Brucea javanica (L.) Merr.
by Mrs. Sarah Nabila Binti Rosli
Brucea javanica (L.) Merr.
by Mrs. Sarah Nabila Binti Rosli

Brucea javanica is a shrub to spindly tree that can reach up to 10 m tall. The genus is named after the Scottish traveller James Bruce, who was the author of Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile, In the Years 1768 – 1773. He was the first person to discover the source of the Nile and recommended the usage of these plants to treat dysentery among the natives of Abyssinia (Quattrocchi, 1999). The species name, javanica, refers to Java, the locality where this plant was discovered (Merrill, 1928). Other than Java, this species is widely distributed in China, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, the Deccan Plateau of India, Indochina, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and Northern Australia. In Peninsular Malaysia, this species is commonly found in the northern region.

Brucea javanica can be found growing on a variety of soils such as sandy dunes and limestone rock, under both ever-wet or seasonal conditions. It usually grows in open areas, especially around villages and in sunny secondary forest, up to 900 m above sea level.

The diagnostic characters of this species are the compound leaves, and exstipulate leaves and leaflets with toothed margins. The surface of the twig and leaf is covered by densely matted hairs. Its fruits are berries with 1 to 4 per bunch, the same size as black peppercorns. The ripe fruits are purple in colour and attract bats as dispersal agents. The flowers are tiny, with greenish white to greenish purple or red coloured petals.

Locally, this species is known as Melada pahit (in Malay) because of the bitter taste of the fruits which resemble peppercorns. Local people believe the more bitter the plant, the greater its medicinal value. Melada pahit is a traditional herbal medicine used especially in Chinese medicine to treat haemorrhoids, corns, warts, ulcers and cancer. In the past, local Malays utilized this plant to treat dysentery and colic. They mixed it with Solanum sarmentosum, as a remedy to reduce fever. Pounded leaves have been used by the Malays and Javanese to treat skin infections and centipede bites. In Kelantan, local villagers use the roots of the plant as an anaesthetic, especially during childbirth (Burkill, 1936). The fruits are used for making an insecticide and Australian indigenous people use the roots and bark as a poultice to cure toothache (PROSEA, 1999). However, the effectiveness and side effects of consuming this plant have still not been tested or scientifically proven.


  1. De Padua, L.S., Bunyapraphatsara, N. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J. (1999). Plant Resources of South-East Asia (PROSEA): Medicinal and Poisonous Plants, Volume 12, Issue/No. 1. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 711.
  2. Merrill, E.D. (1928). On the Type of Rhus Javanica Linnaeus. Journal of the Arnold Arboretum 9 (1), 1-4
  3. Quattrocchi, U. (1999). CRC World Dictionary of Plant Names: Common Names, Scientific Names, Eponyms, Synonyms, and Etymology, Volume 1. CRC Press, Florida, United States of America. pp. 362.
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