Plants for Food 2: Ulam raja

Common name: Cosmos, wild cosmos

Malay name: Ulam raja

Other local names: –

Scientific name: Cosmos caudatus

Distribution: Pantropical

Conservation Status: Least concern, Cultivated, Naturalised species

The name of the plant means ‘king of ulam.’ Its scientific name is Cosmos caudatus. Therefore, it is also known as Cosmos in English. This plant is indigenous to tropical America, and was intro­duced by the Spaniards into the Philippines, pos­sibly because it was used by them as a vegetable at sea. Now it is pantropical, including Southeast Asia, where it is cultivated but also occurs in a naturalised state.   

This erect, herbaceous plant can reach up to 2 metre high. It has grooved, purple-tinged stem with opposite leaf arrangement. The leaves are pinnatifid, and emit strong fragrance when crushed. The plant bears inflorescence at the tip of stem. The flowering stem is 5-30 cm long. The cluster of flowers consists of yellow tubular flowers and pink, spreading petal-like flowers. The inflorescence is slightly scented.

Culinary uses

The leafy part of Ulam raja is commonly consumed with rice, budu, sambal belacan, tempoyak and cincalok. Its grassy taste is accentuated by a subtle peppery tinge. It is believed that by consuming this plant one can enhance his or her blood circulation as well as protect their bones.

Planting

It is good to plant it in pot or bed as the plant grows vigorously. Just sow the seeds at soil surface or fine texture mulch. It prefers sunny places and fertile, moist, well-drained soil. This annual is quite short-lived as it dies after flowering and seed production. However, the plant will self-sow and re-grow in the same plot.

ulam raja 
Cosmos caudatus
The author is measuring the diameter of flower clusters.
Photo by Shang Ming

Biodiversity benefits

The flowers of Ulam raja attract a variety of day flying pollinators. These include several species of butterflies such as Tawny costers (Acraea terpsicore), Chocolate albatross (Appias lyncida), Julia heliconians (Dryas iulia) and Sulphurs (Eurema spp.) as well as long tongued bees such as stingless bees and honey bees. As with most composite flowers, it likely harbours thrips as well.

As a low shrub, it also helps to provide shelter for small animals and create ground cover to protect against soil erosion. It can be planted in mixed beds with native plants, but because of its rigorous growth it has a tendency to crowd out other native plants.

Related websites:

  1. https://www.yellowpages.my/article/ulam-the-original-malaysian-salad.html
  2. http://www.globinmed.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=62969:cosmos-caudatus-kunth&catid=8:botanical-information&Itemid=113
  3. https://tropicalselfsufficiency.com/cosmos-cosmos-caudatus/
  4. https://tropicalgardener.wordpress.com/tag/cosmos-caudatus/

Plants for Food 4: Temulawak

Curcuma xanthorrhiza rhizome
Photo credit: Danny Steven S (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported)

Common name: Javanese turmeric

Malay name: Temulawak

Local name: –

Scientific name: Cucurma zanthorrhiza

Distribution: East, South, and Southeast Asia, as well as Australia

Conservation status: Least concern, Cultivated, Naturalised.

Temulawak is a unique variety of ginger that grows in tropical Asia. This plant is very much like usual ginger, but has the characteristic yellow tinge and taste bitter. As the name suggests, Java ginger originated from Indonesia, more specifically from Java Island. Currently, most of the Temulawak is cultivated in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Philippines.

Flower cluster of Javanese turmeric
Photo credit: Kalpana Kalpana (CC BY-SA 3.0 License)

Temulawak is a herbaceous, perennial plant.  It consists of a cluster of erect pseudostems up to 2 metres tall from an underground rhizome. Each pseudostem is made up of up to 8 leaves with blades that can be 40 – 90cm long and 15 – 21cm wide. The purplish, spike-like cluster of flowers sprout horizontally from the rhizome next to the leaf shoot, with 15 to 35 bracts (hardened, specialised leaves) arranged spirally, each containing a flower. The layers of bract turn purplish as they spiral up. This is different from the flower of ginger, which have greenish, spadix-like (resemble flower cluster of aroids) bracts with pale yellow, tubular flowers.

Precaution

Java ginger seems to be safe for most people when used for a short time, up to 18 weeks. Nonetheless, it may cause stomach irritation and nausea when used in large amounts or for long periods of time. For pregnant and breast-feeding individuals, please stay on the safe side and avoid using it. Besides, don’t use Java ginger if you have liver or gall bladder problems, as it can increase the production of bile and worsen your condition. If you have gallstones, get medical advice before using it.

