The lotus is the largest native blossom in North America

 More American than apple pie

Nature fights back.

Much of Florida is giving way to housing. For several years I passed a large abandoned pasture with a dry lake bed. Then it was developed into a subdivision and the lake watered again. For a while very little seemed to grow in the lake and then…. shore to shore American Lotus, Nelumbo lutea (nay-LUM-bo LOO-tee-uh.)  See picture on bottom of page. When nature finds the right environment,  plants find their way there, or come out of dormancy.  Whether the N. lutea was planted or seeds decades old sprouted, it is in the lakes now.

Lotus’ unmistakable seed pod

American Lotus was a mainstay of Indians in the Americas and it is basically found east and south of the Rockies plus California. While the root, shoots, flowers and young  seeds are edible, it was the root the Indians counted on to get them through the winter.

The popularity of the N. lutea no doubt has also led to its many common names: American Lotus, Yellow Water Lotus, Yellow Lotus, Alligator Buttons, Duck Acorns, Water Chinquapin, Yonkapin, Yockernut and Pondnut. Many of them refers to the plant’s round, dark brown, half-inch seeds. Even its name is about the seed. Nelumbo is Ceylonese and means “sacred bean.” Lutea is Dead Latin for yellow. It can produce more than 8,000 long-stem yellow flowers per acre and its empty seed pods are often found in flora arrangements. The stamens of the flower can be dried and used to make a fragrant tea and entire dried flowers are used in cooking.

Fresh lotus seeds ready for cooking

N. lutea like to grow in shallow ponds and along the edges of slow streams with clean water. It propagates from seed and root.  The root is banana shaped and thick, sometimes reaching close to a foot long. When cut it resembles a wagon wheel in appearance. Unlike many “water lilies” the N. lutea leaves are round and not split, with the stem attaching in the middle of the leave. Some are on the water and some above it. The lotus is a favorite water plant among fishermen because unlike other water lilies the lotus does not grab fishing line in a clef.  The unopened leaves are edible like spinach and older leaves can be used to wrap food. Stems taste somewhat like beets and are usually peeled before cooking.

Root is similar to Oriental Lotus root

And while the N. lutea is not a day lily it is a two-day flower, the blossoms open one day, close for one night, open the second day then the petals drop off. The center of the flower grows and gets about three-inches big. It develops a seed pod with around 20 seeds and looks like a shower head.  American lotus seeds have bloomed after 200 years, some 400 years, and some in China were viable after 1,200 years. The seeds can also be boiled down and made into a paste. When combined with sugar it is often used in pastries. Lotus seeds range from about a half inch in length and third of an inch wide. The inside of the seed has a hollow canal running end for end with a little sprout inside that is too bitter to eat when seeds are mature. Mature seeds also have a good quantity of oil and can be popped. They can be eaten like peas when young. Boil in ample water 20 minutes, push them out of their shell, salt. They are delicious.  I think the plump green seeds when boiled taste similar to chick peas, with a little chestnut or corn flavor tossed in. Very, very tasty. Skinny seeds tend to be bitter. If the cooked sprout in the seed is bitter, don’t eat it, or if that doesn’t upset your stomach, enjoy. I seem to have a tender tummy. Older seeds can be ground in to flour.

There are about 1,475 calories in one pound of lotus flour. Lotus flour is approximately: 72% carbohydrate, 7.8% protein, 0.7% fat, 12.2% fiber, 4.0% water, and 3.3% minerals. Per 100 grams there are 63-68 grams carbohydrate (mostly starch), 17-18 grams of protein, only 1.9-2.5 grams fat; the remainder is water (about 13%), and minerals, mainly sodium, potassium, calcium, and phosphorus. Calories per 100 grams is about 350. It is also a good  source of protein, up to  19% with a one ounce serving of dried seeds providing 5 grams. The seeds are low in fiber and not a good source of vitamins but are a good source of oil. Half ripe seeds are delicious raw or cooked, and taste similar to chestnuts.

Lotus root is sweet and can be eaten as raw, sliced stir fried, or stuffed and is similar to sweet potato. Young lotus roots are good for salads while the starchy roots are good for making soups. The root discolors quickly when cut, so treat like a apple or pear as soon as it is peeled and cut up drop it into water with lemon juice or citric acid. It is often left to soak in water to reduce any bitterness.

