Cosmos (Ulam Raja)
2:15 PM | Author: Atie

Botanically known as Cosmos caudatus, it is sometimes called ‘wild cosmos’ by locals here but it is mostly refered to via its Malay name, ulam raja, which translates into ‘king vegetable’. Native to tropical America, it was first introduced to Philippines via the Spaniards, according to Plant Resources of South East Asia (PROSEA). The pinnate to pinnatipartite leaves of this plant are consumed as a leafy vegetable, usually in the raw form, but sometimes also cooked and mixed with coconut sauce and chillies. It constitutes as one of the more common raw plant leaves eaten a salad-like form, called ‘ulam’ by the local Malay community as well as those in Indonesia and Malaysia.

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. It is considered as a medicinal herb which is believed to possess the ability to cleanse the blood and strengthen bones due to its high calcium content. From my research, a preliminary one which was done with my then postgraduate colleague, the dried leaves of this plants contain high amounts of potent antioxidants.

Chemical Contents

It contains 0.3% of proteins,o.4% of fats and carbohydrates, it also rich in lacsium and vitamin A. Its leaf has high antioxidant (AEAC) property, each 100 grams of the fresh leaves have the same antioxidant property to the 2400 mg of ascorbic L-acid. It contains more than 20 types of antioxidant substances that have been identified in ulam raja. The main anti oxidant substances are due to the existence of protosianidin in dimer, through hecsamer, cuersetin glycoside, chlorogenic acid, neochlorogenic acid, kripto-chlorogenic acid and (+)- catcher.


The plant itself can grow quite tall, up to 3 m tall but is an annual or a short-lived perennial herb. It produces dainty, attractive pink flowers when mature. It should not be confused with the yellow- and orange-flowered Cosmos sulphureus as both species are similar vegetatively and have some vernacular names (randa midang in West Java) in common.

This plant is rather easy to grow. It thrives in a sunny spot outdoors with well draining, fertile and moist soil. It is a big drinker and demands a constant supply of food. Under optimal conditions, it grows quickly, flowers and sets seeds very readily. Plants self seed easily and can quickly become a weed in a garden. Harvesting of leaves can commence once plants are 6 weeks old and subsequent ones can be done every 3 weeks. Regular harvesting will stimulate the production of useful and edible foliage and helps to delay flowering.

Uses

Ulam raja is used in traditional medication because it can repair the blood flow and purify the blood from toxic substances. It also can strengthen the bones. The extract chloroform from its leaf has costunolide, stigmasterol, lutein and bipyridine that cab inhibit the activity of some bacteria and fungi like candida albicans, Bacillus subtilis and also E. Choli.

Torch Ginger (Bunga Kantan)
1:57 PM | Author: Atie

The torch ginger is an indispensable plant for an ornamental tropical-themed garden or a herb and spice garden. The plant itself makes a great garden landscape plant, its flowers have immense ornamental value and its young flowering shoots are an important spice. Various parts of the torch ginger plant also have folk medicinal uses. Hence, it is not one of those “can-see-but-cannot-eat” plants.

A hardcore tropical perennial plant, the torch ginger is native to areas near home - Malaysia and Indonesia. Botanically it is known as Etlingera elatior, the torch ginger is a member of the true ginger family, Zingiberaceae. It has been formerly classified in various other true ginger genera including Alpinia, Phaeomoria and Nicolaia. The genus is named after the German botanist Andreas Ernst Etlinger while the specific name elatior, in Latin, has the meaning of “taller”.

The growth habit of the torch ginger is rhizomatous in nature. It is a large-growing herbaceous plant. A mature torch ginger plant is a stately one, commanding much attention. The leafy shoots of a mature specimen can reach a towering height of about 3 meters with a diameter of about 4 cm. The strap-like leaves that line alternately on the leafy shoots can grow up to a length of about 80 cm.

