Bornean 'tuhau' plant rises to prominence, thanks to Kadazandusun cousins

AVILA GERALDINE

KOTA KINABALU: The use of the Bornean ‘tuhau’ plant as a key ingredient in a range of health, food and beauty products is gaining popularity among Malaysian entrepreneurs – and placing the highly-beneficial local herb in the spotlight.

Although commonly used as traditional food ingredient in Sabah, Kadazandusun cousins Deiseree Daniel Jambun and Marion St Joan Galid decided to take a different approach to tuhau and incorporated its extract into their ‘Love, Lusie’ beauty scrubs.

The move made them the first in the world to use the plant as a beauty product ingredient.

Scientifically known as etlingera coccinea, tuhau, or wild ginger, is endemic to Borneo. The plant is commonly found in the jungles of Sabah and Sarawak, and they are believed to be rich in antioxidants and antibacterial properties.

Deiseree, founder of Love, Lusie, said the idea of incorporating tuhau into beauty products came when she was eating pickled tuhau at her home in Kuala Lumpur last year.

“It came out of the blue and I texted my cousin (Marion), and the next thing we knew, we were already experimenting and distributing test products to our relatives and friends.

“It took us about three months to finally release them for sale in Aug last year. Since then, we have kept receiving positive feedback and orders," she said.

Their tuhau-infused beauty scrub is a certified hit with consumers, with marketgoers thronging the Love, Lusie booth at the Sunday market in Gaya Street here today. Customers could take their pick from scrubs for the body, face and lips.

The indigenous people of Sabah have, for generations, been using tuhau as a traditional remedy for stomach pains as well as wounds – apart from using it as a food ingredient.

For wounds, young tuhau shoots would be dipped in water and placed on the injured area.

"Post-partum women also use it to remove body odour.

“(Indigenous people) use tuhau as their primary plant for medicine, because they know it is effective.

“To make our product a success, we engaged with experts who study Bornean wild ginger. Tuhau has a pungent smell, so we also worked with experts on removing the odour.

“We are currently conducting research and development on a deodorant product, and it will hopefully be out soon,” said Deiseree.

The quirky brand name Love, Lusie, by the way, was inspired by their grandmother, Lusinah Ho Nga Hon, who passed away in Dec last year.

“She was the one who introduced our parents, and eventually her grandchildren, to tuhau. She inspired us in many ways and told us not to forget our roots.

“I remember telling my grandmother about our (tuhau-based) scrubs. She shook her head and said ‘Itu tuhau untuk makan’ (tuhau is to be eaten) – but Grandma Lusie encouraged us nonetheless.

“She never (got around to trying) our scrubs, but we are glad to have come up with the products to remember her by,” said Deiseree, adding that Lusinah, who was fondly known as Lusie, died at the age of 78.

Meanwhile, Marion said marketing tuhau in beauty products is also a way for them to create awareness about the beneficial plant, especially among Peninsular Malaysians who are not familiar with it.

“It can be quite challenging to market tuhau in West Malaysia, but it does not stop us from promoting the benefits of the plant, and what our state has to offer.

Marion added that they use social media to promote their products, stressing that it is part of their plan to bring tuhau to international prominence.