Over recent decades, herbal remedies have become more and more popular. Some are a lot better known than others and have been studied extensively while others are less known especially in the West. However, many herbal remedies have been traditionally used in parts of Asia and modern research has recently started to take an interest.
One such herb is sambong – an herb with a long history of use in parts of Asia. To find out more about this herb and what it can do for your health, please read on.
What is Sambong?
Sambong, known scientifically as Blumea balsamifera, is a flowering plant native to tropical and subtropical parts of Asia including China, The Philippines and Thailand. The plant has a long history of use as a medicinal herb in many parts of Asia including Malaysia, Thailand, China, The Philippines and Vietnam.
The use of the plant in Chinese medicine dates back well over a thousand years. Traditionally, the plant and its leaves have been used to treat a range of conditions including dermatitis, eczema, lumbago, rheumatism and skin injury. It has also been used as an insect repellent. In China, it is also commonly used as an incense owing to its very high levels of essential oils. (1)
Other names for sambong include Sambon, Blumea camphor, Ngai camphor, Buffalo ear and Sambun, In China, it is known as Dafeng’ai, Ainaxiang while the Thais refer to the plant as Naat yai.
Sambong is a perennial herb, which grows to a height of one to three meters. It has a strong, taupe stem with upper internodes covered in dense hair. The plant has wide, ovoid leaves around 25 centimeters in length and 10 centimeters in width.
The leaves give off a cool, fresh aroma that can help people to feel refreshed and energized. The plant flowers each year from February to April.
The fresh or dried leaves as well as the plant’s young roots are used to make medicine.
Plant Constituents and Properties
A number of studies have examined the plant’s chemical contents. Over 100 constituents have been isolated from the plant including flavonoids, diterpenes, monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, sterols, organic acids and esters. (2)
Volatile oils are made up of l-camphor and l-borneol as well as saponins, limonene, tannins, palmitin and myristic acid.
The plant has a number of potential health benefits because of its medicinal actions. Its therapeutic properties include antidiarrheal, anthelmintic, antispasmodic, astringent, antimicrobial, expectorant, emmenagogue, carminative, diuretic and astringent actions.
Traditional Uses of Sambong
The use of sambong in traditional Asian medicine dates back over a thousand years. It has been used for a wide array of conditions :
- The leaves are used in a poultice to treat abscesses.
- A poultice is also used to treat headaches.
- A decoction made from the leaves and roots is used to treat cystitis, kidney stones and fevers.
- The plant has been used to treat respiratory tract conditions like bronchitis, asthma, sinusitis and influenza.
- The leaves are used in a poultice or added to a bath to treat lower back pain and rheumatism.
- In China, a tea is made from the leaves and used as a natural expectorant to treat colds, and coughs.
- Tea is also used because of its antispasmodic properties and to treat diarrhea.
- The fresh juice of the leaves is applied to cuts and minor wounds.
- The tea has been used by women to help treat menstrual cramps.
- In Thailand, the leaves are dried and chopped and then smoked to treat sinus infections.
- The leaves are boiled then used as a sponge bath to treat fever. A decoction made from the plant is also drunk to treat fever.
- A decoction made from the leaves is drunk to treat stomach pain and cramp.
- It is widely used in South east Asia by women to treat various menstrual issues including dysmenorrhea.
- The leaves and roots are used to make a decoction to treat arthritis and rheumatism. The leaves can also be applied to inflamed joints in the form of a poultice.
- The plant’s leaves and roots have also been used as a natural pesticide and insect repellent, The dried stems and leaves are sometimes burned and then hung inside the home to repel pests.
Health Benefits of Sambong
For Kidney Stones
Sambong may be an effective natural remedy for painful kidney stones. According to a recent laboratory study, extracts from the plant may be able to reduce the size of the crystals making them easier to eliminate from the body naturally. (3)
According to the researchers, not only can sambong help treat kidney stones but it may also be useful in preventing their formation.
Sambong contains a number of antioxidants that can help protect the body from disease. According to research, the herb can help bolster the liver’s health and protect it from damage.
One animal study found that sambong could help protect the liver against injury caused by drugs like paracetamol. (4) Another Chinese study also revealed that sambong helped protect against acute liver damage caused by various toxins. (5)
Sambong is packed with various antioxidants that can protect the body from the harmful effects of free radicals. It is important that we get plenty of antioxidants into our system to help the body prevent disease and protect the cells and DNA from damage.
