The use of plants and herbs to combat maladies and diseases, says UK-based naturopath and herbalist Ummahani Alkaff, have long been entrenched in the lives of the people of the Malay Peninsula. She elaborates, “The people lived in, and subsisted on, the forest that surrounded them. So, to understand the logic behind the use of these ingredients is to tell the stories of its people.”
These communities commonly used and still use plants not just for sustenance but for practical reasons as well such as materials for construction, cosmetics, and medicine. In Traditional Malay Medicine (TMM), for instance, knowledge of plants and herbs is essential as the human body is believed to constitute four elements—fire, earth, wind and water. The semangat (soul substance) of a person determines an individual’s susceptibility to various illnesses.
Ummahani shares that there is the concept of the dichotomy of ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ in the human body constitution, an ideology similar to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). “There has to be a balance so, oftentimes food was categorised into ‘hot’, ‘cold’ and ‘neutral’ groups because it affected the body fluids and immunity functions of a person differently,” she explains. It is only when all four elements as well as the ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ aspects are balanced, she posits, that optimal health can be achieved.
When the British colonised Singapore in 1819, they brought with them the spoils of European living, changing the lifestyles of many as townships were built and people found employment on rubber plantations and mines. Written records from renowned scholars and historians, including John Cameron, Peter James Begbie and Thomas James Newbold, wrote of high death rates from endemic fevers among Malay, Indian and Chinese people due to the lack of sanitisation. Coupled with outbreaks of smallpox, cholera and malaria from improper infrastructure, deaths were particularly high in the Straits Settlements.
Such illnesses badly affected productivity and so the British set up healthcare boards and policies, which were based solely on Western medicine. In a study conducted by Ooi Giok Ling for his paper titled British Colonial Health Care Development and the Persistence of Ethnic Medicine in Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, expenditure on health care soared by 152 percent between 1877 and 1901. He wrote that urban sanitary boards were established and staff in medical departments increased. The Institute of Medical Research was up in Kuala Lumpur in 1900 to supervise quarantine procedures and investigate tropical diseases. By 1924, legislation was passed to restrict activities of midwives, and the Malay rulers were also coerced into persuading their subjects to cooperate with colonial health authorities.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
Out Of The Oven
With a long standing tradition of modernising the face and taste of Middle Eastern cuisine in Tanjong Pagar, the Fat Prince Bar-Kafé-Kebab’s latest acquisition now further revolutionises how meat is prepared.
It is always a pleasant surprise when you dine at KOMA. From the sights; to the sounds and even the scents, no one meal is similar from the last thanks to its quick changing menus and visually arresting (read: expansive) interiors.
A Toast To Health
Though vilified by modern science, alcoholic beverages were historically made for good and was once considered a healthier option than good ‘ol H2O.
Buzzing Around The City
John Chong, the founder of Bee Amazed Garden and raw honey boutique, MY HONEY, shares his journey of how he discovered beekeeping and his dreams for beekeeping in urban Singapore.
Fruit Of The Earth
One of the oldest organic wine domaines in Burgundy, Clos des Vignes du Maynes has always been farmed with the greatest respect for the earth and the current third-generation vigneron, Julien Guillot, is a leading light of biodynamic winemaking in the region.
The Allure Of Plants
As the demand for sustainable dining and living gets louder, the Banyan Tree Group responds with eco-driven, green collaborations alongside ORI9IN and Grassroots Pantry.
Eating Your Way To Nirvana
As the world struggles with deforestation and over-farming, temple cuisine proves that it is possible to care for the environment while enjoying the food you eat.
The Secret To Aging Well
Fermentation, a cornerstone of food cultures across Asia, is enjoying a revival in contemporary cuisine thanks to chefs who have taken it upon themselves to carry on the tradition.
Going Back To Nature
Ingredients that now commonly show up in derivatives of Indonesian and Malay cuisines were once used by traditional healers for their medicinal properties.
The Hills Are Alive
They say you can take the girl out of Singapore, but Restaurant Klösterle’s chef Ethel Hoon, is a testament that you can’t take Singapore out of the girl. From Cornell to the Cordon Bleu, and celebrated stints in Michelin-decorated institutions, discover how she keeps the Lion City spirit alive with her husband, chef Jakob Zeller, in the Austrian Alps.
Immune-Boosting Winter Salad
Cold weather doesn’t have to mean heavy, dense meals. This light-and-lively salad is proof.
Fusing The Flavors Of The World
After growing up in the kitchen that brought pad thai to america, Jet Tila wants to broaden your culinary horizons one meal at a time.
Eat Your Way Across America
Visit these U.S. cities to sample quintessentially American cuisine.
The Science of Us : Stephen S. Hall
What If They Make a Vaccine and Nobody Takes It? There are already clear signs that the public is suspicious about corners being cut.
THE POTENTIAL OF PROBIOTICS
Supplements formulated to replenish and fortify the diverse microbiome in the equine gut may help your horse stay healthy, but you’ll want to shop smart and know their limitations.
Cooking with Whole Fish
Up your grilling game this summer with this heart-healthy recipe.
Vegan Summer Salad
Refreshing seasonal watermelon replaces seared ahi tuna in this creative, flavor-packed dish
Deciphering Dog Food Labels: Good Luck with That!
“There’s no way anyone can look at a label and tell anything about the quality of the dog food.”
Where's Your Food From?
When you buy that lush bunch of spinach or a plump chicken, do you think about where it came from? We look at why ‘provenance’ is such a buzzword in food these days
Do You React to Corn?
This common veggie is hidden in multitudes of food products, and if you’re sensitive to it, you can experience everything from rashes and abdominal pain to cravings and binge-eating