American Lotus: Worth Getting Wet For

by Green Deane

in Beverage, Edible Raw, Flour/Starch, Flowers, Greens/Pot Herb, Oil, Plants, Protein Plant source, Recipes, Roots/Tubers/Corms, Salad, Vegetable

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 from shore to shore it was covered with American Lotus, Nelumbo lutea (nay-LUM-bo LOO-tee-uh.)  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 lake now.

Lotus’ unmistakable seed pod

American Lotus was a main food source for Native Americans and it is basically found east and south of the Rockies plus parts of 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 those names 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. The species 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 to the middle of the leave. Some leaves 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 an 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. They then pierce the top center of the leaf where the stem is on the other side, fill the cupped leaf with wine, and holding it overhead drink the wine through the stem. While it might be a picturesque party ploy I would think the bitter raw 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 or summer 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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{ 46 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 RLM McWilliams July 30, 2014 at 13:55

No, but reportedly cilantro and chlorella (broken cell wall) can help remove heavy metals from the human body.

On my list of things to do in this lifetime is to develop systems for harvesting heavy metal accumulator plants, and recovering the metals, thus cleaning the contaminated soils and water, and maybe reducing mining pressure – but moving away from so much heavy metal use would be better.

How?
-Buy quality and keep it for our lifetime, and for our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s use. Our ‘throw-away’ culture is one of the most destructive forces the bio-sphere of this planet has ever seen.
– Buy good used items, as needed.
– Use hand tools whenever possible. Hand powered egg beaters work great & use no electricity, for instance.
-Use milk paint w/earth pigments instead of whatever the ‘home improvement’ stores are selling. For bare wood, seek out real 100% tung oil (not the stuff laced with petroleum distillates sold everywhere). This can also be tinted with earth pigments for decks, wood siding, etc.
-Use slate roofing tiles. This will last ‘forever’. Sure, it may need a small repair now and then, but will not leach cadmium and a slew of other toxins into your rainbarrel, cistern, or the soil around your home. Real ceramic tile is a good choice, too, especially in dry climates. Cedar wood shingles will last as long as asphalt shingles. Yes, really! They are only suitable in humid climates (mostly east of the Mississippi), and should be used on roofs with sufficient pitch. (The new metal roofing can be a good choice, but most have a color coating that contains… heavy metals!)
– Avoid plastics whenever and wherever possible. Plastics are so incredibly toxic – from sourcing & transporting the raw material (petroleum), through manufacture, use, and disposal. More and more is being learned about how readily plastics, even ‘food grade’ plastics, transfer harmful synthetic chemicals to food and liquids. Skin contact w/pastics can expose us to substances our bodies were never designed/evolved to handle, too. And many plastics contain… heavy metals!
– If you care about your children and grandchildren, love them enough to buy them toys made of unpainted wood, natural fiber clothes & bedding (childrens’ clothing and bedding is usually loaded with flame- retardant chemicals). Many natural fibers are naturally flame- retardant, equalling or exceeding the standards for the chemical-laced stuff: wool, alpaca fiber, cashmere, angora, mohair.

Just a few ideas, but every small step in the right direction makes a positive difference!

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5 Jane August 6, 2014 at 11:00

Thanks for your good advice!

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6 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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7 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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8 Tim December 10, 2014 at 17:02

So, I guess the saying should be “as american as apple cider.”

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9 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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10 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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11 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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12 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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13 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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14 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?

15 metzi February 26, 2014 at 18:55

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

16 Jennie March 6, 2014 at 00:50

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

17 Wendi April 8, 2014 at 22:48

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

18 Jackie Gross April 30, 2014 at 18:07

Hi! Chris, if you still have lotus seeds I would love about 5 or 6. Will pay shipping and Handling. I live with a stream in the back of my property with a very high water table. Wanting to plant these in the wet areas. Thanks in advance. Regards,
jackie

19 Jackie Gross April 30, 2014 at 18:08

Hi again Chris, I forgot to ask you, are these American Lotus? I only want to plant American Lotus that are native to Pa. The Asian variety will be a non native plant and not what I am looking for. thanks again.

20 billi rogers July 3, 2014 at 13:06

Hi Chris, I live in Southeast Mo. and would love to plant some lotus seeds in my pond. I will gladly pay shipping. Please email me. Thanks

21 Jenny July 22, 2014 at 13:20

Do you still have 3-4 lotus pods available? I’m very much interested in getting some from you. Thank you in advance.

22 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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23 Michelle August 14, 2014 at 07:05

Hi Chris,

Please let me know how to get lotus seed pods from you. Thank you.

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24 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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25 Barbara Null April 10, 2013 at 10:14

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

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26 Green Deane April 10, 2013 at 13:21

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

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27 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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28 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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29 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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30 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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31 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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32 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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33 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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34 Allyson April 26, 2014 at 08:52

Is lotus root or the edible seeds grown on a large scale anywhere in the US?

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35 Green Deane April 26, 2014 at 13:27

Not that I know of but in some southern states it is considered a pesky native weed clogging waterways.

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36 blake July 13, 2014 at 18:56

This is great. I’m surrounded by acres and acres of lotus.

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37 DG July 23, 2014 at 20:01

For those of you near southern Illinois there are vast acreages of Lotus blooming right now at Horseshoe Lake near Miller City, Illinois (very close to the Mississippi and north of Cairo) http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/parks/r5/horshu.htm

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38 Ann August 7, 2014 at 00:20

Hi DG. I’m in Wisconsin and was wondering if you could get some fresh Lotus seed Pods and send them to me? I had those as a young girl and deff miss it.

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39 Carol August 12, 2014 at 16:12

We have a fish pond in the front yard that has white water lillies. Are these edible?

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40 Green Deane August 12, 2014 at 20:05

Got a picture? I ask because many plants are called white water Lillies.

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41 Russ August 20, 2014 at 15:42

In th1970’s I worked summers for my uncl e that sold cattails to florist. In Fall we’d pick lotus pods. Thousa nds of them and ay 15 cents each we paid local kids 50 cents a busbel to pick for us. A couple pickup beds full was worth a few thousand bucks azdllt florist wholesellers all over the midwest from Chicago to Denver, Omaha to Dallas. We delivered or shipped.

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42 glenda August 22, 2014 at 23:03

I would love to have that Chris send me some lotus seeds. or have some reply as to if he is still sending out seeds. can you, Green Deane, pass on the email address to him thru this post?? thanks.

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43 Don August 27, 2014 at 09:47

Interesting. Just don’t harvest near highways in retention ponds and in subdivisions near parking lots where you can pick up contaminants. Same for cattails. I used to see a lot of these in the Chain of Lakes in Central Florida when I lived there.

If you want to see a good example of a “Living Machine” used to purify water and remove metals, etc., go to Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp near Immokalee, FL, or google “living machine”.

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44 marie September 5, 2014 at 09:21

What is the best time to harvest the seeds for plantings? We want to collect the seeds but don’t know the optimal time.Thanks

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45 scott December 17, 2014 at 19:46

Although these plants are tasty they actually plug the waterways here in south louisiana. The atchafalaya basin is completely covered.

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46 Green Deane July 22, 2014 at 14:34

No, but there will be all kinds of seed available soon as the season goes on.

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