The tongkat ali (literally translated as Ali’s root) herbal drink is a common house beverage for Malaysians from all walks of life. However, not many people have seen a living tongkat ali tree. Its scientific name Eurycoma longifolia (family Simaroubaceae) explains a little about the characteristic of this plant. In its original root words in Greek, “eurys” means broad while “come” means “a tufted bush”, so the combination word Eurycoma refers to growth habit of its compound leaves that spirals out at the the tip of its slender trunk in a large dense rosette. In Latin, “Longus” means long and Folia refers to the leaves, so its specific epithet Longifolia tells about its compound leaflets that are long and slender, often reaching 20 cm in length.
Tongkat ali has a fairly wide distribution in Southeast Asia, and could be found from southern Myanmar in the west to the Philippines in the East, Indochina in the north and Sumatra, Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo in the south. In Malaysia, tongkat ali is a relatively common tree let of the sub-canopy layer, from coastal forest on sandy substrate to upper hill Dipterocarp forest at about 1,000 m.
The fruits of tongkat ali contains a pulpy layer favored by wild birds that play an important role in its seed dispersal. tongkat ali produces a fairly large and attractive inflorescence (flower cluster), with dark reddish, hairy petals.