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Water Lily

  • Nymphaea tuberosa L.
  • Nymphaea odorata L.
  • Nymphaeaceae
  • Water-lily family



Common Names

Nymphaea odorata:
herbsCow cabbage
herbsCow lily
herbsFragrant water lily
herbsPond lily
herbsSweet scented pond lily
herbsSweet scented water lily
herbsSweet water lily
herbsToad lily
herbsWater cabbage
herbsWater nymph
herbsWhite pond lily
herbsWhite water lily
Nymphaea tuberosa:
herbsTuberous water lily


Parts Usually Used

Nymphaea odorata: Root


Description of Plant(s) and Culture

Nymphaea odorata: White pond lily is an aquatic perennial plant; its little-branched, large, spongy, fleshy rootstock produces large orbicular or oblong-orbicular, entire leaves that float on the surface of the water, leaf notched at the base. They are dark green on top and mostly purplish underneath. The sweetly fragrant, large, many-petaled white flowers, 5 inches across, bloom above the water for 3 days, opening in the forenoon each day. Flowering time is from June to September.

Nymphaea tuberosa: CAUTION: Do not mistake the white pond lily (N. odorata) for the tuberous water lily (N. tuberosa), which can cause poisoning. The poisonous plant can be distinguished by its tuberous rootstock and odorless (or nearly so) flowers.

Another variety: Nuphar polysepalum is also called pond lily. On Klamath Marsh are about 10,000 acres of this great golden water lily. It was formerly harvested by the Native American women with dugouts poling slowly along, and pulling the pods off their stems. The days harvest was brought to shore and emptied into a hole where fermentation ensued for weeks or until the end of the season, when the heap was stirred up and the best seeds brought up and dried and subsequently roasted. When ground, these seeds make a fine cereal, but the preparation is difficult. "Wokas", Klamath is the name.

The Water Lily of China is Euryal ferox, called Ch'ien-shih. Used medicinally for gonorrhea, spermatorrhea, polyuria, etc.


Where Found

Nymphaea odorata: Commonly found in ponds and slow streams in eastern North America. Newfoundland to Florida; Texas to Nebraska.


Medicinal Properties

Nymphaea odorata: Antiseptic, astringent, demulcent, deobstruent, discutient, vulnerary


Legends, Myths and Stories

Nymphaea odorata: The water lily takes its genus name, Nymphaea, from the Greek numphe, meaning "water nymph" or "virgin". The Greeks are said to have given the flower this name because of its reputed anti-aphrodisiac qualities. Poets and artists through the ages have also associated a virginal aloofness with water lilies, especially the white-flowered ones. The plant has often been used as a symbol of purity and chastity, for the water lily flower holds itself erect as if disdaining to touch the murky water surrounding it.

As long as 5,000 years ago, the lotus flower, whose different varieties are members of the water lily family, was one of the most important symbolic and religious plants in both the Near East and the Orient. In Egypt the lotus symbolized the fertility of the rich soil of the Nile's yearly inundation on which the prosperity of Egypt depended. Lotus blossoms were often placed on statues of Osiris, the god of vegetation and regeneration. The lotus was also a symbol of immortality, an attribute to both Osiris and his son Horus, god of light and the sun. Horus is sometimes pictured in Egyptian art sitting on a lotus blossom. In Persia the lotus also symbolized the sun and light.

The lotus has similarly been a major symbol in the culture of India. Brahma, the Hindu god who created the universe, issued forth out of a lotus blossom and, like the Egyptian Horus, is often pictured sitting on the flower. Many of India's spiritual ideas are linked with the lotus. For example, the state of samadhi, or spiritual ecstasy, in yoga is represented by a thousand-petaled lotus flower. Indian Buddhists claim the lotus for a symbol of Buddha also, because the flower is supposed to have sprung up to announce his birth. Chinese Buddhists consider the lotus as Buddha's footprint, and their concept of heaven features a sacred lake of lotuses.

The Mayas of Central America and Mexico revered the water lily growing in their region as the sacred symbol of the earth.

The flowers of the yellow species of water lily possess an odor similar to that of brandy; and the roots, if moistened with milk, are said by Linnaeus to destroy crickets and cockroaches.

Culpeper says of water lilies; "Of water-lilies. They are cold and dry, and stop lust: I never dived so deep to find what virtue the roots have."


Uses

Nymphaea odorata: This is one of the old-fashioned remedies. Used as a douche for leukorrhea, treats diarrhea, bowel complaints, scrofula, inflamed tissues in various parts of the body, and for bronchial troubles. Used for dropsy, kidney troubles, catarrh of the bladder, or irritations of the prostate. Heals inflamed gums. Externally, a poultice made for painful swellings, boils, ulcers, wounds, and cuts. Apply the powdered root, combined with flaxseed, as a poultice. A tea made from the root makes a good gargle for irritation and/or inflammation in the mouth and throat, used as an eyewash, and a vaginal douche. As a lotion, it helps heal sores, makes skin soft and smooth. Both root and leaves are sometimes made into poultices for wounds, cuts, and bruises. Native Americans used root tea for coughs, tuberculosis (TB), inflamed glands, mouth sores, to stop bleeding. A folk tradition, a mixture of root and lemon juice was used to remove freckles and pimples.


Warning

Nymphaea odorata: Large doses may be toxic.

Nymphaea tuberosa: CAUTION: Do not mistake the white pond lily (N. odorata) for the tuberous water lily (N. tuberosa), which can cause poisoning. The poisonous plant can be distinguished by its tuberous rootstock and odorless (or nearly so) flowers.

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