Emilia sonchifolia (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Emilia sonchifolia (L.) DC.

Protologue: Contrib. bot. Ind.: 24 (1834).
Family: Compositae
Chromosome number: 2n= 10


  • Cacalia sonchifolia L. (1753),
  • Senecio sonchifolius (L.) Moench (1802),
  • Emilia sonchifolia (L.) DC. var. javanica (Burm.) Mattfeld (1928).

Vernacular names

  • Emilia, Cupid's shaving brush, sow thistle (En)
  • Emilie (Fr)
  • Indonesia: patah kemudi, kemendilan (Javanese), jonge (Sundanese)
  • Malaysia: ketumbit jantan, setumbak merah
  • Philippines: tagulinau (Tagalog), lamlampaka (Ilocano), pisowa-pisowa (Bisaya)
  • Cambodia: smau reang tük
  • Thailand: hangplachon (central), phakdaeng (central), phakbang (northern)
  • Vietnam: rau má tiá, rau chua lè, hồng bối thảo.

Origin and geographic distribution

E. sonchifolia is a common weed with pantropical distribution. Its origin is unknown, but the genus Emilia Cassini is chiefly African. E. sonchifolia occurs wild throughout the Old World, including South-East Asia. In America it has been introduced and become naturalized.


The use of emilia as a vegetable is reported from the whole of South-East Asia (with the exception of Papua New Guinea), and also from some other parts of the world (West Africa). The young, non-flowering plants are eaten raw or steamed as a side dish with rice. The older leaves or plants are cooked. Emilia is a slightly bitter-tasting green. The plant has many medicinal applications. It is administered internally against fever, coughs and diarrhoea, as well as externally as a poultice for sores and swellings, drops for dim eyes and sore ears.

Production and international trade

Emilia plants are principally gathered from wild or spontaneous populations. It is sometimes cultivated on a small scale. Production statistics are not available, but it is occasionally offered for sale on local markets.


Information on the nutritive composition is scarce. The leaves (West African sample) contain per 100 g edible portion: water 90 g, protein 2.2 g, fat 0.3 g, carbohydrates 5.3 g, fibre 1.1 g, ash 1.1 g. The energy value is 137 kJ/100 g.


  • Annual herb, erect or at base prostrate, 10-150 cm tall, often branched from the very base, usually purplish-green, deeply rooting.
  • Stem slender, striate, 2-3 mm in diameter, glabrous or nearly so, solid and not laticiferous.
  • Leaves 4-16 cm × 1-8 cm, alternate, sessile, above dark green, beneath lighter green or tinged with purple, glabrous or nearly so, irregularly more or less coarsely dentate; lower leaves more or less deeply pinnatifid or lyrate, with an orbicular-ovate or subtriangular terminal lobe, lower part often narrowly alate, in juvenile plants often with patent white hairs; upper leaves linear or sagittate, semi-amplexicaul.
  • Inflorescence a terminal head, few together in slender corymbs or rarely solitary; head 20-45-flowered, subcylindrical, 8-17 mm × 4-5 mm; peduncle filiform, 1-5 cm long; involucral bracts 7-10, narrowly oblong-ovoid, usually slightly shorter than the flowers, at first erect and cohering up to near the tips, later free and reflexed, green with narrow transparent margins; hypanthium at anthesis cupular, gradually turning convex; ray flowers absent; disk flowers bisexual; corolla tubular, 5-lobed, 8-12 mm long, light red, rarely green or white; ovary short-hairy with 2 style arms; stamens connate, anthers 2-2.5 mm long with a small apical valve.
  • Fruit an achene, linear-oblongoid, 2.5-3 mm long, ribbed, pilose, brownish; pappus hairs numerous, 6-9 mm long, white.

E. sonchifolia flowers year-round. Vegetatively it resembles species of Sonchus L., but it can easily be distinguished by its solid stems which do not contain milky sap. The genus Emilia is closely related to the genus Senecio L., the main difference being that in Senecio the involucre usually has a few, much shorter bracts (in Emilia all bracts are of equal length).


E. sonchifolia occurs frequently as a weed in compounds, roadsides, grassy fields, on dikelets along rice fields, in cropped fields, tea, rubber and other plantations, teak forest, and on beaches. It prefers sunny or slightly shaded, not too dry localities from sea-level up to 3000 m altitude. It is locally abundant, but always occurs scattered.


Although E. sonchifolia is a very common weed of field crops, it is not considered very noxious or harmful. Propagation is by seed, and natural dispersal is by wind which easily carries the fruits over great distances.

Genetic resources and breeding

No attention has been given to this species in germplasm collection and breeding.


According to older literature sources, E. sonchifolia is a much relished leafy vegetable. Developments in the horticultural sector have diminished the importance of gathered products like emilia. The natural abundance of E. sonchifolia has not led, and probably will not lead in the near future, to efforts to promote its cultivation.


  • Busson, F., 1965. Plantes alimentaires de l'Ouest africain [Food plants of West Africa]. Ministère de la Coopération, Paris, France. pp. 421, 424-425.
  • Koster, J.T., 1980. The Compositae of New Guinea 7. Blumea 26: 233-243.
  • Lugod, G.C., 1967. Wild plants used as vegetables. In: Knott, J.E. & Deanon Jr, J.R. (Editors): Vegetable production in South-East Asia. University of the Philippines Press, Los Baños, the Philippines. pp. 342-347.
  • Ochse, J.J. & Bakhuizen van den Brink, R.C., 1980. Vegetables of the Dutch East Indies. 3rd English edition (translation of "Indische groenten", 1931). Asher & Co., Amsterdam, the Netherlands. pp. 129-130.
  • Soerjani, M., Kostermans, A.J.G.H. & Tjitrosoepomo, G., 1987. Weeds of rice in Indonesia. Balai Pustaka, Jakarta, Indonesia. pp. 80-81.


  • D. Sasmitamihardja