Herbs, Plant Extracts, Enzymes and Essential Oils: Potential Malaysian and International Markets.
Herbs, Plant Extracts, Enzymes and Essential Oils: Potential Malaysian and International Markets.<br />Mohd. Murray Hunter Centre of Communications & Entrepreneurship University Malaysia Perlis (UniMap)<br />Herbs, plant extracts, enzymes, and essential oils are all products that require agriculture production, processing, and a serious marketing effort. All these classes of products can be cultivated in Malaysia and have rapidly growing applications and international markets. Although herbs, plant extracts, enzymes and essential oils are diverse products, they share common plant based feed-stocks, however uses and markets are diverse as shown in Figure 1., The family tree of herb derivatives. Together herbs, plant extracts, enzymes, and essential oils make up a group of potential opportunities for agro-entrepreneurs.<br />This article will look at each derivate, set of products they produce and identify their potential markets locally and internationally. <br />Traditional Herbal Medicine<br />Traditional systems of therapy including Homeopathy, Natropathy, Ayurveda, Sidha, Unani, and Traditional Chinese Medicine are rapidly growing in popularity throughout the world. Every long established civilization has its own form of traditional herbal medicine. This is no different here in Malaysia, where Traditional Malay Medicine (TMM) developed from the village on what flora was available, relying on knowledge being passed down from generation to generation for Hundreds of years. This was completely by folklore, as there are no ancient texts of Malay herbal medicine known to be in existence. With the arrival of the Indian traders in the 1500’s, some knowledge based on ayurvedic medicine was passed along. The Indonesians from Aceh brought with them knowledge about urut (traditional massage), which became incorporated in the medicinal regime used by the Malays. The Chinese also passed on knowledge about reflexology and some Traditional Chinese Medicines, further enriching Traditional Malay Medicine. Today, Western herbalism, Ayurveda, Chinese herbal medicine, and North American herbalism are all flourishing and require raw and dried herbs by their many practitioners all around the world. The international market for raw herbs is over USD 1.5 Billion, of which Malaysia today is only supplying a mere trickle. <br />The largest market channel for traditional Malay herbs is now through local and foreign owned direct marketing companies. There are currently over 140 companies in Malaysia undertaking direct marketing and selling different branded versions of Malay herbs. Herbs are available as teas, tablets, capsules, balms and lotions, in cosmetics, shampoos and blended as coffees. Some companies have successfully modified their products by mixing local herbs with long established internationally recognised herbs like ginseng and aloe vera, etc. <br />Some of the most well known traditional Malay herbs are Tongkat Ali (Eurycome longfolia Jack), which is currently one of the most popular herbal medicines and is processed into teas, medicines and even coffee. The product is marketed over the country by numerous local companies. According to ethnobotanical literature, the herb is believed to be an energy booster, aphrodisiac and anti malaria remedy. Kacip Fatima (Labisia pumila) is another herb used to treat dysentery, rheumatism and womens ailments at birth. Mengkudu/Noni (Morinda citrifolia) is claimed to lower high blood pressure and lesson cancer risks. <br />Plant Extracts<br />Herbs can through various means be developed into concentrated and standardized plant extracts. These can produce a variety of products which are listed and explained in Table 1. Below. <br />Table 1: Various refined herbal products<br /> Type DefinitionNutritional SupplementVitamins which are defined as complex chemical substances that are needed for the functioning of the body, but that generally cannot be produced by the body and must therefore be obtained from food or nutraceuticalsNutraceuticalIs a product isolated or purified from foods and generally sold in medicinal forms not usually associated with food for the purpose of physiological benefits or to provide protection against illnessDietary SupplementIncludes preparations of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and mixtures of these ingredients as well as herbs and other botanicalsHerbal MedicinesIncludes herbs and traditional medicine, which means any product employed in the practice of indigenous medicine, whereby the drugs used consist of one or more naturally occurring substances of a plant, animal, or mineral or part thereof, or in extracted form or non-extracted form, or any homeopathic medicine. Indigenous MedicineIs a system of treatment and prevention of diseases involving the traditional use of naturally occurring substances. Homeopathic MedicineAny drug in a pharmaceutical dosage form that is used in the homeopathic therapeutic system in which diseases are treated by the use of minute amounts of such substances which is capable of producing in healthy persons symptoms similar to those of the disease being treated. <br />Today, the United States is still the largest supplier of supplements to Malaysia and the majority of these products are marketed through direct selling companies, pharmacies, supermarkets and Chinese Medical Halls. The most popular items are vitamins, minerals and plant extracts. Demand for health supplements is increasing dramatically, possibly linked to the growing affluence in the country and awareness of natural products. More Malaysians are taking supplements to ward off illness and maintain a good state of health. This has also resulted in many pharmaceutical companies including dietary supplements in their product ranges. <br />Plant extracts also have numerous applications in agriculture, particularly with the rapid growth of the organic