Black Plai

Also Known As
INODNESIA: Bunglai Hantu (9). 
Bangle Hantu (7). 
Panglai Hideung (9). 
INDONESIA (SUDANESE): Panglai Hideung (4). 
MALAYSIA: Bolai Hitam (9). 
Kunyit Hitam (9). 
Kunyit Terus Hitam (9). 
Lampoyang Hitam (9). 
MALAYSIA (PENINSULAR): Berseh Hitam (4). 
- Kunyit Hitam (4). 
- Lampoyang Hitam (4). 
THAILAND: Phlai Dam (9). 
Phlai Muang (9). 
Puu Loei Dam (9). 
THAILAND (BANGKOK): Phlai Muang (4). 
THAILAND (NORTHERN): Phlai Dam (4). 
- Puu Loei Dam (4). 
?INDIA: "It was also called "The Great Medicament” in Ayurvedic medicines (Tan and Vanitha, 2004)." (via 8). ANDY'S NOTE: I question this grand name, as I have so far only found it mentioned on one online site. 

Order:   Zingiberales
Family:   Zingiberaceae
Genus:    Zingiber
Species: ottensii

Florida n c s

Edible Parts
Root Caution
Other Uses
Medicinal Ointment Fragrant
A few years back I saw photos of a purple, jelly-like healing balm made from something called Black Plai. Further research revealed that Black Plai is a rare Asian ginger species, Zingiber ottensii, with purple, "violet or pink"-colored rhizome flesh. It has been used in traditional Indonesian medicine, including Javan and Sumatran, as well as Malaysian medicines, since ancient times. The rhizome seems to be the part most often used, often applied externally. Some traditional uses include leaf poultices for lumbago, stems in lotions as a sedative in Java, and the use by Malaysian midwives of the fresh rhizomes and leaves as poultices on "women in confinement" after childbirth. It has also been used in Indonesia "to treat itching, pain, fever, gout, and cough." Siamy, a Thai company selling Black Plai salve online, claims that it "doesn’t leave a burning sensation, eases aching symptoms in muscles, is effective against arthritis and other joint problems, has anti-inflammatory properties, and heals and soothes damaged skin." In university studies, it shows promise fighting colon cancer and hepatoma cancer. I set out to obtain plants to grow here at my homestead in Florida and found a source in Thailand. The rhizomes that were shipped were rather dry and shrivelled and even with loving care, did not sprout. Luckily, my friend in Hawaii had some. They arrived in good condition and grew vigorously. They first flowered in October of 2019! When the clumps grow larger, I will harvest some of the rhizomes and grind them fresh to make a salve of our own. On the edible side... the "pungent" rhizomes are "used as a spice" by the native people near Mount Dau, Vietnam "to replace galangal." That sounds yummy, I'll have to try it when my clumps get larger.  

