The American Botanical Council (ABC) recently announced the adoptions of two herbs through its Adopt-an-Herb Program: monk fruit (Siraitia grosvenorii, Cucurbitaceae) by Layn, a natural ingredients company headquartered in Shanghai, China; and tongkat ali (Eurycoma longifolia, Simaroubaceae) by Biotropics Malaysia, a manufacturer and supplier of botanical extracts and dietary supplement ingredients based in Shah Alam, Selangor, Malaysia.
Through these adoptions, Layn and Biotropics Malaysia help ABC expand its nonprofit educational mission and keep its unique HerbMedPro database updated with the latest scientific and clinical research on monk fruit and tongkat ali. HerbMedPro is a comprehensive, interactive online database that provides access to important scientific and clinical research data on the uses and health effects of approximately 250 medicinal and aromatic plants.
Layn Adopts Monk Fruit
“We are honored to adopt monk fruit through the Adopt-an-Herb Program,” said Shaun Richmond, vice president of Layn USA, which is based in Newport Beach, California. “We look forward to working with ABC to help advance the research and provide more education about this important botanical.”
“Monk fruit has been used for centuries both for its sweet flavor and for its medicinal properties,” Richmond continued. “We are excited to help bring more information to light about its unique compounds, applications, benefits, and sustainable agricultural practices.”
ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal added: “At a time when consumers are seeking safe, natural, non-caloric sweeteners, monk fruit has entered the market as an additional option to help satisfy the large public demand. ABC is grateful to Layn for its adoption of monk fruit on ABC’s HerbMedPro database. Layn’s adoption provides the funding to help ABC keep up with the published scientific literature, thereby helping to make the science on this botanical more readily available to researchers and the public.”
About Monk Fruit
Monk fruit, or luo han guo in Chinese, is a perennial vine in the Cucurbitaceae (gourd) botanical family that is grown primarily in the autonomous region of Guangxi in southern China, mostly in the mountains near the city of Guilin. The plant is prized for its fruits, which are used for medicinal purposes and contain compounds used as natural, low-calorie sweetening agents. The sweet taste of monk fruit comes primarily from mogrosides, a group of triterpene glycosides. (The compound mogroside V is approximately 250 times sweeter than sucrose, or common table sugar.) Monk fruit also contains high amounts of amino acids, fructose, vitamins, and minerals. In traditional Chinese medicine, the dried fruit and leaf of monk fruit are used to treat a variety of respiratory conditions.
Layn is a global leader in the vertically integrated production of premium-quality natural sweeteners, flavors, and botanicals. For more than two decades, Layn has led the natural sweetener industry with innovative ingredients designed to meet the specific needs of global food, beverage, and pharmaceutical manufacturers. Layn’s portfolio of monk fruit, stevia (Stevia rebaudiana, Asteraceae) extracts, and other functional botanicals delivers superior taste profiles, according to the company, with a focus on sustainability and proprietary formulations to best satisfy a broad range of customer-specific applications. Layn’s long-term relationships with its farmers and its support for local communities are an integral part of the company’s success.
Biotropics Malaysia Adopts Tongkat Ali
“When ABC offered us an opportunity to ‘adopt an herb’…, we felt honored to take up the task,” wrote Azreena Abas, marketing and technical specialist at Biotropics Malaysia. “HerbMedPro is a great resource for the herbal industry and community in the US (globally too) and allows for proper dissemination of credible information on tongkat ali.”
According to Abas, Malaysian tongkat ali is popular as an energy drink among the local aborigines and as a postpartum concoction. “It has evolved into a high-value herbal ingredient for supplements and health foods for both men and women,” she wrote. “A lot of misconceptions have arisen from inappropriate claims and use [and from adulterated products labeled to contain tongkat ali], so setting the information straight through a credible avenue provided by ABC … would be the best way to preserve the ‘right’ identity for Malaysian tongkat ali.”
Abas added: “We hope to showcase the best of Malaysia’s biodiversity through one of its treasures, the tongkat ali plant. The [body of research on] this plant is growing and we hope to have more people engaged in the practice of consuming tongkat ali and ethically commercializing the plant, using legitimate information such as [that] found on HerbMedPro.”