There are only two species of Nelumbo,  one in the Americas, yellow, and one in Asia, pink.  It is probably second only to the cattail as for usefulness and that is for two reasons. The roots can be buried deep and are best in the fall. Also the entire plant can be bitter so while it is edible raw it is far better cooked.

Culturally the lotus has been cited for thousands of years. It is found in the early art of  India, Assyria, Persia, Egypt and Greece. In India it was considered sacred. In ancient Greece the lotus symbolized beauty, eloquence and fertility. Idylls, a poem written by Theocritus of Syracuse between 300-250 B.C., described how maidens wove lotus blossoms into Helen’s hair on the day she married. The Egyptians placed a lotus flower on the genitalia of female mummies.

Lastly, in Japan some people think health-giving  juices can be extracted from the lotus by cutting
leaves with 12-18 inch stems, piercing the top center of the leaf where the stem is on the other side, filling the cupped leaf with wine, and holding it overhead drinking the wine through the stem. Picturesque perhaps but I would think the bitter sap would take away from the moment.

Stir-Fried Lotus

Two pounds of lotus root, trimmed and peeled
Two tablespoons sesame oil
1.5 tablespoons sugar
1 cup sake (or pale dry sherry)
2 tables spoons dark soy sauce (or regular if you prefer)
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
One small hot pepper of your choice, mine is one  chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
Optional: two scallions

Cut the lotus crosswise in quarter-inch slices. Soak in water, change until water runs clear.  Dry.  Heat sesame oil. Add lotus roots and toss for a minute. Add the rest of the ingredients. Stir continuously until reduce, about 10 minutes. Good hot and warmed up.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Large, showy yellow or pink flowers on long stems, leaves round, some floating, some out of the water, stem attaches to the middle back of the large leaf.

TIME OF YEAR: Roots year round though best in autumn, flowers in late spring in Florida, later in northern climes, June through September.

ENVIRONMENT: Shallow ponds, edges of slow rivers, essentially fresh quiet waters.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Numerous, all parts of the plant raw or cooked, root, seeds, unopened leaves, and stems. HOWEVER, all parts better seeped  in water and cooked to reduce any bitterness. Boiled greens, seeds squeezed out of their shell are especially tasty.  Dried flowers for tea or added to soups. Lastly, the wilted leaves — held next to a fire — can be used to wrap food in for cooking.

Acres of easy to pick American lotus

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 TK February 28, 2012 at 19:57

You should add information on what ANIMALS eat the american lotus flower. I am doing a school project and I need that info. You have a lot of good information but you should add what types of animals eat the flower. Thanks(:

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2 Neale July 14, 2012 at 21:10

Good info, but as with all aquatic root plants they tend to concentrate heavy metals (Pb, Zn, Cu, Cd, Hg …) in the root tissues, you can avoid some of that by peeling the tubers, but you always want to be careful of the soil an locations that you grow such plants. The seeds should be fine, but I’d still recommend eating small amounts and not more than a few times a month. Cattails have the same problem, otherwise they would probably be THE flour plant in the US.

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3 grump bear September 12, 2013 at 17:18

You got that right Neale! Lotus grows here in Calif in the delta which is heavily polluted due to boating & lg ships,especially naval, who have no restrictions against dumping wastes.The Chinese say the root is good for the lungs but good luck with Chinese products. For heavy metals,I just swallow a small magnet which removes them. Just kidding. It dosen’t work for lead,etc.

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4 Lilah December 3, 2012 at 00:47

Right, so this has absolutely NOTHING to do with the article, but why is the saying “as American as APPLE pie”? I think pumpking pie would be much better. After all, what’s Thanksgiving (a very American holiday) without pumpkin pie? And besides, apples were developed in Asia while pumpkins (as with all squash) were developed in the Americas.

Yes, I know this is incredibly random, but oh well.

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5 Green Deane December 3, 2012 at 06:05

There are native members of the apple family in America but I suspect it goes back to Johnny Appleseed and the lve affair Americans had with the apple. Everyone who had any land had an apple orchard to produce cider.

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6 tom February 13, 2013 at 18:48

This is great! Can you tell me where I can buy/order fresh lotus pods? Thanks.

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7 heather February 17, 2013 at 12:04

Does anyone on the mid north coast of NSW want to grow these? I have plenty and harvest season is coming up.

