Water Hyacinth Woes

by Green Deane

in Flowers, Greens/Pot Herb, Miscellaneous, Plants, Protein Plant source


Water Hyacinth's blossoms always have a gold spot

Water Hyacinth Stir Fry

The state of Florida minces no words about the water hyacinth: “Eichhornia crassipes is one of the worst weeds in the world  — aquatic or terrestrial.” They apparently have not tried them deep fried with butter, or steamed like mustard greens with a bit of bacon or pork fat.

Water Hyacinths, a member of the pickerelweed family, are born nearly pregnant adults. … Okay, that might be an exaggeration but they can double in population in as little as two weeks. One plant in one season can multiply to cover one acre. They caused a serious threat to Florida waterways not long ago and have only been fought to a constant draw. If the state were to stop fighting for one season the weed would get the permanent upper hand. In Panama, it would make the canal impassible in three years if not kept under control.

Of course, the other view is here is a plant that can feed you again in two weeks. That’s not a bad return if you’re starving or need green vegetables for a balanced diet. Even when viewed as an edible there are two down sides: While young leaves and stems can be eaten cooked or raw, raw they give quite a few people the itches, and cooked they still make a few people itch. So you have to sort that out before you eat too many. And very much like lichen, water hyacinths can absorb and hold just about any chemical pollutant around. Moral of the story, collect them from only clean waters. Never collect them down stream from any mine because mining can cause toxins. On the other hand, if I were selling hydroponics foods in a state that has a real winter to limit escape, this would be a plant I would experiment with: Fast growing, reproduces easily with about the same leaf texture of some seaweeds. The deep fried bottoms are more along the lines of deep fried pork rinds. Some writers say water hyacinth is tasteless but I have found when cooked to be close in texture and taste to a mild collard green. It always retains some “tooth.”

Clearing a lake of water hyacinths, temporarily

Water hyacinth originated in tropical South America, but is naturalized in warm areas of the world: Central America, California and southern states, Africa, India, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, the latter where it is illegal so eat it fast. It was introduced to the United States in 1884 at an exposition in New Orleans. A Florida visitor to the exposition returned home with water hyacinth and subsequently released them into the St. Johns River. He later said the citizens of the state should thank him for what he did. The view now is they should have hanged him. While water hyacinth does not like winer temperatures it can be found in many protected spots in northern states such as Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York even adjoining Canada.

I suspect a lot of reported northern locations are aquariums. The plant is known as a natural oxygenator for fish and at the same time keeps the fish tank clean. If you keep a natural fish tank it makes sense. In the wild, opinions aside, it’s a breeding ground for many insects fish eat.

Water hyacinth is a good cattle fodder, chicken feed, mulch. dry fuel, mushroom growing medium, cigar wrappers, furniture and fertilizer. It is also a fantastic biomass for making alternative fuels. Florida should be thinking of water hyacinths as “green” oil, Florida Tea, a sustainable source of fuel. Instead, it’s a “weed” they don’t know what to do with. (See my 14 March 2008 blog.)  The water hyacinth’s leaves are a source of vitamins A, B1 and B2 and betacarotene. They contain 18.7% protein, 17.1% fiber and 36.6% carbohydrates. Each year, the state of Florida spends some $15 million to control it. Some of that control is by spraying poisons, so be careful where you collect hyacinths. (See photo at bottom of page for mechanical means.)

Don’t confuse water hyacinth with Frog Bit, Limnobium spongia,  which has similar looking leaves. The water hyacinth has black feathery roots and a bulbous float at the bottom of its stem. Floating Frog’s Bit has white roots, slender and ridged stems  and no bulbous growth at the bottom of its stem.  The water hyacinth also has runners to sister plants.

Its genus name, Eichhornia,  (ike-HOR-nee-uh) honors once Prussian Minister of Education, Culture and Medicine, John Albert Friedrich Eichhorn. Crassipes krah-SEE-peez also KRASS-ih-peez) means thick foot, referring to the plant’s large, floating root mass.

Lastly, a law was passed in Florida to reduce the spread of this pant. It says: “It is illegal to collect, transport, possess or cultivate this plant (Rule 62C-52.011 FAC).”  “But officer, I was only taking it home for supper….”

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: A floating aquatic herb, also rooting in mud, in dense mats with young plants attached to adults, submerge roots . Submersed roots feathery. Leaves in rosettes; stems spongy, usually inflated orbulbous near base; leaf roundish or broadly elliptic, glossy green. Flower a showy spike above rosette, lavender-blue, six petals, one with a yellow blotch. Fruit a three-celled capsule with many seeds. They can be dormant for as much as 30 years. Remember, the stalks are always bulbous and the flower has an orange spot on the upper lobe of the flower.

TIME OF YEAR: Year round in Florida, further north flowering in late summer, early fall.

ENVIRONMENT: A wide variety of wetland from lakes, streams, ponds, waterways, ditches, to backwater areas and factory discharges. It does not like brackish water. Make sure the water and area are wholesome.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Leaves boiled or fried, young bulbous bottoms fried, flowers boiled or candied.   All can still make some people itch after cooking, try cautiously.


