Gynura procumbens is a common medicinal herb that can be seen being grown by home-owners, either in pots by high-rise apartment gardeners or in planter beds by more fortunate gardeners with an outdoor private garden or community garden.
I have only seen in one occasion where there is an English name for this herb, that is, the scrambling gynura, otherwise, it is better known via its Chinese name called ‘jian feng wei’ (尖凤尾, which translates into ‘pointed phoenix tail’) and Indonesian name, daun sambung mjawa. It should not be confused with daun dewa which is another related Gynura species.
In Singapore, Gynura procumbens is believed by the Chinese here to be one that possess the ability to lower blood pressure and sugar levels. Locals here will recommend you to eat 3 – 7 leaves daily in the raw form. I have tasted the leaves before and they have a mild raw taste which makes them quite easy to consume.
To date, there had been a limited number of scientific studies done on on this herb. A Singapore study that used diabetic rat models showed that an alcoholic extract of Gynura procumbens was able to reduce elevated blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels while another by a Korean group of researchers reported that this herb possessed anti-hypertensive properties in a rat model.
Besides the above medicinal properties, according to the Plant Resources of South East Asia (PROSEA), this plant is also used in Africa, where the boiled leaves are applied externally to relieve general body pains and raw leaves for rheumatic pains. Dried and pounded leaves are mixed with oil and applied as a poultice to treat skin compliants. It also used for the treatment of kidney problems and dysentery.
Gynura procumbens is generally regarded to be a relatively harmless herb to consume. In fact, in Java, the young shoots of this plant are eaten raw as a vegetable. Singaporeans may find it more palatable if the leaves have been blanched in hot water before consumption.
This plant grows easily from stem-cuttings. Seeds are not available. It is best grown in well-draining, fertile soil that is kept moist at all times. Semi-shade is preferred by this plant although it can be slowly adapted to grow in full sun, provided the plant does not dry out at the roots. Initial planting under direct sunshine will result in burnt leaves and stunting in growth. Growth should resume once the plant has acclimatised to its new growing conditions.
Gynura procumbens grows as a scrambling perennial plant with stems that can extend to 6 m long if left to grow. The fleshy leaves are bright green that are rather smooth to touch. The shape of leaves can vary depending on the growing conditions and they can range from roundish to ovate in shape but are all shallowly toothed at the margins.
In shade, they are darker green and appear rather flat but under direct sun, the two sides of each leaf may develop a slight V shape along the mid-rib and take on a lighter green colour. The plants I have seen so far have green leaf undersides although I read before that there are plants with purple undersides.
The stems can be totally purple or have patches/specks of purple. From the above description, one can observe that Gynura procumbens can be highly variable. To date, I have not seen flowering specimens before in Singapore.