Blumenthal said: “ABC is grateful to the people of Biotropics Malaysia for their adoption of tongkat ali on ABC’s HerbMedPro database. Their adoption allows ABC to stay current on all of the new scientific and clinical publications on tongkat ali in peer-reviewed journals for the benefit of international researchers, educators, and industry members. Tongkat ali has become popular in the past decade, in part due to the growing body of scientific research on this interesting medicinal plant. Currently, thanks to Biotropics Malaysia, there are more than 175 scientific articles compiled on the tongkat ali record in HerbMedPro.”
About Tongkat Ali
Tongkat ali is a slender, spindly tree or shrub in the botanical family Simaroubaceae that is native to and widely distributed in Southeast Asia. In Malaysia, the tree can be found in coastal forests with sandy soil and in higher-elevation dipterocarp forests (tall-tree forests in Southeast Asia) at about 1,000 meters (3,281 feet). However, widespread harvesting has reportedly depleted wild populations of tongkat ali.
The tree can grow to between 15 and 18 meters (49 and 59 feet) tall with a large, dense, umbrella-like rosette of compound leaves. The Malaysian common name tongkat ali translates to “Ali’s staff,” “Ali’s root,” or “Ali’s umbrella.” There are many other regional names for the species.
Traditionally, root preparations of the plant have been used as a male aphrodisiac, to treat general sexual dysfunction, and to help older adults adapt to the decreased energy, mood, and libido that come with age. Root preparations may help restore hormonal balance (e.g., testosterone and cortisol levels) and lessen risks associated with “andropause” such as osteoporosis. Root preparations have also traditionally been used to treat fever and malaria, among other conditions. In addition, leaf preparations have reportedly been used to soothe itches, the fruits have been used to treat dysentery, and the bark has been used as a vermifuge (to expel parasites).
Tongkat ali is mainly used for its roots, which requires harvesting the entire plant. This has caused concerns about the long-term sustainability of the species. In Malaysia, the species is afforded some legal protection, but there are concerns that it may become extinct without increased cultivation and replanting efforts.
Tongkat ali roots are still sourced from the wild because these materials are considerably less costly than materials from field planting or integrated planting (in which tongkat ali is cultivated with other plants). However, government-established herbal cultivation parks in Pahang and Terengganu states will supplement ongoing tongkat ali cultivation at other established sites throughout the country.
About Biotropics Malaysia
Biotropics Malaysia was incorporated in 2007 to develop and commercialize the country’s bio-resources into reliable natural health products. The company’s mission is to turn yesterday’s traditional approach to health and well-being into tomorrow’s innovative health solutions by verifying time-honored traditions with modern science.
Biotropics Malaysia’s products include proprietary standardized extracts, natural dietary supplements, and ingredients for nutraceutical, functional food, and so-called “cosmeceutical” applications. In addition, the company continuously develops herbal medicines and botanical drugs. It produces Physta, a patented, standardized, clinically studied, water-soluble extract of the roots of tongkat ali. According to the company, Physta has been clinically shown to be able to support hormonal balance, combat stress and anxiety, and improve vitality, quality of life, sexual health, energy, strength, body measurements, and immunity.
The company has incorporated a tongkat ali sustainability program within its supply chain to ensure seedling replenishment during its collection practice with the Orang Asli indigenous people. This program is supported by the Ministry of Agriculture, the Department of Orang Asli Development, and the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia.
About Adopt-an-Herb and HerbMedPro
Layn and Biotropics Malaysia are two of the 50 companies that have supported ABC’s educational efforts to collect, organize, and disseminate reliable, traditional, and science-based information, including clinical studies, on herbs, medicinal plants, and other botanical- and fungal-based ingredients through the Adopt-an-Herb program. This program encourages companies, organizations, and individuals to “adopt” one or more specific herbs for inclusion and ongoing maintenance in the HerbMedPro database. To date, 56 herbs have been adopted.
Each adopted herb is continuously researched for new scientific articles and pharmacological, toxicological, and clinical studies, ensuring that its HerbMedPro record stays current and robust. The access to the studies is conveniently organized by type of publication, with each study condensed to a one-sentence summary with a link to each study’s official abstract on PubMed (the US National Library of Medicine’s free-access database) or another publicly accessible database.
HerbMedPro is available to ABC members at the Academic level and higher. Its “sister” site, HerbMed, is available to the general public at no cost, and provides access to 25-30 herb records from HerbMedPro. In keeping with ABC’s position as an independent research and education organization, herb adopters do not influence the scientific information that is compiled for their respective adopted herbs.