Herbalists in India say juice from the water hyacinth is good for treating fresh wounds to keep them from infecting. The flowers have also been used to treat skin conditions on horses.

And the following are as published so you can read them  and make up your own mind:

(The FASEB Journal. 2007;21:1724-1729.)

Novel rhythms of N1-acetyl-N2-formyl-5-methoxykynuramine and its precursor melatonin in water hyacinth: importance for phytoremediation N1-acetyl-N2-formyl- 5-methoxykynuramine (AMFK) is a major metabolite of melatonin in mammals. To investigate whether AFMK exists in plants, an aquatic plant, water hyacinth, was used. To achieve this, LC/MS/MS with a deuterated standard was employed. AFMK was identified in any plant for the first time. Both it and its precursor, melatonin, were rhythmic with peaks during the late light phase. These novel rhythms indicate that these molecules do not serve as the chemical signal of darkness as in animals but may relate to processes of photosynthesis or photoprotection. These possibilities are supported by higher production of melatonin and AFMK in plants grown in sunlight (10,000–15,000 µW/cm2) compared to those grown under artificial light (400–450 µW/cm2). Melatonin and AFMK, as potent free radical scavengers, may assist plants in coping with harsh environmental insults, including soil and water pollutants. High levels of melatonin and AFMK in water hyacinth may explain why this plant more easily tolerates environmental pollutants, including toxic chemicals and heavy metals and is successfully used in phytoremediation. These novel findings could lead to improvements in the phytoremediative capacity of plants by either stimulating endogenous melatonin synthesis or by adding melatonin to water/soil in which they are grown.—Dun-Xian Tan, Lucien C. Manchester, Paolo Di Mascio, Glaucia R. Martinez, Fernanda M. Prado, and Russel J. Reiter. Novel rhythms of N1-acetyl-N2-formyl-5-methoxykynuramine and its precursor melatonin in water hyacinth: importance for phytoremediation.

Potential of water hyacinth (Eicchornia crassipes) in ruminant nutrition in Tanzania: Abstract, Livestock Research for Rural Development, Volume 17, Number 8, August 2005

Two experiments were conducted to investigate the potential of water hyacinth (Eicchornia crassipes) in ruminant nutrition in Tanzania. In the first experiment , biomass yield, chemical composition, in vitro dry matter (IVDMD) and organic matter digestibility (IVOMD) and in-sacco degradability of water hyacinth were investigated. In the second experiment water hyacinth was ensiled using 0, 10 and 20% molasses levels as an additive, and subsequently analysed for dry matter (DM), water soluble carbohydrates (WSC), IVDMD and IVOMD.

Biomass yield (ton/ha/year) of water hyacinth was estimated as 322.2 tons (approx. 30.45 tons DM/ha/year at 9%-10% DM content) . Sun drying for 8 hours was adequate to wilt the fresh water hyacinth to a product of 15.35% DM, the chemical composition of which was 18%CP in leaves and in shoots. The whole plant showed significantly (P<0.001) lower DM digestibility (42.32%) compared to leaves and shoots (58.15 and 57.03%). No significant difference in dry matter digestibility was observed between leaves and shoots. Potential degradability was 68.09%, 60.82% and 52.91% for leaves, shoots and whole plant respectively. The rumen degradable fraction was 44.2%± 3.11 in the whole plant, 58.71%± 6.29 and 52.41%±1.38 in the leaves and shoots respectively.

Addition of 10% or 20% molasses to WH silage significantly (P<0.001) improved IVOMD from 42.15% in untreated silage to respectively 54.6 and 52.76% .Likewise the in-sacco DM degradability was improved from 48.53% in untreated silage to 54.76% and 54.55%. The Crude Protein (CP) content was significantly (P<0.001) lower for 10 and 20 % molasses treated silage (80.75 and 77.68 gkg-1DM respectively) compared to untreated silage (97.61 gkg-1DM.).  It was concluded that water hyacinth could provide large quantities of nutritious feed to ruminants in the Lake zone.




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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

S A Khan July 21, 2017 at 06:38

In Bangladesh and East India the use of water hyacinth as fertiliser after composting in heaps in open rice fields before ploughing and as part cattle feed ie mixed with rice straw has been a long established practice.

At times of flood, often accompanied by scarcity of regular feed, the proportion of water hyacinths in cattle feed increases substantially. There is an opinion though that this dilutes the milk but I am not sure.


edward joseph July 18, 2017 at 08:55

is it possible to create a capsule as food supplements especially for children from the leaves of water hyacinth plant, based from its contents?


Amaranthim Talon April 17, 2017 at 11:18

Question, if one were to manage to collect some surreptitiously as it were… and bring it home to an enclosed fish pond after proper quarantining and multiple water changes before introducing to a small, garden pond, how long would it take for the plants to be deemed edible- giving time for any toxic substances that may have been in it to pass sufficiently that offspring plants would no longer be polluted?