market for fruit, vegetables, meats, and other manufactured products like textiles and cosmetics. For example, neem (Azadirachta indica A. Juss) is considered be many to be one of the wonder trees in our global bio-diversity. Numerous uses for this tree have been both reported and practiced by many indigenous peoples over the centuries. Neem is a major input in Thai and Indian agriculture for the production of natural insecticides at farm level. Neem contains a number of compounds of which two ‘steroid like’ molecules, azadirachtin and salanin, which exhibit very potent insect repellency attributes. Neem does not knock down insects like conventional pesticides, but rather interferes with the lifecycles, confusing them to the point they cannot reproduce and thus disappear . <br /> Neem Tree in Perlis<br />Another important group of plant extracts are Pyrethrum based products which are rapidly growing in demand for application as a pesticide in agriculture. Under most jurisdictions it is organically certifiable. Pyrethrum is extracted via solvents (usually hexane) from the flowers of Chrysanthemum cinerariifolium, which could grow well in many highland areas of Malaysia. Natural pyrethrum used to be the major active ingredient in household insecticides before the synthetic pyrethroids, which have much longer residual effects were developed. Natural Pyrethrums are non-toxic to humans and is known as one of the safest pesticides in use. <br />Pyrethrum Daisy<br />Plant extracts play an extremely important role in modern personal care and cosmetic products, from shampoo, conditioner, body wash, body lotion, and face tonics, etc. A wide range of plant extracts are used, including aloe vera, galangal, angelica, celery, green tea, hawthorn, yam, ju hua, Echinacea, gingko, witch hazel, St. John’s wort, alpine lovage, tea tree, lemon balm, mulberry, lotus, ginseng, and sage, etc., of which many can be grown and cultivated in Malaysia. <br />Enzymes<br />Enzymes are proteins that are able to catalyse chemical reactions and are an important chemical compound that supports the biological functions of all living species. Enzymes help plants, animals and humans convert substances into different molecules. The market for naturally produced industrial enzymes is in excess of USD $1.0 Billion per annum. The use of enzymes in biotechnology is expected to increase enormously in the next few years. The diversity in traditional biotech products will add more colour to the global cosmetic market. People have used them for hundreds of years and known that they work, but they haven't known how they worked. A lot of the supplier companies are investing in doing tests and evaluations to find out how and why they work, especially the European companies; the French in particular are way ahead . <br />Some base enzymes that are produced at farm level are proteases in the form of bromelase from pineapples (Ananas comosus) and papain from papaya (Carica papaya). Bromelain is really a collection of similar protease, which are good protein digesting enzymes. Papain is also good at breaking down fibrous substances. Some common enzymes and their commercial applications are shown in Table 2 below.<br />Table 2. Some Common Enzymes, Potential Sources and Other Potential Applications<br />EnzymePotential SourcesPotential ApplicationsAscorbic acid oxidaseCitrus fruits, leaf vegetables, cucumbersFruit preservation, cleaning applicationsBeta-amylaseGrains, sweet potatoes, taro, cassavaYeast productionBromelainsPineapplesFertilisers, pseudo hormones, cleaning, cosmetics, personal care, mouthwashes, skin healing, anti-acne, anti-microbialCatalaseAnimal wastes, milk wastesCosmetic, anti-ageing, oxidising ChlorophyllaseSome leaf vegetablesUV absorptionElastaseAnimal intestinesCosmetics, anti-aging GlucoxidaseSome mushrooms, mould, other fungiAnti-oxidantPapainPapayaFertilisers, wound and skin healing, mouthwashes, other cosmetics, dishwashing, all purpose cleaning<br />The use of enzymes as catalysts to produce composts and organic fertilisers is widely practiced in Australia, Europe, US, India and Thailand. In Thailand, where organic agriculture is quickly advancing, many farmers have been taught the skills and acquired the knowledge to produce their own enzymes for use as a catalyst to produce fertilisers through the fermentation process. By adding certain other ingredients into this process like the leaves and fruits of neem, citronella grass and tobacco leaves, fertiliser/insecticides can be made. Other products like Pseudo Hormones are also made using variations of the basic enzyme formula to promote flowering and the production of fruit. <br />Preparation of the enzyme base in Sabah<br />Enzymes are also becoming popular in cosmetics as active ingredients. In face scrubs, the enzymes have the properties of assisting in the removal of dried and dead skin. In mouthwashes, enzymes help breakdown food substances and maybe assist in teeth whitening. In shampoos, enzymes perform the same process as in the face scrub for dandruff removal. In dishwashing detergents and all purpose cleaners, enzymes assist detergency in removing protein, greases and other organic substances. Some enzymes are noted to have preservative qualities in their own right, lessening the reliance on preservatives like parabens. The beauty in these products are in their simplicity and naturalness, which makes them popular with consumers who appreciate them for their basic efficacy and ‘greenness’.<br />Spa Products made of Enzymes in Thailand<br />Many plants produce saponins, a steroid or triterpenoid glycoside, which have surfactant properties, such as the soapwort (Saponaria officianalis). Vegetable materials, seaweeds and oils are fermented with yeast to form natural lipids, which according to their source materials possess various properties, such as mositurising, anti-bacterial and fabric softening characteristics. With the scares about using parabens as preservatives in personal care and cosmetic products, glucose oxidase enzymes can offer some alternatives, especially with the pressure for natural ingredients.