during the same period.
The painting of Tongkat Ali belonging to General William Farquhar signifies the importance of the plant in the 1800s.
He was believed to be one the first Scottish to receive such a gift from the locals when the British landed their foothold in Malaysia in 1786.
It was believed by the locals that Tongkat Ali was a symbol of power for primal men, with its close association with masculinity and virility.
The painting of Tongkat Ali plant is now stored and kept safely at the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings in Singapore as evidence of recognition in medicinal herbs.
Behind the word "Tongkat Ali"
It was the plant’s root that gave birth to the word “Tongkat” (i.e. a Malay word for stick),
The word “Tongkat” was seen as a symbol of masculinity and power for primal men. The usage of a walking stick amongst older state men (and rich people) was also a common sight back in 1800-1900s.
In the Asian culture where metaphors are frequently used in local conversations and folklores, the word “Tongkat” or stick was also analogous to a hard erection for men.
On the other hand, the word “Ali” was a common Muslim surname in Malaysia when Islam first arrived in Southeast Asia between 1160-1451s by the Gujaratis from India.
As Malaysia’s majority population are Muslim Malays, the term “Tongkat Ali” was easily accepted even within the Chinese and Indian community in their daily trading or business activities.
From traditional medicine to modern science...
Back in the early days before modern science, Tongkat Ali is widely consumed by Malaysians to treat many types of illnesses such as flu, cold and others.
Every corner shop in Malaysia sells traditional herbs including Tongkat Ali and this tradition has been infused into Malaysians healthy diet for centuries.
The recent global pandemic showed Malaysia as one of the countries with a high recovery rate against COVID19 (of more than 93%). This trend and longevity have been closely linked with Malaysian’s long-term natural diet, alongside with less dependency on processed food compared to developed countries.
It is not surprising to see a 100-year-old man effortlessly paddling his trade or working daily, hidden away in the nook and crannies of bustling city life in Malaysia.
Tongkat Ali’s unique position as one of the popular herb besides Ginseng is due to a unique bioactive compound – known as quassinoids, found by scientists to heal and improve health.
The other major bioactive compounds are the most potent in its roots which include eurycomaoside, eurycolactone, eurycomalactone, eurycomanone.
Here are quick facts about Tongkat Ali:
What are Quassinoids?
Quassinoids is a group of biologically potent substances named after a compound first found in plants from the genus Quassia (Simarouba amara) in the family of Simaroubaceae, where Eurycoma Longifolia belongs to.
Eurycomanone and eurycomanol are derived from highly oxygenated quassinoids, the most bioactive compounds from Tongkat Ali plants responsible for various potential health benefits.
Proven Health Benefits Backed By Science
Potential health benefits from Tongkat Ali is wide-ranging and often reported by independent research institutions and organizations around the world – from USA, Japan, South Africa, Korea and Malaysia.
The well known Physta® Tongkat Ali (which was developed in Malaysia) was extensively subjected to rigorous clinical trials using human test subjects (and placebo group) to measure various health benefits.
Some of these notable and credible organizations involved in the Tongkat Ali research below have thus attracted larger pharmaceutical companies to scale-up production in other parts of the world.
Summary of Potential Health Benefits Backed By Science:
- Increases the Production of Testosterone
- Improves Sexual Health & Libido
- Improve Strength, Muscle & Physical Activities
- Promote Loss of Weight & Body Fat
- Potential Treatment for Osteoporosis
- Anti-Cancer properties to aid Cancer Treatment
- Reduce Stress, Anger & Improve Mood
- Enhancing the Immune System
- Potentially Reduce Blood Sugar Level
- Reduction in Blood Pressure
- Anti Inflammatory, Anti Bacterial and Parasitic Agent
- Exhibits Anti-Ulcer Properties
Access our full article and scientific studies here.
If you are not aware, there are more than 150 scientific papers published to date on Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma Longifolia). And most of these papers comes from joint collaboration between Malaysia scientists and other countries.
Most scientific studies are published in trusted journals such as Journal of Sexual Medicine, Asian Journal of Andrology and many others.
Search results on Google Scholar based on the keyword “Eurycoma Longifolia” produced 4,540 results!
Now, for those who are obsessed with the discovery of this natural aphrodisiac from the virgin jungle, there are three distinct types of Tongkat Ali – Yellow Tongkat Ali, Red Tongkat Ali, Black Tongkat Ali. Yellow Tongkat Ali, or better known as the Malaysian ginseng has a bitter taste with a hint of the ginseng smell.
Yellow Tongkat Ali is commonly used for commercialization due to its potency, well-researched health benefits, safety and availability.
The Black and Red Tongkat Ali are rarely found or harvested due to its consistently high level of mercury and lead – which is detrimental to health over medium to long term.
This explains why 90% of the Tongkat Ali available in the global market today is Yellow Tongkat Ali (as shown below).
