WATER SOLDIER - NOW RARE IN BRITAIN: HISTORY, HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF WATER SOLDIER
As its name suggests the water soldier is an aquatic plant in the Hydrocharitaceae family. It has the distinction of being the only one of its genus which is native to the
British Isles, although it is debatable as to whether it is a native of in County Fermanagh where it grows prolifically. In Northern Ireland it is no longer as common as it once was, as in the 17th century Nicholas Culpeper the English herbalist wrote that it grew in the Britain fens, where it is no longer found. It has also disappeared from Lincolnshire Yorkshire and grows in the greatest numbers in East Norfolk. However it is classed as a noxious weed in some states in the where it is an introduced species, as its native habitat is US Europe, extending to , and Turkey Siberia, in Asia.
Water Soldier is called by this name because Stratiotea comes from the Greek word for soldier, while aloides signifies aloes. It is also known as Crab’s Claws, because of the shape of the leaves when they start to appear above the water.
It grows to heights of one metre by one metre, and it only rises above the water’s surface when it is ready to flower, after that, by autumn when the seeds ripen it is weighed down by the calcium carbonate in its leaves and the seeds (which rarely appear in Britain) ripen under water in the muddy bottoms of the ponds, fens, marshes and ditches and other waterways which are its habitat. The parent plant sends out trailing buds of leaves at the end of long runners so new plants form, and the seeds ripened also form the basis for new parent plants.
When the Water soldier has populated water it can takeover and stunt the growth of other aquatic plants. It can completely take over a ditch or small pond, and although the white flowers look attractive in the flowering months of June to August, it can cause havoc with an ecosystem.
The leaves look like floating pineapple tops or aloe vera plants. Unfortunately the water soldier’s decline in the
has been attributed to human activity and the increase in the concentration of chemicals found in the plant’s former habitats. UK
region of Lodz there is a reference to this plant being eaten in times of famine, although this is the only recorded information about its being eaten. Poland
Culpeper refers to two types of Sengreen which he called this plant, one being rather like a houseleek, he writes. He has this to say of Water Sengreen:
“It is a plant under the dominion of Venus, and therefore a great strengthener of the reins (kidneys); it is excellent good in that inflammation which is commonly called Saint Anthony’s fire, it assuageth all inflammations and swellings in wounds; and an ointment made of it is excellent good to heal them; there is scarce a better remedy growing than this for such as have bruised their kidneys, and upon that account pissing blood. A drachm of powder of the herb taken every morning, is a good remedy to stop the terms.”