Root Awakening: Indonesian bayleaf often used in cooking

Syzygium polyanthum.
Syzygium polyanthum.PHOTO: Y.Y. HO

Indonesian bay leaf often used in cooking

This plant started growing outside my house. I want to remove it, but it is healthy. What is it and how big will it grow?

Y.Y. Ho

The plant is likely the Indonesian bay leaf or Salam, and is botanically known as Syzygium polyanthum. Its fruit is popular with birds, which disperse the seeds through their droppings.

In South-east Asia, in particular Indonesia, the young leaves are often used as a spice in cooking. Fresh or dried leaves are added to meat and vegetable curries, rice and stews.

Over time, the sapling will grow into a tree. The space it has nowwill restrict its growth in the future.


Tip: Arrowroot folds its leaves in dark surrounding

The variegated version (pictured) of the arrowroot plant has showy leaves, which feature white bands against a green background. This plant is known botanically as Maranta arundinacea.

The arrowroot produces swollen roots - they are rich in starch that is easily digestible. It is extracted and used in foods such as infant formulas and confectioneries.

The plant - part of the Prayer Plant family - has a curious habit of folding its leaves when the environment is dark. It needs a sunny spot and moist, well-drained soil to thrive.


Giant Dutchman's Pipe is a large climber

This plant (pictured) grew on my fence. What is it and where do I buy it?

Loy Teck Chuan

This climber is probably the Giant Dutchman's Pipe. Its botanical name is Aristolochia gigantea. As it is a large climber, it needs a sturdy and tall trellis.

This ornamental plant also needs a sunny spot to thrive. The soil should be moisture-retentive, fertile and well-drained. The plant can be propagated by seeds or stem-cuttings.

It is not widely available, but can be bought at large plant nurseries such as Hua Hng Trading Co in Bah Soon Pah Road. Call the nursery to check before making your way there.

Herb used in folk medicine

My gardener gave me this plant (pictured), which he says is a herb. What is its name?


G.T. Goh

The herbal plant is botanically known as Strobilanthes crispa. It is best known by its local Chinese name, hei mian jiang jun, which literally means Black Face General.

It is a popular plant that is often found in local community and medicinal gardens. In folk medicine, the leaves are used to treat diabetes, jaundice, haemorrhoids and ulcers.

It is best to consult a medical practitioner before attempting to self- medicate with herbal plants.

Indian Nettle is toxic

What is this plant (pictured) and does it have medicinal properties?


Low Guan Shin

The Acalypha indica is commonly known as the Indian Nettle. It has been reported that its young shoots and leaves can be harvested and consumed.

It is also used to treat a variety of ailments such as eye infections and bronchitis.

The plant is toxic and needs to be prepared with care before it can be consumed.•Answers by Dr Wilson Wong, a certified practising horticulturist and founder of Green Culture Singapore ( He is also an NParks-certified park manager.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 11, 2017, with the headline 'Root Awakening: Indonesian bayleaf often used in cooking'. Print Edition | Subscribe