Since very small we were taught by our parents and grandparents on how to survive anywhere. Most lessons were hands on, given impromptu and done due to necessity. We were told on what we can find in the bushes that is edible, what is not, what is dangerous and what can be helpful to be used as medicines in times of need or emergency. Such lessons were possible because we will be asked to follow our elders into the bushes or even forests to help them with some chores. My own children wont even dare venture into the bushes for fear of the dreaded leeches.
On the way we will be pointed anything relevant as the elders think necessary for us to know. There were those red berries which are sweet and nice to eat. We call them 'mata ayam' which translates literally to 'chicken's eye' or 'mata itek' (duck's eye) in some places. These are not fillling but more for keeping the young ones occupied on long walks before reaching a destination. Remember we used to walk long distances to visit relatives in the olden days when only walking tracks and not roads were available. Only the very rich can own cars and what is the use of a car when there is not even a road leading to the place? Later in life my father taught me the young shoots of 'mata ayam' is one of the best ulam around.
The 'mata ayam'
To keep us awake during long walks in the bush my mum will show us the young shoots of 'pokok asam gelugor' the fruit of which is used to make 'asam keping' necessary ingredients in some malay dishes like the 'ikan singgang' or 'masak asam pedas'. The shoots of 'asam gelugor' is very sour but nontheless edible. We will pick some and chew while walking. They will definitely keep tired child awake during long walks.
The 'gelugor' shoot
Certain less fertile areas gave rise to 'kamunting' bushes which produces edible berries all year round too. You must split the berry to eat the sweet blackish flesh inside. Again it wont be filling but at least you will forget the hunger that you might feel along a the long walk before any semblance of food can be had at your destinations. By the way people in Malaysia know more of Kamunting as the detention camp in Taiping where political opponents are detained without trial. ISA was established to detain people who are a threat to the country. Some threats.
It is the medicinal plants especially those that can be used to stop bleeding that I remember most. Being children we are always playful and grab anything that looks pretty. The triangular stemmed sedges with razor sharp stems can easily cut our fingers when they grazed our fingers the wrong way. Broken glasses can easily cut our barefoot. Split bamboo can cut our tender skin when we need to cross one thats blocking our path. Under such circumstances herbal medicines are used to stop the bleeding and close the gap and compress the cut till proper bandages are found.
My late grandfather would immediately look for 'keladi colek' to press out the juice from the stem and apply it on the cut. Later the skin of the long stem will be made into thin strips and used as bandage. In this way bleeding is compressed and further infection is checked.
The ripe fruit is loved by birds.
Sometimes neighbours and friends can teach us a lesson or two on how to stop a cut from prolonged bleeding.
When we wre living in Kuala Krai, my son Azrin was only 6 years old. Boys of such an age are always playful. When we go to work, he and his younger brother Azuan and even younger sister Azini were left to their minder who lived next door to our rented home.One day we came home to see a patch of whitish greenish paste on his head and blood on his shirt but he wasn't crying from any pain. Our neighbours immediately came to tell us that Azrin fell while playing on a horizontal pole used by the neighbour to hang their clothes to dry. He fell head first and his head grazed the concrete edge of the floor causing a nasty gash. He told us that he had applied 'daun kapalterbang' mashed with 'kapur' (lime). I was relieved to know that the treatment worked. So now I can vouch for the efficacy of 'daun kapalterbang' as a cut medicine. 'Pokok kapalterbang' (sorry I havent found the botanical name of this shrub yet. Hopefully our budding biologist Akmal can help) grows in abundance in tropical Malaysia. A check around my house shows an abundance of it. So beside my trusted 'minyak gamat' (sea cucumber oil) from Langkawi, I can always fall for 'daun kapalterbang' as a cut medicine.
A young 'pokok kapalterbang'
Another incident that I can use to support the efficacy of this plant as a cut medicine was this trip to Gunung Stong in Dabong, Kuala Krai, Kelantan sometimes in 1996. (Gunung Stong is renowned as the highest cascading waterfall in South East Asia). I was taking a group of Italian tourists up to Camp Baha for an overnight trip. There were 10 tourists half of them were females some of whom were wearing shorts. Before the hike up I warned them of leeches and advised them to spray insecticide to prevent the leeches from picking their meal on them. I demostrated by lavishly spraying Baygon on the lower part of my body even on the exposed skin. The tourists were skeptic about using chemicals on any part of their body and prefer to go without it. It was their choice.
