White Water-Lily – Nymphaea Odorata: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Lotus of Wild Plants

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One of the central Anishinaabemowin names for white water lily is odite’abug wabi’gwun. White water-lily is one of our stand out edible and medicinal aquatic plants. The flower itself is widely recognizable: a lotus.

Around Haliburton we have white water-lily (nymphaea odorata) and the yellow ones you spot should be variegated (nymphaea varigeta). In Haliburton Flora, there is one rare account of another sort of yellow water-lily, but I haven’t seen any others here and neither have any of the naturalists at iNat. We also have lots of water shield (brasenia schreberi) which is a similar plant with some overlap in usage, but the leaves are more oval shaped than round, and the flower doesn’t look like a lotus.

White Water-Lily – Nymphaea Odorata
White Water-Lily – Nymphaea Odorata

Edible Uses of White Water-Lily

The flower buds can be eaten cooked or pickled. Best before flowering, the rhizome can be boiled, roasted and otherwise used like little potatoes. The fragrant flowers and leaves can be eaten raw or cooked.

The seeds can be harvested from the fruit as they ripen toward autumn. Air dry the fruit until it can be pulled apart easily to free the seeds. Soak the seeds in a bucket of water for about 6 hours or until the good ones sink. Dry them in the sun or a warm oven. They store well. They can be popped, vaguely like popcorn. Seed meats can ground into a meal for baking, even used as a thickener.

Medicinal Uses of White Water-Lily

White water-lily is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive
  • Integumentary

Medicinal tags include Astringent, Demulcent, and Mucilage. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes roots and leaves mashed as a poultice for wounds or swellings, and other typical astringent uses. Around the world, waterlily species are utilized for a plethora of conditions.

Alternative Uses of Water Cabbage

It’s a favorite meal of wildlife like beavers and muskrats, and turtles too. A wonderful aquatic plant to consider for your shoreline or pond.

Growing Nymphaea Odorata

Perhaps surprisingly, you can propagate water lily from their leaves. Even easier, the plants produce runners which can be divided and replanted. The tubers are inexpensive to purchase if you have no other source; Moore Water Gardens in Port Stanley is a highly recommended source for native aquatic plants in Ontario. Your cheapest bet is to find a friend who’s already growing them in their pond. They likely have overgrowth and plenty to spread around. (Same goes for pickerel weed, arrowhead..) When deciding location, keep in mind water lilies need lots of sun to flower.


And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

#ads in References

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Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants (Out of Print)

The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine

Indian Herbalogy of North America: The Definitive Guide to Native Medicinal Plants and Their Uses

Mi’kmaq Medicines (2nd edition): Remedies and Recollections

The Earthwise Herbal, Volume II: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants

The Herb Book: The Most Complete Catalog of Herbs Ever Published (Dover Cookbooks)

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1 thought on “White Water-Lily – Nymphaea Odorata: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Lotus of Wild Plants”

  1. Thanks for all this information! Much appreciated. I’ve just learned about Nelumbo Lutea “American Lotus” (increasingly rare in the Great Lakes region). VERY pretty and edible. It’s a permiculture food source planted along quiet shorelines/ waterways, wetlands, & flood plains by Anishinaabe, Comanche, Dakota, Huron, Meskwaki, Omaha, Pawnee, Ponca, Potawatomi, and Winnebago. I imagine Haudenosaunee folks planted it too, but haven’t seen info on that yet. Associated plants incl: water plantain, sedges, cattail, bulrushes, water cress, water lily, wild rice. I’ve been looking for seeds and some just became available here in case you’re interested too:


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