CAUTIONS: "No documentation" of toxicity (10), however... CONTRAINDICATIONS: "There would appear to be possible summative effects with antidiabetic drugs and antihypertensive drugs when the rhizome of Z. ottensii is taken together with them for whatever reason." (10). 
EDIBLE RHIZOME: "Zingiber ottensii is used as a spice to replace (Galangal) Alpinia galanga in the traditional dishes by the local people around Mount Dầu, Quảng Ngãi province (Vietnam)." (2). "The rhizomes are pungent." (4).
MEDICINAL RHIZOME: It "is one of (the) Indonesian traditional medicines (used) as postpartum medicine and also to treat itching, pain, fever, gout, and cough." (7). It has (possibly) been used in Ayurvedic medicines, although this information comes from just one web-source via my research so far. "Study in vitro of Zingiber ottensii rhizome and its compounds showed pharmacological activities including α-glucosidase inhibitor, ACE inhibitor, antibacterial, antifungal, inhibitor of nitric oxide production, antioxidant, cytotoxic, and antiproliferation." (7). 
INFORMATION FROM SIAMY, a Thai company selling Black Plai salve online: They claim that it "doesn’t leave a burning sensation, eases aching symptoms in muscles, is effective against arthritis and other joints problems, has anti-inflammatory properties, and heals and soothes damaged skin. (12). They go on to say, "Thai traditional natural remedy. It eases aching symptoms in muscles, knees and elbow joints; relieves tension of tendons; reduces stiffness symptoms and cramps; helps after sprain or other injures all around the body; helps against itching and after insects bites. It also useful for treatment of dizziness/vertigo, migraine and common headache. An ancient formula of balm doesn’t leave a “burning” sensation on your skin. But it provides long lasting healing effect instead due essential natural extracts and oils." (12). "Thai traditional medicine during centuries. The combination of black plai extract with  black sesame oil is especially effective against back pain, arthritis and other joints problems, both inflammatory and traumatic." (12). 
MEDICINAL LEAVES: The leaves have been studied in a number of Asian university studies.
MEDICINAL LEAVES AND RHIZOMES: "It can be concluded that antimicrobial activity of especially against the pathogenic bacteria shows its medicinal value and supports the widespread use of the plant." (8).
MEDICINAL STEMS: The stem "is used as part of a sedative lotion by the Javanese." (10.  "In Sumatra it is used in potherb for postpartum care." (10). 
MEDICINAL ESSENTIAL OIL: "The essential oil is one of chemical compound of Zingiber ottensii has pharmacological activity such as antibacterial and cytotoxic activity." (7). "Essentials oils of Zingiberaceae family, including Zingiber ottensii, are produced by (the) rhizome and leaves." (7).
EXTERNAL MEDICINAL USES: "In traditional medicine they are pounded into a poultice and used by women after childbirth, or are added to a mixture to make a sedative lotion or a tonic." (4).
EXTERNAL - MEDICINAL LEAVES: "The leaves are also used as a poultice for lumbago." (10).
EXTERNAL - MEDICINAL LEAVES AND RHIZOMES: "The traditional midwives of Perak (Malaysia) used the rhizome and leaves as a poultice applied on the body of the women in confinement." (10). 
MEDICINAL STUDIES: Extracts from rhizomes were tested in a 2011 Thai study which revealed "relatively strong antiproliferative effects were found against five human cell lines (colon cancer, hepatoma cancer, etc.)." (3). They also found a "new glycoprotein." "The glycoprotein also contained antiproliferative activity against some plant pathogenic fungi and human cancer cell lines." (3).
ANTIFUNGAL STUDIES: " Previous study has been made by (Atai et al., 2009; Poeloengan, 2011) has shown that ethanolic extract of ginger has antifungal activity. The similar kind of result has been noticed in Z. ottensii rhizome extract (Elechiguerra et al., 2005; Atai et al., 2009)." (8).
CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: "Twenty-six components have been identified of which the major component was found to be zerumbone (25.6%)." (6).
CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS OF THE LEAVES: An Indonesian study "showed that the essential oil of Zingiber ottensii leaves contains 37 components with five highest compounds respectively as transcaryophyllene, β–elemene, zerumbone, 1,5- cyclodecadiene, (-)-caryophyllene." (7).
CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS OF THE RHIZOMES: The "essential oil of rhizome contains 64 components with five highest compounds respectively as 1-4-terpineol,  zerumbone, sabinene, 1,8-cineole, and -terpinene." (7).
CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS OF THE ESSENTIAL OIL: "The essential oil of Z. ottensii Val. rhizome contains a mixture of zerumbone, terpinen-4-ol, p-cymene, sabinene, humulene." (7). "The oils obtained were dried over anhydrous sodium sulphate. The essential oils of leaves and rhizome respectively were 0.03% and 0.26% on fresh weight basis." (7). "Both oils have characteristics pale yellow colour and pungent aromatic odour. The low percentage yield of leaves showed that essential oil production of Zingiber ottensii is concentrated in (the) rhizome." (7). An Indonesian "study reveals that essential oils of leaves and rhizome of Zingiber ottensii Val. from Bandung, Indonesia are potentially antiinflammation, antimicrobial, or antiproliferative. However, further study has to be conducted." (7).
RHIZOME CONSTITUENTS: "Essential oil from Z. ottensii rhizome was found to contain p-cymene, humulene, sabinene, terpinen-4-ol, and zerumbone." (11).
IN CROP MANAGEMENT: It shows promise to combat "blight diseases in legume crop plant." (8). 