Read our comprehensive review on Yellow Tongkat Ali vs. Black Tongkat Ali vs. Red Tongkat Ali before making your first purchase. Protect your health!
Malaysia is the best natural home to Tongkat Ali
Former British colony of 32 million people, Malaysia has been a natural home for Tongkat Ali due to its rich bio-diversity with some of the oldest tropical rainforests in the world.
Experts have found that the tropical rainforests in Malaysia have existed for 130 million years – making it older than the Amazon and the Congo.
Scientists found more than 185,000 species of fauna and 12,500 species of flowering plants in Malaysia and other deeper parts of Borneo. The forest reserves such as the Royal Belum State Park in Perak, was even recognized by the UNESCO World Heritage as being some of the oldest forests in the world.
There is a reason many believe that the best Long Jack products available in the market today are sourced from Tongkat Ali manufacturers in Malaysia.
Find out 5 reasons why Tongkat Ali in Malaysia is highly sought after here.
Being home to the oldest tropical rainforest has one unique advantage, as the soils are rich with nutrients and minerals known to humankind and is perfect for the proliferation of Tongkat Ali plants.
Although technically Tongkat Ali can grow in other tropical climate countries, the best Tongkat Ali plants grow more efficiently in its natural habitat which is abundant in natural minerals sourced from natural clean water.
The natural minerals found in soils unique to some of the deep rainforests in Malaysia is free from human contamination and pollutants that may decrease the amount or the quality of bio-active compounds found in the Tongkat Ali roots.
An ideal environment for thriving Tongkat Ali plants requires well-drained soil with a high organic matter content coupled with an annual rainfall of 2,000-3,000 mm in the optimal temperature range of 25–30ºC. For that, Malaysia provides the perfect tropical climate year on year.
Is Tongkat Ali From Malaysia the best?
Tongkat Ali from Malaysia is touted as the best due to quality soil composition (away from contaminants), years of experience, massive science and innovation from the public and private sector.
This makes Malaysian Tongkat Ali the best in terms of potency and safety.
But there are a few things you need to know.
Regardless of the wide range of marketing claims out there, no two roots of Tongkat Ali plants can produce the same level of potency.
Each root contains different levels of quassinoids and bio-active compounds of eurycomanone, eurycolactone, polysaccharide, glycosaponin and others.
So how do we measure the level of potency in Tongkat Ali?
A high-quality extraction process from Tongkat Ali such as Physta® patented extraction technology can produce one of the highest levels of specification such as the one below.
Eurycomanone is a major bio-active chemical found which is unique to Tongkat Ali. It belongs to the quassinoid molecule family structure and have been widely reported by reseachers due to its potential role as antiplasmodial, anticancer, anti-HIV and other pharmacological benefits.
Saponins are chemical compounds that are widely found in a range of natural plants including Tongkat Ali. Saponin is used in vaccine formulations to regulate immune function. Studies showed that saponin reduces cholesterol levels, kill disease-causing bacteria, scavenge oxidative stress and inhibit tumor growth.
Polysaccharides are polymeric carbohydrates that are mainly used for storing energy and providing support to cells and tissues. Studies have shown that sulfate polysaccharides exhibit immunomodulatory, antitumor, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antiviral activities including anti-HIV infection, herpes, and hepatitis viruses.
Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma Longifolia) contains a natural plant-based protein that is safe and can be used to supplement our daily protein intake. Most Tongkat Ali plants found in Malaysia contain 0.3868 and 0.9573 mg mL(-1) of crude protein, making it ideal for vegans who are seeking for alternative source of plant-based protein.
Different extraction methods utilized such as the freeze-dried water extract method make for a significant and noticeable difference in the benefits for those seeking premium Tongkat Ali products. Only a few manufacturers in Malaysia have been accredited and followed these practices closely to ensure quality production of Tongkat Ali root extracts.
For more sophisticated and advanced quality control of Tongkat Ali, chromatographic fingerprint technology is also now adopted by selected extraction facilities in Malaysia to assess the quality of Tongkat Ali during preliminary selection (i.e. right after harvesting) before the root undergoes the extraction process.
This form of standardization beyond marketing gimmicks of 200:1, 100:1 and 50:1 have undoubtedly strengthened the reputation of Tongkat Ali or Long Jack among consumers in the marketplace. These stringent quality steps are what distinguishes a premium Tongkat Ali extract from the common Tongkat Ali products found in the market, especially in Amazon!
So don’t trust every drop shipper you find on Amazon? You can buy direct high quality Tongkat Ali from the source.
If you want quality, let it grow
The best practice for harvesting a quality Tongkat Ali is between 3 to 5 years. Most Tongkat Ali plants at 2-3 years of age are found to start flowering and bearing fruit where the plant begins to mature steadily.
Although the plant can be harvested early at this age, the root is fully developed and there will be potential challenges in extracting the best bio-active compounds from the plant.
So yes, a highly potent is from a 5-year old or older Tongkat Ali plant.