According to studies, sambong has powerful antioxidant effects that may help protect us from disease including serious illnesses. (6)
For Coughs and Colds
Sambong has traditionally been used to help treat coughs and colds and various other conditions affecting the respiratory system. It may have expectorant properties meaning that it can help break down the phlegm and mucous that inhibits breathing.
To treat coughs and colds, the leaves are usually used to make a decoction or tea.
Rheumatism and Arthritis
Sambong has been used traditionally to help relieve pain and inflammation, especially to help treat the symptoms of rheumatism and arthritis.
Unfortunately, there is no modern evidence that the herb is effective for these conditions but it has been used for hundreds, if not, thousands of years to help relieve pain and inflammation.
Sambong has traditionally been applied topically to wounds and cuts to help them heal faster. This traditional use has gained some support from modern research.
One animal study found that applying oil from sambong to the skin of rats helped wounds heal faster compared with animals in a control group. (7)
Studies suggest that the plant may have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory activity that can help heal the wound and prevent infection from taking hold.
As well as its health benefits, sambong has also been used extensively in Asia as to repel pests and insects. Several studies have been done into the repellent effects of the plant and appear to support this traditional use.
The essential oil of the plant has exhibited toxicity against maize weevils while it has also proved to be an effective insecticidal against whitefly and rice blast fungus. (8)
These results suggest that extracts from sambong have significant insect repellent activities and may have potential as natural pesticides.
As well as the uses mentioned above, sambong has also been used to treat various other conditions including the following :
- Stomach upset and diarrhea.
- As a natural diuretic to treat urinary tract and bladder infections.
- Headaches and fever.
- Oral conditions like toothache and gum infection.
- For menstrual pain and for other conditions related to menstruation including dysmennorhea.
- For high blood pressure. According to proponents, it may help reduce high blood pressure naturally because of its diuretic actions. However, there is no research into its ability to lower blood pressure.
How to Use Sambong?
Sambong is available in a number of different supplementary forms including capsules, tablets and powders. It is traditionally used in the form of a tea or decoction made from the dried or fresh leaves.
There is no recommended dose but if you are using sambong in supplementary form, make sure that you follow any dosage instructions on the label carefully.
Sambong leaves can also be used to make a poultice to treat arthritis and rheumatism, back pain or headaches.
How to Make Sambong Tea
Samboong tea is packed with antioxidants and may help treat coughs, colds, spore throats and fevers. it can also work as a digestive aid and is a popular remedy for women to treat menstrual conditions.
The tea has a slightly minty taste and can be drunk on its own. However, it is quite bitter and can many people prefer to sweeten it with honey or another natural sweetener.
Simply add a heaped teaspoon of the dried sambong leaves to a mug of hot water and let it steep for at least ten minutes. Strain and drink up two or three times a day.
Side Effects and Precautions
Sambong is generally considered to be safe for the majority of people when drunk as a tea or applied externally to the skin. There are no reports of adverse side effect, however, there is no safety data regarding its long term use.
Pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding should stay on the side of caution and avoid using the herb unless they are medically supervised.
There are no reports of interactions with other medications or herbal remedies.
While there are no reports of serious adverse side effects, you should speak with your doctor to make sure that sambong is the right herb for you.
- Sambong is a plant native to South east Asia that has been used in traditional Asian medicine for a very long time.
- It contains a number of compounds that give the herb a wide variety of potential health benefits.
- Traditionally, sambong has been used to treat coughs, colds, fevers and flu. It has also been used to treat digestive upset, arthritis and menstrual complaints. Sambong is also applied topically to help treat minor wounds and cuts.
- Modern research suggests that the herb may may also help treat kidney stones naturally while it can also help protect the liver from damage.
- Sambong is traditionally drunk in the form of a decoction or tea but is available in various supplementary forms.
- Make sure that you speak to your doctor before using sambong or any other herbal remedy.
Have you ever used sambong in any of its forms?
Please let us know what you thought of its effects and whether you would recommend it. We would be very happy to hear from you.
(4) Xu S.Y., Bian R.L., Chen X. Methodology of Pharmacological Experiments. 2nd ed. People’s Medical Publishing House; Beijing, China: 1994.
(5) Xu S.B., Hu Y., Lin Y.C., Yang Z.B. Study on protection of blumeatin against experimental liver injury and aggregation of platelet. Suppl. J. Sun Yatsen Univer. 1994;1994:48–53
(7) State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine . Chinese Materia Medica. Scientific and Technical Publishers; Shanghai, China: 1999