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Saturday, May 7, 2011
AMERICAN LOTUS - USES IN FOLK MEDICINE AND CUISINE
There are only two species of lotus in the Nelumbonaceae family, one being the pink sacred lotus, Nelumbo nucifera which is native to Asia and the other the American lotus. It is native to the south-eastern part of the USA but can be found in many states now having been cultivated by the Native Americans. They planted the American lotus or chinquapin or yangupin as they migrated. Its tuber can be used as food, and baked like a potato, as it is starchy. It can be steamed too, and boiled, just like an ordinary potato tuber. The young leaves can also be eaten and cooked like spinach, as they can be boiled or steamed. The immature seeds of the seed pod can be eaten raw and the mature seeds can be roasted after being extracted from the pod and eaten, or you can grind them into flour and make bread with them. They can also be used to thicken soups. You should steep the root in water before cooking to remove the bitterness.
The Native Americans believed that their lotus, like the pink Asian one was a sacred plant with mystical powers. The American lotus, unlike its Asian relative is yellow or white.
An interesting phenomenon of the leaves of the American lotus is that they can’t get wet. Water forms a droplet and slides off the leaf. They can be used medicinally as the root can be pounded to a pulp and used as a poultice to relieve the pain of inflammatory diseases such as arthritis. It is thought that a decoction of the flowers and leaves can be used for ailments such as ringworm as it might have antifungal properties. There is not as much medical research so far into the properties of the American lotus as there has been into those of Nelumbo nucifera, which has been used in traditional medicines for centuries.
The dried seed pods can be used as an attractive natural decoration. Its flowers are fragrant and bloom in late spring and then throughout the summer. The flowers can grow up to a foot in diameter, and the stems can sometimes be seen rising out of the water. It is classed as invasive in Connecticut where selling its seeds is prohibited. However it likes shallow water and can happily grow in garden ponds and shallow lakes. Be careful when handling it though as it can cause skin irritation and the plant has sharp edges, so it’s best to wear gloves if you are thinking of harvesting it.