<br />Essential Oils<br />The word essential oil is often used as an umbrella term to cover a number of different natural volatile aromatic materials, although strictly speaking not all of these materials are essential oils. Natural aromatic materials can be extracted from the roots, rhizomes, wood, bark, leaves, stems, fruits, flowers and seeds, from a wide variety of plant, shrub and tree species. Different parts of the same plant may contain compounds which differ in their chemical composition, and may or may not require different methods to extract these compounds effectively. Primarily, the extraction method used determines whether the aromatic extract is called an essential oil, concrete, absolute, tincture, pomade, oleoresin, or balsam. These methods are summarized in Figure 2.<br />314554-610<br />Figure 2. The Various Methods of Natural Material Extraction and Products<br />The World farm-gate value of essential oils is approximately USD 2 Billion per annum, of which almost half are used for the production of flavour and fragrance compounds used in cosmetics, personal care products, household cleaners, and processed foods, etc. Essential oils are also used in cosmetics, aromatherapy, as industrial intermediates to produce other compounds, pharmaceuticals and agricultural pesticides and fungicides. It is in this area that the use of essential oils is growing exponentially. <br />A new generation of crop protection products is emerging in the market, based on soap and essential oil emulsions. These products take advantage of the anti-microbial properties of tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) to function as a fungicide. Biomor of the United States manufactures these products under the trademarks of Timor and Timorex . These products are certified as fully organic and are sold as fungicides and insecticides. The company claims that these products can be tailor made to selectively attack insects, leaving those beneficial alone. It is further claimed that these products leave no residual and can fully negate the need to use copper or sulphur in field application. The following photo shows the efficacy of the product on cucumber leaves, compared to a control and commercially available synthetic products . <br />ControlNimgard + Kocide29552902447290Timorex 0.5 %<br />Showing the efficacy of the essential oil based product (Timorex) on cucumber leaves, compared to a control and commercially available synthetic products<br />The company solved the problem of essential oil volatility through patented encapsulation processes, and sales have rapidly grown to a turnover of USD 150 million per annum, within the first three years of operation, through South America, South Africa, Philippines, Greece, Australia and the United States. According to the company sales growth is severely hampered by the unavailability of enough tea tree oil to expand production. <br />Degrading soil fertility, salinity, heavy metal residuals in the soil, and the effects of global warming, are subjecting crops in many temperate countries to stress. This has created a market for anti-stress products, which is slowly growing in importance to agriculture. The essential oil of some trees, Meleleuca bractea for example, have been found to substantially reduce the stress of crops. Plant stress levels can be lowered by applying betaines produced from methylated prolines, N-methyl proline, trans-4-hydroxy-N-methyl proline and trans-4-hydroxy-N-dimethyl proline, extracted from various specifies of Meleleuca . A compound platyphyllol , found in Melaleuca cajuputi, a native of Malaysia, has ‘UV blocking’ attributes , This could be used in treatment of plant stress, as one of the major stressors of plants is UV radiation. None of these natural products have been patented for this application or commercially produced at this point of time. <br />Melaleuca cajuputi trees in Terengganu<br />Finally, some organic herbicide concepts based on essential oils have been found to possess phytotoxic effects, which can be utilized to control foliage growth. A number of essential oils like cinnamon, clove, clove leaf, thyme, Satureja hortensis, have been found effective in this application. Clove oil has been found to be particularly effective, with eugenol playing an important role. This essential oil is the basis of the product Matran, manufactured by EcoSMART Technologies Inc. of New York. Melaleuca cajuputi, pictured above also contains triketone compounds that have potential application as a powerful natural herbicide. <br />Some other essential oils with commercial potential include Kesum (Polygonum [Persicara] minus) for flavours and natural fragrances, lemon myrtle (Bachousia citriodora) as a tea flavour, ambrette seed oil (Hibiscus abelmoshus) as a fixative for fine fragrances, Galanga (Alpinia galangal) as both a flavour material and ‘UV block’, pandan (Pandanus odoratissimus) as a flavour and fine fragrance material. <br />Conclusion<br />This article has sort to highlight a few natural product trends that Malaysian agri-business could become very competitive in. Bio-prospecting for new natural products with commercial application is where the future lies in developing this agricultural sector. Bio-prospecting for potential pharmaceuticals, phyto-pharmaceuticals or traditional medicines should be primarily concerned with plants that have efficacy in the following major areas; Anti Inflammatory, Anti Microbial, Anti-cancer, and Anti HIV. The screening of essential oils for new and novel scents and industrial applications is also another great area of potential. Malaysia is rich with biodiversity, of which we still know very little about. Once new uses for plants have been found, it will then require agro-entrepreneurs to take these new discoveries to the local and international market.<br />