Estrella del Mar (Ulam Raja) : Cosmos caudatus

This plant can grow to 3 metres (9 feet) in height

Cosmos caudatus


  • Bidens artemisiifolia subsp. caudata (Kunth) Kuntze (1891)
  • Bidens berteriana Spreng. (1826)
  • Bidens carnea Heer (1842)
  • Bidens caudata (Kunth) Sch.Bip. (1856)
  • Cosmea caudata (Kunth) Spreng. (1826)
  • Cosmos caudatus var. caudatus
  • Cosmos caudatus var. exaristatus Sherff. (1964)

Common Names

Sometimes called “Spanish needles” although this name is typically used for the (closely related) herb Bidens pilosa.

  1. By Juan Carlos Fonseca Mata – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
  2. By Wibowo Djatmiko (Wie146) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Some Common Names in Asian countries

Indonesia: kenikir (Java), randa midang (West Java).

Philippines: cosmos (Tagalog), turay-turay (Bisaya), onwad (Ifugao).

Thailand: daoruang-phama (Bangkok), khamhae (northern).

Malaysia: ulam raja, hulam raja, pelampong.

In Malay culture, the word “ulam” refers to certain plants found locally that are consumed as green salads either on their own or seasoned with spices and fermented sauces and eaten with rice. The word “ulam” is a broader term encompassing different species of traditional herbs and vegetables found locally in Southeast Asia. Within Asian countries, more than 120 species of ulam have been discovered (Mohd Shukri et al. 2011).

Nor Azura AZ. Ulam Tradisional Malaysia. 2007/12/23 Available from: http://kebunwarisan.

The plant is known by several Common names in Latin America which include:

  • Molajtu sotyi (Popoluca). Popoluca is a Nahuatl term for various indigenous peoples of southeastern Veracruz and Oaxaca.
  • Chactsul (chacxul; chak tsul) (Yucatán, Quintana Roo)
  • Estrella del mar (Yucatan, Quintana Roo) : “bintang laut”
  • Copa de oro (Cuencas de los rios Valle de Bravo, Malacatepec, Tilostoc y Temascaltepec)
  • Cambray (Honduras, El Salvador)
  • Cambray rojo (Honduras, El Salvador)
  • Mozote-doradilla (El Salvador)
  • Flor de muerto (Costa Rica) “bunga maut”. No relation to cempasuchil (flor de muerto) Tagetes erecta
  • Wild cosmos (Belize)
  • Romerillo (Cuba). In various parts of Latin America (Puerto Rico, Paraná, Cerrado, Rio De Janeiro, US Minor Outlying Islands, Minas Gerais, Mata Atlântica, Santa Catarina, Rio Grande Do Sul, U.S. Virgin Islands, The Contiguous United States, and SãO Paulo) romerillo likely refers to another of the Bidens species (B.alba). In Mexico romerillo is a Common Name for the poreleaf Porophyllum scoparium. See Post Porophyllum scoparium
  • Flor-de-branco (Portuguese name)
  • Margarita (en Español)

In Asia (1) Ulam Raja is grown for its flavourful, pungent, and nutritious edible leaves.

  1. Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand (and others)

It is said in many texts to be native to the Caribbean, Central America, and parts of North and South America (tropical America). It was brought by the Spanish to the Southern Philippines. According to “A Comprehensive Review on Cosmos caudatus (Ulam Raja): Pharmacology, Ethnopharmacology, and Phytochemistry,” Spaniards took this plant to Asia via the Philippines, possibly because it was used by them as a vegetable during the long sea voyage (Siemonsma & Piluek 1993). Upon seeing these white rajas eating this salad (ulam), the natives called it Ulam Raja.

Having said that, C.caudatus is said to have cryptogenic origins (1) in southern Mexico, Central America or the Antilles. A review by Melchert (1990) suggests that it is native to the gulf slopes of Mexico from Tamaulipas through Veracruz and the Yucatan Peninsula and perhaps further afield. It was first collected by von Humboldt and Bonpland, near Havana, Cuba in 1801.

  1. cryptogenic : adjective : of obscure or uncertain origin.

Culinary use.

See Post Cilantro Substitute : Kesum for a recipe using this herb.

Eat the leaves from plants that have not yet flowered as the flavour of the leaf becomes more intense after flowering (1). If managed by regularly pruning off flower stalks, the plant will continue to grow leafy material suitable for consumption. 6 weeks after the seeds sprout the first leaves can be harvested and subsequent harvests can be every 3 weeks. Regular harvesting will stimulate production and delay flowering, and can continue until the plant is 2-3 years old.