Given the right conditions, Yellow Tongkat Ali plants can grow as high as 15 meters, about five to six times the average height of humans. The root is yellowish in nature, and requires manual hand tools to unearth the roots from the ground.
If you are an enthusiast, the expected potential yield for fresh Tongkat Ali roots per plant from an open field is between 0.75 to 1.7 kg. This is the estimated yield from Tongkat Ali plants, harvested 4 to 5 years after planting. Well, some roots can weigh as much as 4 kilos depending on age.
Do you know that most of the root selection and “up-rooting” are hand-performed manually without needing complex machineries? Well you do not want to cause damage to the forests or neighbouring plants.
The Tongkat Ali plants are generally harvested and chopped into manageable chunks on site before hand-carried to the nearest collection centres. The best part of the whole process is that it takes two to three people to complete the harvesting steps from the deep rainforest.
ABC News made extensive coverage on Tongkat Ali in Malaysia years ago and you should watch this amazing video!
Is Malaysian Tongkat Ali better than Indonesian Tongkat Ali?
Yes, and lets iron out the facts.
Malaysian Tongkat Ali contains lower level of heavy metals such as lead and mercury compared to Indonesian Tongkat Ali. Higher mercury or lead is harmful to your health.
Now, Tongkat Ali needs soil to grow.
According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, soil pollutants can contribute by industrial activities (eg: mining), domestic waste disposal, land disposal, agrochemicals, irrigation and atmosphere.
As with other natural plant-based diet, location and soil composition to grow Tongkat Ali matter as it absorbs the right nutrients without having to absorb other toxic chemicals from the soil.
This is why Tongkat Ali from Malaysia is regarded to be as more superior and safer than Tongkat Ali from Indonesia.
Malaysia is home to thousands of flora and fauna, with most of the natural rainforests remained untouched for millions of years.
Now, there are specific locations in Malaysia where the best Tongkat Ali are harvested – typically deep in the rainforests, away from human contamination and pollution. With Malaysian Standards and strict regulations by the Government, the locations where Tongkat Ali is harvest in the wild are extremely remote and located hundreds of miles away from any industrial activities or human contaminants.
Conversely, Indonesia is notorious for its unregulated and growing gold mining activities that cause massive pollution to the natural ecosystem.
Believe it or not, it is estimated that there are more than 180,000 artisanal and small-scale gold mining locations in Indonesia, an industry worth USD 5 billion with more than 300,000 workers involved in legal and illegal gold mining activities.
This has resulted in high mercury content found in most soils in Indonesia.
Here are some studies to validate the findings:
- High mercury contamination with levels exceeding international regulatory limits was discovered by scientists and affected the soil, plants and natural environment in Indonesia. This study was published in 2019
- High mercury contamination was found by scientists in gold mining region of Indonesia in 2015.
So, would you drink water from the ground that contains high level of mercury?
Well, you know the answer. But remember that plants have no choice!
Tongkat Ali absorbs all the good, bad and the ugly ingredients from the soil in order for it to grow.
And it is us (i.e humans) to be ensure that Tongkat Ali plants are free of contaminants or soil pollutants that can be harmful to health.
So, you may want to think twice when buying Tongkat Ali from Indonesia.
Malaysia's sustainable harvesting of Tongkat Ali is for future generations
As Tongkat Ali is a rare valuable commodity, preserving it becomes increasingly important. The Malaysian Government has placed policies and guidelines on sustainability since early 2008.
Unlike Indonesia, sustainable harvesting of Tongkat Ali is widely adopted by plantation owners in Malaysia since it’s the commercialization of Tongkat Ali by the private-public sector collaboration.
It means these plants are not harvested in an open field harvesting nor require deforestation – unlike palm oil, rubber and others.
The sustainability is practiced in every touch points – from harvesting techniques, replantation programmes, employment and education opportunities for the local indigenous communities that are involved directly in every step of the value chain of Tongkat Ali production.
For the same reasons behind the affection of hand-rolled Cuban cigars or fine whiskey from the Hebridean Island of Islay, Malaysian Tongkat Ali comes with exceptional quality that makes a difference to your health.
It started from humble beginnings hundreds of years ago. Thanks to modern science, innovation and commitment from the Government and wider acceptance, Tongkat Ali now has evolved into a global household name.
Whilst each Tongkat Ali root is unique, this article is written to remind us that the best health can be gained from natural sources – only if we know how to harness the benefits effectively and sustainably.
With the advancement of herbal extraction technology such as freeze-drying, only a few Tongkat Ali brands or suppliers in Malaysia can offer superior and proven health benefits to our body.
You can try one here and feel the difference.
Naressa Khan contributes regularly on AKARALI. As a writer and journalist, Naressa is all about creating, deconstructing, and reassembling meanings through words. With this approach always in mind, she eagerly explores the nuances in life via the aspects of lifestyle, culture, travel, health, and wellness in Malaysia .
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