It was a rainy day and the leeches were really active in that weather. So from time to time we stopped to check for leeches. Everyone declared themselves clear of the pest. When we reached Baha Camp, we stopped and prepared for the night. Of course by then the leeches had had their fill and dropped off. It is that easy with leeches. Just let them have their fill and they will and drop off. They will leave a note of thank you on your body by the tell tale bleeding and itch. The anticoagulant that the leech injected into your body will ensure that your blood will not coagulate while the leech is a having its feed. The anticoagulant will ensure too that the bleeding will continue even after the sucker is long gone. Another reminder of the leeches' visit is the continuos itching that follows sometimes lasting for years especially for those with sensitive skins. A scar is sometimes discernible for life especially on fairl skinned people.
As for the Italians in the group with me, a male had a leech bite on his leg and he let me apply the readily available 'daun kapalterbang' on the bleeding spot and forgot about it till later. Another female had a bite at the crotch. Leeches seems to know where is the juicest place to find on a female. I guess it must be a male one. She of course wouldn't believe on my herbs and definitely won't let me have the pleasure of applying anything be it herbs or otherwise where the leech had the double pleasures.
We did carry a pack of first aid containing cut medicine with bandages, plasters and diarhoea tablets as essentials on such a trip. Her boy friend took the first aid and proceeded to one of the chalets where they would sleep for the night. There he applied the yellow flavine, the only cut medicine we had in the pack.
Everything was forgotten until the next when we descended the to the foot of the hill and reached Kuala Krai.. The lady with the leechbite was complaining of the nonstop bleeding where the leech had bitten her. The other male who had the herb applied on his leg then looked at his own spot of the leech bite and happily exclaimed that his bleeding had stopped a long time ago. Infact he even forgot about it. He sopke in Italian telling the other lady to have the same herbs applied. I told you the plant grows everywhere. Spotting it, I took some leaves and gave it to her. We found a public toilet and they went in to apply the herbs.
'Pokok kapalterbang' growing in abundance near my house in Pasir Mas.
Now I have ten Italian believers in the goodness of 'daun kapalterbang' as the best cut medicine which is free.
Another special plant is the 'sireh' the betel leaves (Arecapiper) whose leaf is often chewed after applying a dash of lime and sliced betelnut (areca catechu). Gambir is also added. When chewed a dark colored saliva juice will be produced. Spitting it out regularly of course will dirty up a place.
My late grand father used to blow the concoction on my eyes when I hand conjunctivities (sakit mata) and I tell you thats all that I need to have it treated.
Another use of the arecapiper is to stop nasal bleeding. An incident to relate to this was when I had a group of young french boys on my trip way back in 1996, I brought them to the waterfall in Blok Ulu Kusial Tanah Merah, Kelantan. The picture of the small fall is used in my header for this blog. The boys were about 16 and 17 years old. They were accompanied by their own male nurse by the name of Benoit. While there, many climbed up to the top of the waterfall and dived into the cool clear water from a height of about 10 ft. One of them was of poor eyesight without glasses. Of course he cant wear glasses in doing such stunts. he slipped and his head must have hit the rock as he later was bleeding from one of his nostrils. The male nurse was adamant to treat him his way by washing up and applying whatever medicine he brought along as first aid. The bleeding didnt stop.
My crew and the locals wanted the boy brought down to the village quite a few kilometers away. We had to use harsh words to bring Benoit to senses. Since we had to trek down quite a difficult track including crossing of small rivers with boulders, a temporary stretcher was constructed. Four of the biggest guys were needed to carry him as he was quite a big boy.
Upon reaching the village, one of the village elders found some betel leaves, rolled it up and carefully push it into his bleeding nose while chanting a prayer. After a few short minutes, the leaves was pulled out. Viola, the bleeding stopped. Benoit's stance now changed to respect of the locals and our ways since his way didnt work. He asked for some leaves to take it home to France.
The 'Sireh' or betel leaves.
I am wondering why are we not harvesting and extracting this wonderful medicine from these plants such as the 'daun kapalterbang' and 'sireh' which is growing in abundance in Malaysia? Akmal of the blogsite Wiseup should wiseup to this, being a student of biology himself. He could be the next millionaire of Kelantan producing cut medicine for war torn countries of the world who need medicine badly and are daily exposed to bombs and missiles both from the unfriendly enemies and the friendly armies as well.