  1. a lot of edible weeds are similar. The leaves of dandelion and sowthistle become more bitter after flowering. The herbs medicinal actions may alter slightly after flowering too as the chemical content of the plant changes. Knowing when to harvest a plant (medicinally speaking) for its leaves, flowers or roots is part of the art of herbal medicine.
The part of the plant that is normally eaten is the young shoots and,
according to PROSEA, the leaves (which have a very strong taste) smell of turpentine.

Thre taste of this herb has been described variously as unique, pungent and unforgettable. This immediately brought to mind my first experience with epazote. I was in Mexico City , it was early in the morning and I came across a street vendor setting up his cart. I ordered a quesadilla with flor de calabaza and quesillo to which he added two whole and very fresh epazote leaves. Lord have mercy. talk about a “unique” flavour (and one that persisted all day – every time I burped I was reminded of the epazote I had eaten that morning). I wondered to myself if ulam raja might be similar. As I have no experience with this herb I need now to rely on the experience of others. So, what does this plant taste of?

  • Its grassy taste is accentuated by a subtle peppery tinge.(1)
  • The young leaves/stems offer a peppery lemony taste (2)
  • Tastes like a mix of parsley, cos lettuce, celery, carrot and flowers I guess? (3)
  • taste and scent almost like guava (4)
  • The taste is quite unique unlike something that is easily describeable (sic), mildly peppery with a little tartness. (4)

Then things got a little mangoey

  • For the uninitiated, the leaves of ulam raja tastes raw and somewhat astringent. When crushed, the leaves emit an odour that is reminiscent of mango. (5)
  • refreshing taste hints at green mango and green apple.(6)
  • Its flavour is a cross between lemon and mangga (mango) (7)
  • leaves taste like unripe mangoes with a slightly bitter aftertaste and make a good local alternative for rocket leaves. (8)
  • Ulam raja has a green mango flavour that pairs really well with the subtly spicy Thai basil. (9)
  • It smells pungent but tastes like mild mango and has a slimy texture. (10) (this is the first – and only – reference I came across that noted this herb has a certain baba (sliminess) to it (similar to okra or nopal?)

The majority of comments regard a mango like flavour profile. This is very interesting and only encourages my desire to meet this herb.

Nutritional content of ulam raja

C.caudatus seed head.

Medicinal usage.

While this plant is mainly grown as an ornamental in Europe, it has become an important culinary and medicinal plant in parts of Asia.

In traditional medicine, C. caudatus is applied to individuals with burns to prevent infection. It is also used to treat muscular injuries such as spasms and strains. One of its popular uses in Malaysia is to cure infections caused by both bacteria and fungus. It is given to people with high blood pressure (a practice popular in eastern Java). It is also marketed as an antiaging supplement, believed to improve blood circulation, improve bone strength, and as a dental remedy to cure halitosis.

Cosmos caudatus is one of ten commonly used medicinal plants in Malaysia for treatment of type 2 diabetes (Sekar etal 2014).

A single-centre, randomized, controlled, two-arm parallel design clinical trial was carried out in a tertiary hospital in Malaysia. This study consisted of 100 patients diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Results indicated that short-term C. caudatus supplementation is effective in improving insulin sensitivity in patients with type 2 diabetes. C. caudatus has the potential to develop as functional food. Given the escalating prevalence of type 2 diabetes worldwide, further clinical trials on long-term effect of C. caudatus in patients with type 2 diabetes are warranted (Shi-Hui Cheng etal 2015)

In addition, C. caudatus have been shown to possess various medicinal benefits (Cheng S-H etal 2015) including anti-diabetic (Perumal etal 2014), antihypertensive (Amalia etal 2012) and anti-inflammatory effects in animal studies (Ajaykumar etal 2012).

This herb has use in the practice of curanderismo.

According to Leonti (2002) the Popoluca peoples use the herb medicinally for the treatment of chills, fever, rash and swelling of the body (1)

  1. Escalofrios, fiebre, salpullido, hinchasön del cuerpo [Hinchazón : Lat Am Spain : FEMININE NOUN : (Medicine) [de herida, tobillo] swelling (= bulto) bump ⧫ lump]

Ramirez Ramirez & Fernando (1999) note that amongst the inhabitants of Sierra de Santa Marta, Veracruz this plant is used by curanderos (well they list the plant as having magico-religioso (magical-religious) uses for the treatment of mal de viento (1). The leaves are macerated and rubbed to combat “wind sickness” (2). The condition mal viento does not have an equivalent in allopathic western medical practices (3). The “rubbing” of the herbs is part of a treatment called a limpia (4) called a barrida (or sweeping) where bunches of (usually strongly scented) herbs (5) are brushed over the body to sweep away negative energies so that proper healing can begin (6)

