Water hyacinth (scientific name Eichhornia crassipes) is an aquatic plant that usually grows on the surface of rivers in South America and Asian countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia and produces bright purple flowers.
In Thailand, besides being used to control and preserve the ecosystem, the water hyacinths are valued for their skin health benefits. They are believed to help relieve eczema and cure boils because they are regarded as good anti-inflammatory food for the body.
They are also mixed together with turmeric and rice flour to reduce itching on the skin.
In the Philippines, the plants are often used to make a traditional medicine to treat boils by mixing them with lemon juice.
In Kenya, some tribes use the plants as an ingredient to increase breast milk supply; they will boil the leaves and then drink the water. The plants are also believed to help women who experience irregular menstruation and also used to reduce mild toothache.
Meanwhile, in China, water hyacinths are used in traditional medicine to maintain the health of the spleen and relieve vomiting, intestinal worms, bloating and diarrhea.
The stems of the plant are also used to treat cholera; the Chinese believe symptoms such as nausea and vomiting can be reduced by eating the plants.
But in Sarawak, particularly, in Oya, Dalat, the locals look at the plants with much fear. They are afraid that clumps of floating water hyacinths may serve as the hiding places for crocodiles.
“Apart from being feared as hiding places for crocodiles, water hyacinths also cause other problems such as clogged drains or streams, floods and an obstacle to small boats. Most residents here still use the river to go fishing, to visit their orchards or relatives’ houses,” pointed out Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development Minister Datuk Seri Fatimah Abdullah.
The Dalat assemblywoman suggested the state government provide a special allocation to remove the water hyacinths, especially along Batang Oya.
“So far, 650 tonnes of these plants have been successfully removed from the river surface. They pose a lot of problems to residents living near the river,” she said.
Fatimah added that work to remove the plants, which started on October 1 in three zones (from Kampung Tanam to Kampung Messong), would continue until November 11.
To remove the water hyacinths, ropes are laid on the surface of Batang Oya to trap the plants so that they will not move along with the currents upstream towards Nanga Baoh.
“The government needs to take this problem seriously by providing funds so that cleaning effort runs smoothly,” said the assemblywoman.
Because of the large number of water hyacinths in Batang Oya, Fatimah also hoped that a comprehensive study by researchers from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak could be done to utilise the plants instead of just getting rid of them.