Etlingera elatior (Jack) R.M.Sm (Zingiberaceae)
by Ms. Nur Liyana Hazwani Shahdani & Dr. Avelinah Julius
© Munira Mohd Sazal

Etlingera elatior (Jack) R.M.Sm, better known as torch ginger or locally called “bunga kantan”, is widely cultivated not only for its flower for ornamental purposes but also as condiment for culinary use. It is popularly used in local Nyonya or Malay dishes such as “nyonya laksa”, “asam laksa”, “nasi ulam”, “asam pedas” and “nasi kerabu” to enhance flavour.

In the wild, this ginger is commonly found in secondary forests, especially in exposed habitats and also in damp places near rivers, on clay-rich alluvium, limestone or in peat swamps (Poulsen, 2006). It is native to Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, Java and Borneo (Poulsen, 2006; POWO, 2021) but has been widely introduced to certain tropical countries such as the Caribbean, Costa Rica, Ghana, Hawaii, Mauritius, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Puerto Rico, Seychelles, Surinam, Uganda and Vanuatu (Poulsen, 2006). Globally, this species is classified as Data Deficient (DD) under the IUCN conservation status criteria (Poulsen, 2019) while in Malaysia it is Not Evaluated (NE).

The genus epithet Etlingera is to honor Andreas Ernst Etlinger, the 18th century botanist (Mari-Mut, 2021) whereas the specific epithet elatior is derived from the Latin word elatus, referring to the tall inflorescences (Poulsen, 2006). Etlingera elatior is a perennial clumping herb with closely grouped pseudostems (false stems which are formed by overlapping leaf sheaths) that grows 2 to 6 m tall. The inflorescences are 1 to 2 m tall, arise from the base of leafy shoot, with a receptacle (the axis to which the floral organs are attached) that elongates to 10 cm long, bearing up to 320 flowers but only 10–20 flowers open at a time (Lim, 2014).

Etlingera elatior is well known among Malaysian indigenous tribes for its medicinal properties. For example, earache is treated with a decoction of fruits, while the decoction of the leaves is used to cleanse wounds. The leaf is also used in postnatal care for bathing to remove body odour by mixing it with other ingredients (Vimala, 2013). The phytochemistry and pharmacological properties of E. elatior such as antibacterial, antifungal, tyrosinase inhibition, cytotoxic, testicular protective, and hepatoprotective can be potentially used in developing functional and other health products (Chan et al., 2011).


  1. Chan, E.W.C., Lim, Y.Y. & Wong, S.K. (2011). Phytochemistry and pharmacological properties of Etlingera elatior: A review. Pharmacognosy Journal, 3 (22): pp. 6-10.
  2. Lim, T.K. (2014). Edible Medicinal and Non Medicinal Plants: Volume 8, Flowers. Spring Nature. pp. 834-843.
  3. Mari-Mut, J.A. (2021). Plant Genera Named After People (1753-1853). Ediciones Digitales, Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. pp. 194.
  4. Poulsen, A.D. & Olander, S.B. (2019). Etlingera elatior. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T117234456A124279013. Retrieved November 14, 2021, from
  5. Poulsen, A.D. (2006). Etlingera of Borneo. Natural History Publications (Borneo), Kota Kinabalu. pp. 111-118.
  6. POWO. (2021). Etlingera elatior (Jack) R.M.Sm. Plants of the World Online. Facilitated by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved November 12, 2021, from
  7. Vimala, S. (2013). Malaysian Herbal Heritage. Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM), Malaysia. pp. 131.
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