For those of you who have seen the torch ginger flower, the reason why the torch ginger is a popular cut flower in many areas around the world is clearly apparent. Due to the striking resemblance of the inflorescence to a flaming torch, it is not difficult to discern why the common name for this ginger is as such. Besides possessing ornamental value, the young flowering shoot (often called a flower bud) of the torch ginger is an indispensable ingredient used to flavour both rojak and laksa, which are popular dishes in Malaysia and Singapore.

The flowers of the torch ginger are produced in an interesting way. The inflorescence arises from the rhizome beneath the ground like a spear and is protected by a series of bracts. It is supported on a scape that can reach a height of 60 cm to more than a meter. The thickness of the scape can range from 1 to 2.5 cm in diameter. When the final height has been attained, the outer protective bracts gradually open. These outer bracts eventually become reflexed to form the ‘rim’ of the burning torch. This, in turn, reveals a central, pinecone-like structure consisting of many small tight bracts that form the ‘flame’. The individual true flowers appear from between the bracts found on the pinecone-like structure. The beginning and the end of a torch ginger inflorescence – the young flower shoot (left)and the fruiting head, also called the infructescence (right).

When mature, the torch ginger blooms all year round in the tropics. Its inflorescence is available in three main colours, namely, pink, red and white. When not in flower, plants from the three varieties cannot be easily differentiated via their aerial parts as all plants will be similarly green in appearance. However, there is a torch ginger variety that produces red inflorescences that has purplish red leaf undersides and the leafy shoots also take on a similar reddish tinge. In general, the pink variety is the one that is the most floriferous which is followed by the red and white varieties. It is therefore not surprising to rojak fans now why the rojak flower that they are familiar with is usually pink in colour.

The torch ginger also has a place in an eco-garden. The flowers attract the sunbird, its natural pollinator. Whether grown for food use or as a sunbird attractant, one should refrain from using chemical pesticides in the garden. An organically grown garden is generally a safer and healthier place for every living thing that visits it.

Culture

First and foremost, the torch ginger is a huge plant and is not one that can be grown in containers. However, apartment gardeners who love and want to grow this plant need not despair! Go to your nearest community garden to get yourself some space to grow a plant. If there isn’t a community garden, go start one and this is perhaps the most convenient place for you to do a multitude of plants.

The torch ginger thrives in soil that is well-drained and moisture-retentive. Refrain from growing the plant in a waterlogged location. Clay soil which is the common soil type encountered in Singapore is best amended with liberal amounts of organic matter such as compost. Organic materials incorporated into clayey soils will help to open up the structure to improve aeration, improve drainage as well as retain moisture.

The plant would also appreciate a layer of organic mulch consisting of dried leaves or compost around the root zone. Organic mulches offer three main benefits – they help to maintain a cool constant temperate, reduce water loss from the roots during hot and dry weather and provide nutrients for the plant when they break down. Additional feeding will promote growth and should be done using organic fertiliser but it is usually not required.

Plants should be grown in a sheltered spot that is protected from winds as the leafy shoots can become damaged and the leaves get shredded by constant winds. Winds can also overly dry out the plant. In terms of light requirements, the torch ginger plant grows best when it is planted in a semi-shaded location. It can, however, be acclimatised to grow under higher light levels. When exposed to more sunlight, the plant reacts via an interesting manner by growing shorter in stature.

A torch ginger plant is generally not invasive as the clump of leafy shoots is quite tight and advances at quite a manageable pace. However, rhizomes can wonder into unwanted areas in the garden and if one is seen advancing in a wrong direction, it can be stopped at its tracks by breaking it with a shovel and dug up and used as material for propagation. When propagating, it is better to obtain a clump of several leafy shoots rather than one that just consist of one leafy shoot. After a section of the rhizome has been broken and dug up, the leafy shoots can be cut away (to reduce the loss of water from the leaves) and potted up in a well-drained media. Do not bury the rhizome section too deeply as that can cause it to rot. Leave the cutting in a sheltered position until the growth of a new shoot is spotted.