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8 leu February 21, 2013 at 15:18

hello heather,
i’m in northern california and very interested in growing these, have been for years actually. please email me if you can. thanks so much!

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9 Nikki April 25, 2013 at 04:36

Heather, I’m interested in purchasing the fresh pods varying from young to mature. How should I contact you?

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10 chris June 13, 2013 at 18:59

i live in a marsh in the southeastern u.s. i can send you all the lotus pods you want at no charge. just reply if interested

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11 Daisy February 14, 2014 at 00:04

Hi, Chris, I am in Raleigh, NC and I am looking for a few lotus seeds to plant for fun. Do you still have some?

12 metzi February 26, 2014 at 18:55

hi Chris! I want to plant lotus seeds, please email me. thanks

13 Jennie March 6, 2014 at 00:50

Hi Chris, I’d be interested in some lotus pods if the offer is still available. Thanks!

14 Wendi April 8, 2014 at 22:48

Hi Chris I would also like some lotus seeds please thank u

15 Richard Atkinson June 23, 2013 at 13:02

Chris – I have a pond I want to convert to a lotus pond for my wife. I need several seeds that are ready to plant. I would be glad to pay shipping and handling. Thanks. Richard

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16 julia jones July 3, 2013 at 14:58

Hi Heather, I would love to have a few of your seeds. Are they wht. or yellow? Please email me and I’ll give you the addy. Thanks!

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17 Barbara Null April 10, 2013 at 10:14

are these the water plants that give off gas and actually “croak”?

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18 Green Deane April 10, 2013 at 13:21

I’ve nerver heard of that… regarding any plant.

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19 Marilyn August 12, 2013 at 12:38

Where could I purchase an American lotus? I have a “dirt” pond with large koi in it- would really like to get this established as shade for them.

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20 Richard Bellman October 6, 2013 at 11:01

Hello I am wondering the climate areas that will sustain lotus growth, in North America.

Thanks you
Richard

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21 Green Deane October 6, 2013 at 16:19

They grow to the north end of the old south, if not a some more.

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22 Margreet October 6, 2013 at 17:32

Here in Cincinnati, at the south end of the Old North, I’ve seen them growing in a pond on an old estate turned nature center. That was several years ago; I don’t know if they made it through our recent droughts. That’s the only place I’ve them in this area.

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23 Josh January 17, 2014 at 17:28

I have never heard about heavy metal problems in lotus roots, but I won’t be surprised if that was really the case these days especially with recently reported problem of arsenic in rice. Anyways, you can pretty much use all parts of the lotus plant. Other than the seeds and roots, you can use the leaves to make juice which you can use to cook rice or drink with other fruits and veggies. Dry the leaves and make tea. Also the stalks can be dried and then boiled, and use the stock for any dish. Flowers can be infused with any tea or beverage. There are hundreds of other uses for the entire plant.

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24 Larry Donahue January 23, 2014 at 20:22

This is in answer to Marilyn who wants to get Lotus started in the Koi Pond. She asked this some time ago, and may have found out by now what I am going to say. I wish I had the money back I paid out for water lillies and lotus plants, the koi thought they were being served a salad. Koi are like pigs in the water, they ate the plants, turned over the containers which were heavy. I would only put the plants in a pond with gold fish as they are not big enough to do much damage. I love my Koi though, they are about 2 1/2 feet long now and have many babies. One other thing, Lotus do not like moving water, and to have a good Koi pond you need to have plenty of air pumped into the water for the fish and this creates a lot of water movement.

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25 Mishell February 4, 2014 at 17:05

My mom had Koi ponds with Lotus for years. The Koi will try to rut into the pots, but we put medium sized white river stones on them to keep the mess down to a minimum. Mom’s waterfall and “sprinkler” both aerated the water and as long as we didn’t put the lotus right on top of the waterfall they didn’t seem to mind and the leaf growth seemed to creep closer to the waterfall as the growing season progressed. Not to say these weren’t high maintenance works of art; Twice a year (at the end of the blooming season and about 3 wks before) we had 2 day pond cleaning parties to repot the lotus. Tons of fun though and a great excuse to trap kids and friends into hanging out with the old folks. Lots of hard work, but a lesson for the kids about the beauty that comes from that work. During full bloom it was breathtaking and everyone agreed it was worth the effort.

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