Article for January 2006
& Pictures by Wilson Wong
on 6 January 2006
Black Face General has been in the limelight in recent years for its
anti-cancer properties. Locals have been reported to use the herb
for the treatment of uterine fibroids and leukaemia. Currently,
research staff at the University Putra Malaysia are carrying out
studies to better understand the medicinal properties of this
amazing plant. A native of Java, the plant has long been used
for the treatment of snakebites, kidney stones and diabetes in
this article, I would like to share with members of Green Culture
Singapore what I have learnt about the herb from reading the published
materials available as well as from conversations I had with various
people who knew more than I did about the herb.
A large Black Face General shrub.
name "Black Face General" is derived from the direct Chinese translation
of the term locals here use to refer to the plant .
The name probably originates from the dark colour of the leaf
infusion. It is botanically known as Strobilanthes crispus
(L.) Blume and is a member of the Acanthaceae family. The Persian
Shield, a popular houseplant in the West, S. dyeriana,
is a close relative of the Black Face General. Other Strobilanthes
species are valued as commercial dye plants.
: Uppersides and undersides of the Black Face General
Right: The yellow flowers of the Black Face General.
The Black Face General is a woody spreading shrub that can easily
reach more than a meter in height in cultivation. The dark green
leaves of the Black Face General are elliptical in shape and have
an attractive, glossy sheen. They are also rough to the touch. In addition, they
occur in pairs that grow on direct opposite sides of the stem, which
is a characteristic of plants belonging to the Acanthaceae family.
The Black Face General rarely produces flowers. The buds are borne
in leafy sheaths and the yellow flowers that emerge are said to
be able to reach up to 2cm in diameter.
I was confused at first when I read the botanical description of
S. cusia (Nees) Kuntze (syn. S. flaccidifolia). From
the descriptions, both plants have very similar looking leaves and
S. cusia also has medicinal properties and the twigs of S.
cusia are used to prepare a dark blue dye used for dyeing cloth.
After some comparisons, the only way for an untrained person to
distinguish the two Strobilanthes species is probably via
the flower colour of the two species: S. cusia has purple
flowers whereas S. crispus has yellow flowers.
Black Face General plant is essentially a fuss-free and robust plant
but it is not one that is fast growing. It is not particular about
soil type, as long as the substrate it grows in is well drained
and kept moist at all times.
Established plants grow happily in full sun outdoors and fortunately,
the plants are forgiving enough to be able to grow rather comfortably
in semi shade. Apartment growers are advised to grow the Black Face
General in the brightest possible location. The plant needs to have
some sunshine falling on it for at least 6 hours.
The plant should be cut back periodically to contain its spread
and to keep it in shape. Pruning will also encourage branching.
You can save the trimmings for propagation or use the leaves for
with all plants grown for its foliage, feed with a fertilizer
with a higher nitrogen ratio. Organic and inorganic fertilizers
are both suitable.
Rooting stem cuttings - leaves are kept to a minimum to reduce
The Black Face General can be propagated via stem cuttings. Segments
of the stem should at least have a node and dip the moisten end
in some rooting powder to aid rooting. Green and young stems root
easier than woody ones. Remember to remove the leaves from each
stem cutting to reduce moisture loss and bag them to conserve
NOTES ON HOW THE PLANT IS USED
Above: Growth habit of Black Face General - the leaves grow
on opposite sides of the stem.
The leaves of the Black Face General are the part of the plant
that is used. They are used in either the fresh or dried form.
The latter form offers a longer shelf life if dried leaves are
kept in sealed bag, away from sunlight, heat and moisture. Ladies
who are pregnant are advised to use this herb with caution.
fresh leaves of the plant are used, they can either be made into
a puree or juiced which is then consumed directly. The leaves
can also be boiled to yield an infusion. Some formulations involve
the boiling the leaves of the Black Face General with other indigenous
medicinal herbs such as the Clinacanthus nutans
and Phyla nodiflora .
leaves are crushed prior to simmering them in hot water. The resulting
yellow-tinged infusion can be flavoured with sugar and drunk as
information is in no way intended to be a substitute for modern
medical care. Do not self-treat any medical complaint without the
guidance of a licensed health care provider.
must thank the following persons in my quest to identify and learn
more about the Black Face General: Kacey Oh from Green Valley Organic
Farm, Angie Ng from Nature Society (Singapore) and Samsuri Ahmad
from the Singapore Herbarium. The same goes to Frank, one of our
members on the Green Culture Singapore discussion forum who kindly
granted me the permission to use his picture depicting the propagation
of this herb in this article.
information provided in this article is the result of research using
(but not limited to) the following publications:
Bich, N.K. & Tap, N., 2003. Strobilanthes Blume In: Lemmens,
R.H.M.J. and Bunyapraphatsara, N. (Editors). Plant Resources of
South-East Asia No. 12(3): Medicinal and poisonous plants 3. Backhuys
Publisher, Leiden, The Netherlands. pp. 385-388.
Huang, Xian Yan. 2001. The specific use of the Black Face General
for the treatment of uterine fibroids. In: Herbs & Healthy Life
No. 3. G. G. Enterprise. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. pp. 22 - 31. In
Huang, Xian Yan. 2003. The Anti-cancer Properties of the Erect
Black Face General. In: Herbs & Healthy Life No. 7. G. G. Enterprise.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. pp. 96 - 98. In Traditional Chinese.