  1. also called mal aire (bad air)
  2. las hojas maceradas y untadas para combatir el mal de viento
  3. See Post Glossary of Terms used in Herbal Medicine. for a little more information on this condition
  4. a “spiritual” cleansing. I have written about this in several Posts. Check out Quelite : Pericón : Tagetes lucida
  5. Basil is popular for this
  6. see Posts The Pore Leaf in Peru and Papalo and Pipicha. Skunk Weed? for more information on barridas

Mal aire is a loss of breath, it is believed to be caused by evil spirits, it can affect any part of the body and cause pain in the affected part.

Romero (2018) notes of mal aire

Mal aire has an important characteristic that resembles the idea of contagion (amongst Nahua speaking peoples). Just as contact with certain places or objects causes “air” to enter the person’s body, it is possible that the contaminated individual can transmit it. This frequently happens in the case of infants and newborns, when their father, upon arriving from cutting firewood, from the cornfield or from a long walk, immediately approaches the little one, who, due to the weakness of his age, begins to get sick crying for no apparent reason, difficulty sleeping or suckling, the presence of rheum in the eyes are some of the symptoms that the mother attends to and interprets as bad air. The thermal balance of the body is delicate, especially in certain periods of life, such as childhood or old age.

The expression “mal viento” (bad wind) designates both the causative agent and the disease it produces. In traditional Mayan medicine, bad airs or winds are part of the causation of numerous diseases, such as rheumatism , diabetes , headaches , the evil eye and sterility, among many others. Bad airs (according to a broad concept amongst the Maya) are entities of the same nature as common air, but that have certain characteristics that make them different. Although many informants affirm that the bad wind is only one and comes from the north (its name is xaman ka’an ), in Quintana Roo they believe that the winds are various, that “they all come from the north and attack at any time of the year” (1). Although all three are dangerous winds, they are not equally so; the most feared is the ajau ik’, who “is the owner of the yellow clouds and is at the end of the earth; he lives there.” It is an air that “only does bad things, since that is his trade,” the therapists say. Other airs called k’ak’as ik’ and taankas ik’ are also bad . On the other hand, these entities are the way in which the alux (2) manifest themselves , minor gods who are “the owners” of the land, the milpas, the mountains, etc.; “When the alux want something, they demonstrate it through bad airs that attack the people who pass through those places.”

  1. these winds are called ajau ik’ , mozon ik’ and lak’in ik’
  2. An alux is a type of sprite or spirit in the mythological tradition of certain Maya peoples from the Yucatán Peninsula and Guatemala, also called Chanekeh or Chaneque by the Nahuatl people. Aluxo’ob are conceived of as being small, only about knee-high, and in appearance resembling miniature traditionally dressed Maya people. Tradition holds that aluxob are generally invisible but are able to assume physical form for purposes of communicating with and frightening humans as well as to congregate. They are generally associated with natural features such as forests, caves, stones, and fields but can also be enticed to move somewhere through offerings. Some Maya believe that the Aluxo’ob are called into being when a farmer builds a little house on his property, most often in a maize field (milpa). For seven years, the alux will help the corn grow, summon rain and patrol the fields at night, whistling to scare off predators or crop thieves. At the end of seven years, the farmer must close the windows and doors of the little house, sealing the alux inside. If this is not done, the alux will run wild and start playing tricks on people. In 2022 a bridge was built in Cancun (Mexico) to create a shortcut from the airport to the city. The construction of the bridge to cross the lagoon took much longer than expected because no matter how much progress was made, something always happened that delayed the construction works. According to local workers, who were part of the crew during the construction phase, it was not until “Los Aluxes”, the authentic owners of the place, were asked for authorization that the work could be successfully completed. On the advice of the Maya priest, a small pyramid was built under the bridge structure, in order to have a pact with the Aluxes and allow the completion of the bridges construction.

When not cultivated, cosmos often occurs as a weed in the neighbourhood of human habitations, e.g. in fields and waste places, from the lowlands up to 1600 m altitude. It likes sunny places with a not too humid atmosphere and a fertile and pervious (1) soil. This is a problem in Australia where in places it has been declared a prohibited weed. Some of the Porophyllum species also suffer from the same “weed” classification in various States in Australia.

