Characteristics of Gambir Tree (Uncaria gambir) in the Wild

Uncaria gambir
Gambir or Cat’s claw (Uncaria gambir) is a species of tree from the Rubiaceae family. In Indonesia, this part of the tree is used for betel nut. Its more important use is as a tanner and dye.

Gambir has long been cultivated in the Malay Peninsula, Singapore, and Indonesia. Its origin is thought to be from Sumatra and Kalimantan, where wild species are found growing in nature.

Wild gambir trees are often found in secondary forests. It does not grow in dry areas but also does not tolerate waterlogged soil.

What is Gambir?

Gambir is sediment from the boiled water of the leaves and twigs of Uncaria gambir which is then printed. Gambir can also be produced from Uncaria acida.


Gambir also contains catechins, a natural ingredient that is an antioxidant. India imports 68% of gambir from Indonesia and uses it as a betel nut mixture.

In international trade, Gambir is known as Gambier and is usually shipped in 50kg packs. Other names are Catechu, Catechu pallidum, and Gutta gambir.


Uses of Gambir

The main use of gambir is as a component of betel nut, which has been known to the people of Indonesia, from Sumatra to Papua since 2,500 years ago. It is known, gambir stimulates the release of bile so that it helps smooth the digestive process in the stomach and intestines. Another function is as a mixture of drugs, such as burn medicine, headache medicine, diarrhea medicine, dysentery medicine, thrush medicine, and skin pain medicine. Gambir is also used as a leather tanner and textile dye.

In the past, most gambir was produced from West Sumatra, Riau, Bangka, Belitung and West Kalimantan. But now it is mainly produced by West Sumatra, Riau, South Sumatra, Jambi, and Bengkulu with around 90% of Indonesia’s gambir production being produced from the provinces of West Sumatra and Riau. The main export destinations for Indonesian gambir are India and Singapore.


Characteristics of Gambir Leaf

Uncaria gambir Leaf
Source: Yi Shuen

The leaves are single, opposite, oval to broadly oblong, measuring 9-12 cm x 5-7 cm, the base is rounded or heart-shaped, the tip is tapered, the surface is hairless, with short petioles.


Characteristics of Gambir Flower

Uncaria gambir Flower
Source: Yi Shuen

The flowers are arranged in a compound hump with a diameter of 4-5 cm, a pink or green crown, short flower petals, a funnel-shaped flower crown and has five stamens.


Characteristics of Gambir Fruit

The fruit is a capsule with two chambers, 14-18 mm long, many seeds, winged, and stems up to 20 mm.


Characteristics of Gambir Tree

Uncaria gambir Tree

The gambir tree grows as a semi-vine shrub with longitudinal and horizontal branches, the trunk is rectangular, especially when young, and has thorns that bend like hooks.

The gambir tree grows best on red-yellow to brownish red podzolic soil types. The altitude of the appropriate place is between 100-500 m asl with rainfall of about 3000-3,353 mm per year.


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