Culinary Uses

It can be eaten fresh and has a sourish, bitter taste. According to an article written by Juliana Harsianti, Temulawak is mostly used by beating the rhizome of this ginger and putting it into the dish being prepared. The rhizome of Temulawak contains curcuminoid, which is possibly useful to neutralise toxins, relieve joint pain, increase the secretion of bile and lower blood cholesterol.

The common use for this herb is to improve appetite, especially for children. To make a Temulawak potion, mash the rhizome and brew with tamarind and palm sugar, keep it boiling until only half the water remains.

Planting

The plant prefers slightly shady conditions and demands a moist, fertile soil which is rich in humus. Place the dried rhizome into the soil, covered up and don’t forget to water it. Fertilise the soil with compost to get health plant growth.

Biodiversity Benefits

Curcuma species are known to be pollinated by several species of bees and butterflies, as well as attracting ants and beetles that are known to feed on the pollen. There are records of Hoeybees (Apis spp.) and Blue banded bees (Amegilia spp.) visiting these flowers. Dense plantings of gingers can be used to create natural screens or hedges. These provide shelter for small mammals, birds and frogs.

Related website:

  1. http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Curcuma+zanthorrhiza
  2. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-532/javanese-turmeric
  3. https://www.healthbenefitstimes.com/javanese-turmeric/
  4. https://uses.plantnet-project.org/en/Curcuma_xanthorrhiza_(PROSEA)
  5. https://www.koop-phyto.org/en/medicinal-plants/turmeric.php
  6. https://www.99.co/blog/indonesia/cara-menanam-temulawak/
  7. http://ijprb.com/vol%2009%20(1)/7.aswani.pdf

Plants for Food 1: Selom

Selom (Oenanthe javanica)
Photo by KENPAI (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Common name: Java waterdropwort

Malay name: Selom

Other local names: –

Scientific name: Oenanthe javanica

Distribution: East, South, and Southeast Asia, as well as Australia

Conservation status: Least concern, Cultivated, Native

Description

Selom is found in the rainforest in Malaysia. Selom is an erect, perennial plant growing from 10 – 150 cm tall. The plant has creeping stolons by which it spreads vigorously, often forming large clumps. It bears small, white flowers in clusters. Selom often grows wild in swampy places such as the edge of wetland and rice field. However, there has been cultivation of Selom nowadays in response of market demand. It is rich in Vitamin C and minerals.

Culinary use

Selom was once a staple of Malay diets, freshly harvested leaves and stems were often served with a mix of Ulam raja, Pegaga or Tenggek burung as ulam. If you are a food lover, you should not miss the Northern Laksa or Laksa Utara in Peninsular Malaysia. The dish is normally presented together with fresh leaves of Selom. Other than that, the tender stems and leaf stalks of Selom are used fresh as salad, to garnish steamed rice and other dishes, or boiled and chopped as greens.

Planting

Selom is considered a plant that is easy to grow. It thrives in various type of soil. However, it is best to grow the plant in fertile, moist soil with high organic content. To plant Selom in seed bed or nursery, the soil must be plowed before planting.

Instead of planting with seed, planting with cutting is faster to get the yield. Young plant needs sufficient water to grow well. It is good to water the plant two times per day, morning and dusk. The cutting start to develop roots within 2 to 3 weeks. After 4 to 6 months, reduce the times of watering. You can harvest the plant after 3 to 4 months of planting in soil.

The most common found disease of the plant is Sooty mould. Therefore, take precautions on the sanitation and implement good farming practices e.g. keeping a distance among plants and removing unhealthy plants.

Biodiversity benefits

As a small plant that grows in moist places, Selom makes for excellent shelter for small wetland animals such as frogs. It can also be planted near ponds to act as a shelter for fry and small fish. The small white flower clusters are attractive to pollinators like butterflies as well as short- and long- tongued bees.

Related websites:

  1. https://myagri.com.my/2017/12/selom/
  2. https://avrdc.org/water-dropwort-oenanthe-javanica/
  3. http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Oenanthe+javanica
  4. https://animhosnan.blogspot.com/2010/12/selom.html
  5. https://www.mstar.com.my/lain-lain/jamu-selera/2014/07/02/kerabu-selom