  1. adjective (of a substance) allowing water to pass through; permeable. “pervious rocks”


  • Ajaykumar TV, Anandarajagopal K, Sunilson JAJ, Arshad A, Jainaf RAM, Venkateshan N. Anti-inflammatory activity of Cosmos Caudatus. Int J Univers Pharm Bio Sci. 2012;1(2):40–8.
  • Amalia L, Anggadiredja K, Sukrasno, Fidrianny I, Inggraini R. Antihypertensive potency of wild Cosmos (Cosmos caudatus Kunth, Asteraceae) leaf extract. J Pharmacol Toxicol. 2012;7(8):359–68.
  • Cheng, Shi Hui & Mohd Yusof, Barakatun Nisak & Anthony, Joseph & Ismail, Amin. (2015). Potential medicinal benefits of Cosmos caudatus (Ulam Raja): A scoping review. Journal of Research in Medical Sciences. 20. 1000. 10.4103/1735-1995.172796.
  • Cheng, SH., Ismail, A., Anthony, J. et al. Effect of Cosmos caudatus (Ulam raja) supplementation in patients with type 2 diabetes: Study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. BMC Complement Altern Med 16, 84 (2016).
  • Cheng S-H, Barakatun-Nisak MY, Anthony J, Ismail A. Potential medicinal benefits of Cosmos caudatus (Ulam Raja): A scoping review. J Res Med Sci. 2015;20:1000–6.
  • Kermath, Brian & Bennett, Bradey & Pulsipher, Lydia. (2014). Food Plants in the Americas: A Survey of the Domesticated, Cultivated, and Wild Plants Used for Human Food in North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean.
  • Kunth, K.S., 1818. Cosmos.Nova Genera et Species Plantarum, 4folio ed. [ed. by Bonpland, A.J.A., Humboldt, F.W.H.A. von].
  • Leonti, Marco (2002)Moko/La Rosa Negra, ethnobotany of the Popoluca Veracruz, México : Doctoral Thesis :
  • Melchert, T.E., 1968. Systematic studies in the Coreopsidinae: cytotaxonomy of Mexican and Guatemalan Cosmos.Amer. J. Bot., 55(3) 345-353.
  • Mohd Shukri, M.A., Alan, C. & Siti Noorzuraini, A.R. 2011. Polyphenols and antioxidant activities of selected traditional vegetables. Journal of Tropical Agriculture and Food Science 39(203): 69-83.
  • Perumal V, Hamid AA, Ismail A, Saari K, Abas F. Effect of Cosmos caudatus Kunth leaves on the lipid profile of a hyperlipidemia-induced animal model. J Food Chem Nutr. 2014;2(1):43–51.
  • Ramirez Ramirez, Fernando (1999) Thesis Paper – Flora y Vegetacion de Sierra de Santa Marta, Veracruz. Departmento de Biologia U.N.A.M.
  • Romero Laura Elena, “Los “malos aires”, Arqueología Mexicana, núm. 152 : 2018
  • Sekar M, Zulhilmi M, Hamdi AY, Nabila N, Zahida Z, Shafiq M. Ten commonly available medicinal plants in Malaysia used for the treatment of diabetes-a review. Asian J Pharm Clin Res. 2014;7(1):1–5.
  • Sherff, E.E., 1932. Revision of the genus Cosmos (Family Compositae).Field Museum of Natural History, Botany, 8399-488.
  • Sherff, Earl Edward (1964). Some New Or Otherwise Noteworthy Coreopsidinae (Compositae) from Mexico. Brittonia, 16(1), 58–73. doi:10.2307/2805184
  • Shi-Hui Cheng, Amin Ismail, Joseph Anthony, Ooi Chuan Ng, Azizah Abdul Hamid, Mohd Yusof Barakatun-Nisak, “Eight Weeks of Cosmos caudatus (Ulam Raja) Supplementation Improves Glycemic Status in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized Controlled Trial”, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2015, Article ID 405615, 7 pages, 2015.
  • Siemonsma, J.S. & Piluek, Kasem (Editors) (1993) Plant Resources of South-East Asia : No 8 : Vegetables : Pudoc Scientific Publishers, Wageningen : ISBN 90-220-1058-9
  • Sprengel, C.P.J., 1826. Systema Vegetabilium, editio decima sexta.
  • Teubner, Christian; Witzigmann, Eckart; Schonfeldt, Sybil; Gerhardt, Ulric & Ruhlemann, Daniel. (1997) The Herbs and Spices Cookbook: How to Make the Best of Herbs and Spices in Your Cooking : ‎ Penguin Books; 1St Edition (January 1, 1997) ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0670871056



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