Fortunately, the torch ginger is relatively pest-free and disease-free plant. The most common pest is perhaps the grasshopper that chews along the leaf margins. Sucking insects such as spider mites may congregate on the leaf undersides while aphids may be found feasting on the young shoots and leaves. In general, all these pests rarely do great damage to an established plant but attention must be paid on a newly established, young plant.

Have you eaten a pomegranate? The fruit features in Greek mythology in the story of Persephone, daughter of the harvest goddess Demeter. Hades, the lord of the underworld, kidnapped the beautiful maiden. Because she ate a few pomegranate seeds before being rescued, she had to spend several months every year in the underworld with him. According to the myth, that?s when the earth was forced to endure winter.

Modern stories about pomegranates are not quite as fanciful as the myth, but there is a lot of buzz lately about the exotic fruit. How much is supported by scientific research?

Pomegranates grow wild from Iran to northern India, but they are cultivated throughout India, the Middle East, southern Europe and California. Scientists in Israel have been conducting research on the health benefits of pomegranates and pomegranate juice for years, and now others have joined in.

What are pomegranates good for? Researchers report that they are rich in antioxidants that can keep bad LDL cholesterol from oxidizing (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, May 2000). This degradation of LDL seems to be an initial step in the development of atherosclerosis. In addition, pomegranate juice, like aspirin, can help keep blood platelets from clumping together to form unwanted clots.

Does this make any difference clinically? More recent research has found that eight ounces of pomegranate juice daily for three months improved the amount of oxygen getting to the heart muscle of patients with coronary heart disease (American Journal of the College of Cardiology, Sept. 2005). Other researchers report that long-term consumption of pomegranate juice may help combat erectile dysfunction (Journal of Urology, July 2005).

Investigators are also excited about the possibility that pomegranate compounds might prevent prostate cancer or slow its growth. In mice, treatment with pomegranate extract delayed the development of tumors and improved survival (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Sept. 26, 2005). Other research reports suggest that pomegranate juice might help reduce the risk of breast cancer.

Pomegranate is one of the foods for which there is currently a health 'buzz'. Specifically, it is claimed that the polyphenols found in pomegranate juice have many health benefits, and that extracts of pomegranate can aid in anti-aging and in preventing heart disease.

Is any of this true? Are the claimed benefits of pomegranate juice or extracts actually real?

The pomegranate is the fruit of a warm climate shrub or small tree which has been cultivated in Asia and around the Mediterranean sea for centuries. It is now grown in many countries around the world where the climate allows. It is a fruit which is fairly difficult and fiddly to peel and eat, with the juicy red 'arils' or seed cases needing to be separated from the pith by hand. It is usually eaten raw.

In folk mythology, pomegranates traditionally have 365 'seeds'. However, modern studies, which have actually counted seeds in individual pomegranates grown in various countries, have shown that the number of seeds can vary from 329 to over 1000! In fact, the bigger a pomegranate is, the more seeds it is likely to have.

The juice (whether fresh or extracted) of the pomegranate contains vitamin C, folic acid, and polyphenols (antioxidants), which are the basis of the health claims for the fruit.

Polyphenols work by removing free radicals from cells, which helps to maintain the human cell function, and they also aid in wound repair, in strengthening the immune system, and by having an anti-inflammatory effect. Perhaps the most famous benefit is that these polyphenols can help to slow skin wrinkling, and so pomegranates are a popular ingredient in anti-aging remedies, both traditional and modern.

Recent research has also shown that pomegranates can also help with osteoarthritis, by slowing the deterioration of cartilage. Another study has presented evidence that pomegranate juice was effective in increasing blood flow to the heart, and so was helpful for patients with ischemic heart disease. This was a study in which test subjects drank 8 ounces of juice every day for three months. It was also shown to reduce arterial plaque, in a patient test group.

In view of these results, many commercial supplements and extracts are becoming available in concentrated or capsule form. The benefits of using pomegranate extracts as a health supplement are that the less useful ingredients of the juice are removed, including the sugar and calories.

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