NATIVE RANGE: "This  species  was  previously known throughout Indonesia, (peninsular) Malaysia (Borneo, Java, Sumatra) and Thailand (Valeton, 1918; Theilade, 1998; 1999), but now is a newly recorded species for Vietnam." (2). "During 2011–2015  ginger investigations in the  central  provinces  (prov.)  Vietnam,  a  ginger species, Zingiber ottensii Valeton was discovered in Mount  Dầu  (Quảng  Ngãi  prov.),  Đông  Giang District  (Quảng  Nam  prov.)  and  Kỳ Sơn  district, (Nghệ An  prov.). " (2).
HABITAT: "Growing in secondary broad-leaved evergreen forest on granite, usually along road side, open areas and forest margin from 25 m to 1107 m." (2). 
DESCRIPTION: Herbaceous, rhizomatous perennial. To 1.5 meters tall. (4). To 5' tall. (5). "Leafy shoots." (4). "Leaves elliptical, 35-40 cm × 6-8 cm." (4). Inflorescences turn a "deep burgundy red." (5). Flowers are a very light yellow color. "Fruit a red cylindrical capsule." (4,9). The (thick) rhizome flesh is "violet or pink inside." (2). "The rhizome is dark purple on cross-section." (8). Some Vietnamese wild plants have rhizome flesh that is "pale grey-purplish inside." (2). The rhizome has "a very pungent smell." (4). The website plantlust states that it goes dormant in the winter. (5). 
DETAILED DESCRIPTION: Here's a detailed description from article a 2006 Vietnamese article in Bioscience Discovery (2): "Rhizomatous  herb  1–1.9  m  tall,  forming clumps  with  3–10  leaf  shoots  per  each  clump. Rhizome  branched,  2.2–3  cm  diam.,  0.5–2  cm between leafy shoots arising from the same rhizome, externally  light  yellowish  brown,  internally  pale grey-purplish, aromatic, covered  with light  brown-yellowish triangular scales, villose,  soon decaying. Leafy  shoots slightly  arching, composed  of 18–25 leaves,  approximately  basal  1/3  to  1/5  of pseudostem leafless, base swollen 1.5–2.3 cm diam.; bladeless sheaths 5–6, to 60 cm long, green, lower ones  bright  red,  externally  sparsely  white  villose, internally glabrous; leaf  sheaths green  to purplish-green  tinge,  white  villose,  densely  towards  the petiole;  ligules  1.3–1.5  cm  long,  membranous, translucent dull white with small reddish dots, white villose,  apex  entire,  papery;  petiole  reduced  to  a 
light green pulvinus (3–4 mm long),  densely white pubescent;  lamina  elliptic,  36–43  ×  6–7.5  cm, adaxially green  and glabrous,  abaxially light green and sparsely white villose throughout, base obtuse, apex  attenuate. Inflorescence  arising directly from the  rhizome,  27–45  cm  long,  with  2–3  flowers opening at a time; Peduncle close to the leafy shoot, radical, erect, 25–29 × 1.2–1.3 cm, covered by 9–12 sheathing bracts, tubular ca. 1/3 at the base, 4–4.5 × 2.5–4 cm (smaller towards the base), externally dull red, greenish-red towards the apex, pubescent, apex entire;  spike  ellipsoid to  obloid-ellipsoid, 12–15 × 4.5–4.8 cm; bracts enclosing single flower, obovate, 36–38  ×  30–32  mm  (smaller  towards  the  apex), convex  with incurved  apex, externally  whitish  ca. 1/3  of the base,  dull  red  to  greenish-red  tinge 
toward apex when flowering and turning bright red after flowering, pubescent, internally white, glabrous, apex truncate; bracteoles narrowly ovate, 32–35 × 12–15 mm, translucent white with reddish apex,  externally  sparsely  white  villose,  internally glabrous,  apex  entire  or  short  acute.  Flowers exserted from bracts, 6.3–6.5 cm long; calyx tubular, 20–22  ×  7–8  mm,  translucent  white,  glabrous, unilateral incision 9–11 mm, apex acute; floral tube 40–42 mm long, widening gradually towards apex, white  with  pale  yellowish towards  the apical  part, glabrous; dorsal corolla lobe narrowly ovate, 21–22 ×  7–8  mm,  pale  yellowish  with  semi-translucent veins,  glabrous  throughout,  apex  acute;  lateral corolla lobes narrowly ovate, 20–21 × 5–6 mm, pale yellowish,  glabrous  throughout,  apex  acute; labellum  obovate-orbicular,  24–26  ×  18–20  mm, pale  yellow  with  faint  red-brownish  markings, margins undulating, apex rounded with a short cleft 
ca. 2 mm; lateral staminodes obovate, 17–18 × 8–9 mm, connective to the labellum by basal 1/2,  pale yellow  with  faint  red-brownish  markings,  apex rounded. Stamen 24–25 mm long;  filament sessile; anther  11–12 ×  5–6 mm,  connective tissue  bright yellow,  glabrous;  anther  thecae  10–11  mm  long, dehiscing by longitudinal  slits; anther  crest 10–11 mm long  (crest not  straightened),  wrapped around 
stigma,  yellow,  glabrous.  Style  to  65  mm  long (straightened), white, glabrous; stigma 1–2 × ca. 0.8 mm,  white,  ostiole  front  facing  downwards,  with ring  of  straight  ciliates.  Epigynous  glands  2, subulate, 7–8 × 0.6–0.8 mm, cream. Ovaries 5–6 × ca.  5  mm,  triangular-oblong,  pale  cream,  sparely villose, trilocular with central placentation. Capsule oblong, 15 mm long, red." 
HISTORY: "Zingiber ottensii was first discovered in a village near Buitenzorg, Java, Indonesia (Valeton,1918)." (2). 
PHENOLOGY: "Flowering in August and fruiting in November." (2).
ANDY'S NOTE: The one's at my garden in Arcadia, Florida bloomed in October.
HARDINESS: USDA zones 8a to 11. (5).
NOTES: This species is "cultivated in Thailand and Malaysia." (7). 

