When I was a young boy, I remember an elderly Foochow couple next door who used to burn something producing an acrid smell every evening to drive away mosquitoes. It was an alternative to burning mosquito coils and it was actually the bark of the Serabah tree.
Serabah or Goniothalamus andersonii belongs to the Annonaceae (soursop family). Members of the Annonaceae have stringy or fibrous bark including serabah. The serabah tree is found in the peat swamp forest of Borneo and has been used by the people of Borneo as insect repellant. The bark is fibrous and the smoke obtained from the burning of the bark has been used by people in Borneo to drive away mosquitoes as well as bees before the collection of honey comb from trees in the wild.
Goniothalamin has been extracted from serabah and is known to caused apotopsis (programmed cell death) and has attracted the attention of scientists working on treatment for cancer. Besides, research has also been done on its anti-bacterial activities. However, serabah is also known to be an abortifacient.
Bundles of serabah for sale at the Central Market, Sibu.