The genus Cosmos comes from the Greek κόσμος which means beautiful, ornament, and adorn, and relates to the idea that the nature of the embodied universe is harmonious.1 Cosmos contains 26 to 42 species, all of which originate from Latin America, but have spread throughout the world including Asia, Africa, Australia, and Europe. Wild cosmos (Cosmos caudatus, Apiaceae) is a consumed as a traditional vegetable in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia and is known as ulam raja, "king's salad". A compound flowering plant, the flowers have eight purple to red, pink, yellow, or white petal-like florets with a number of yellow-green disk florets at the center.
When wild cosmos traveled to Europe, gardeners planted it as an ornamental, and bees love the flowers, which can be annuals or perennials, depending on climate. However when it was transplanted to the East, Javanese and Malaysians recognized it as a potherb, spinach, and medicine, and all parts of the plant, stems, leaves, and flowers, are used both for food and healing. Wild cosmos had been utilized to treat burns, due to its antimicrobial properties, as well as to treat muscle spasms and strains. Other traditional applications in these adopted environments include to tone blood circulation, promote clean breath, and strengthen bones. The plant is known as awet muda in some provinces, meaning “stay young” and is taken for anti-aging purposes.
As a vegetable, wild cosmos is served with grilled fish and rice and in salads, often with dipping sauces, such as fermented or chili shrimp sauces.
While most articles concentrate on the traditional uses where cosmos has been naturalized, the plant also has ethnobotanical uses in its native environs. In the Colombian Amazon, wild cosmos is known as abuju temuyo, meaning devil’s arrow.2 The yellow flower grows wild around dwellings and is gathered in its adult stage. As a medicine, wild cosmos is administered both orally, as a beverage of mashed leaves, and in baths, mashed whole plant and/or decoction to prevent disease, and can be handled by both men and women. In the Chocó region, the Cuna use it as a body refreshment and perfume. After submerging wild cosmos in cold water, the flower-infused water is then used for bathing twice daily. The Tukuna people use wild cosmos as a pain reducer for cuts and wounds to the skin. Traditional healers also reported adminstering the plant for measles, influenza, and whooping cough.
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1Moshawih S, Cheema M, Ahmad Z, Zakaria ZA, Nazrul Hakim M. A comprehensive review on Cosmos caudatus (Ulam Raja): pharmacology, ethnopharmacology, and phytochemistry. Int Res J Educ Sci. 2017;1(1):14–31.
2Ramírez O, Blair S, Vaupés Medio TV, Cardona F, Pabon A. Ethnobotany of medicinal plants used to treat malaria by traditional healers from ten indigenous Colombian communities located in Waupes Medio. Biodiversity Intl J. 2017;1(4):151-167.