More Details

Flowering Calendar

Flower Color

Fruiting Calendar

Fruit Color
Bearing Age
2 years

Plant Form
Herbaceous Perennial Herb
5 feet
3 feet
Root type

Hardiness Zone
8a to 11a


(1) -
(2) - Zingiber ottensii valeton (Zingiberaceae) - A Newly Recorded Species for Vietnam - A 2006 Vietnamese article in Bioscience Discovery.
(3) - Zingipain, A cysteine protease from Zingiber ottensii Valeton rhizomes with antiproliferative activities against fungi and human malignant cell lines. - A 2011 Thai article published in Pre Biochem Biotechnol.
(4) - Plant Resources of Southeast Asia -
(5) - 
(6) - Essential Oil of Zingiber ottensii - A 1994 artcile published by the Journal of Essential Oil Research - posted on
(7) - Essential Oil Components of Leaves and Rhizome of Zingiber ottensii from Bandung, Indonesia - a 2018 Indonesian article on Research Journal of Chemistry and Environment.
(8) - Biological insights of Aromatic Plant Extract from Zingiber ottensii (Valeton) Leaf Against the Phytopathogenic Organisms -  A 2019 Indian study - Published in the Journal Of Pharmacy And Biological Sciences.
(9) - globinmed.cpm species profile.
(10) - A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula, Volume 2, by Burkill. Volume 2 - 1935; p. 2302.
(11) - Chemical composition and cytotoxic activity of the essential oil of Zingiber ottensii - Thubthimthed S, Limsiriwong P, Rerk-am U, Suntorntanasat T. - Act Hort. 2005;675:107-109. 
(12) - Siamy, a Thai company selling Black Plai salve online 
Last Updated: October 15, 2019

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