Green Deane April 18, 2017 at 16:52

Usually toxicity is not passed on to offspring. I would think as soon as you have a second generation to take over one can remove the first and any toxins with it.


balbir singh February 23, 2017 at 09:13

1. in pune city in india we have this big problem of water hycinth in our lake. we are trying to get permission to take it out physically & then feeding into a methane producing gas bio digester as it is done here with cattle manure & producing electricity with the gas.
2. i personally feel it would be easier to dry & chop it as a feed for poultry on a experimental basis as the hycinth may contain heavy metals from sewage entering the lake.


Mary Rankin September 15, 2016 at 18:59

How interesting all this information is! My mother used to use the water hyacinth in her compost pile. I’m going to have to try it as an edible–cautiously!


Jackie smith September 13, 2016 at 16:07

So if I understand correctly here in Michigan I could put s bit in my pond for fish health and then in the fall after frost muck out the pond for my garden beds?
It won’t get out of hand because of the cold winters. Correct?


Green Deane September 14, 2016 at 03:30

Correct. You can order in on line I think.


Fasil April 1, 2016 at 16:30

Thank you for the very useful information, I am thinking the applications to make money while cleaning the new weed to the bellyful lake Tana in my country Ethiopia. It could be an opportunity than a threat.


steve January 15, 2016 at 06:15

Me again. The magazine I read about feeding cattle was a US agricultural mag. I felt that if dried out, it could be plowed into the soil as a fertilizer. Sometime in the seventies a large dam near Pretoria was poisoned and turned yellow for several years. I felt poisoning was a mistake and wrote to the relative department. They agreed with me but as a friend of the then government had “won” a contract to supply the poison, it was out of their hands. I have some in my garden and am thinking of eating it but will have to guard against parasites.


steve December 29, 2015 at 21:46

About 40 years ago I read that it was used to feed cattle in the USA but only in limited quantities as it was too rich in iron.


Green Deane December 29, 2015 at 21:57

Hmmmm…. and red meat is high in iron to start with (which is why it is red…)


Tran Nguyen December 22, 2015 at 23:48

Wow, how about exporting them to countries where there are companies who weave water hyacinth products like Vietnam, Thailand or Brazil?


Amanda Nel November 26, 2015 at 11:42

There is something on YouTube where a chap feeds it directly to goats chickens ducks and turkeys.


Bren August 29, 2015 at 17:58

I keep hearing the water hyacinth is deadly to dogs and horses. Is this true?


Green Deane August 30, 2015 at 06:02

Not that I know of. It is fed to cows in many places.


Jo Venegas March 10, 2015 at 10:35

If it is so illegal, yet so bountiful, why does the state not allow the collecting of it for food? Or does it?


Green Deane March 10, 2015 at 11:29

It does not.


LOU August 20, 2014 at 15:21

Anyone try eating this from the Waccamaw river in SC? it’s floating down river everywhere you look.
Some of the other plants there make me itch though… so.. IDK.


Cynthia September 26, 2013 at 18:04

We have a over abundance of water hyacinth that has taken over a large Texas lake and we are at a lost on what to do. Poison is too expensive. Finding a species of fish that could reproduce was a thought. Would you have any suggestions? Or do you know of any one that would purchase it if we supplied it? Thanks!


RM McWilliams February 17, 2014 at 19:26

Hi Cynthia,

Hope you have found some potential solutions for the water hyacinth. Remember that this plant is an oxegynator, so it does not cause the problem for fish and other life in ponds, rivers, and lakes that algae can.

Your best bet on finding a market for is is probably to USE it to produce your product: feed it to pigs? Maybe along with restaraunt food waste, or non-saleable vegetables from growers in your area? How about producing compost? You’ll need a carbon source to balance the ‘green’ of the water hyacinth, but it could work very well. Or make silage out of it and sell it to cattle farmers, or…?

Poisining a lake to save it from plants just does not seem to make sense. Money aside, the collateral damage to other life in and around the lake is not worth it.

Best of luck in turning your bounty into cash!


Dee June 30, 2013 at 02:51

I wonder why Louisiana hasn’t tried cooking this & Nutria up into some recipe & sell it as New Orleans “cuisine. We certainly have too many of both plant and animal. They both do their share of damage to the wetlands.


Green Deane June 30, 2013 at 04:34

Read my article on Nutria. Louisiana is trying to get folks to eat it.


farouk March 2, 2013 at 03:32

Thanks for the much useful inf. which I hope I’ll convey to the appropriate research authorities here in my country Sudan. ” A’ashab alneel or herbs of the Nile ” is the native name in Sudan and Egypt. Truely it is a nuisance to Nile navigation and irregation. Jebel Awlia dam – about 100 km. south of the capital Khartoum – is now mainly serving the purpose of trapping the plant on the southern side of the White Nile. The ability of the plant to absorb metal ions from the water and complexing these with amino acids in its cells makes its biomass a good candidate to degrade easily for generation of methane gas as a fuel when needed . In this respect I remember (in the late seventies of last century ) two locations to the south of Jebel Awlia dam , namely Kosti’s hospital and Altaweela Village , that had been using electric power whose source is the hyacinth biomass. More over, it is well known among farmers of this region that better quality of harvested crops (e.g. bigger and more sweet water mellon ) can be gained by using the ash of burnt Hyacnith.


suleiman musa February 11, 2013 at 07:14

what are the influence of water hyacinth on feeding poultry.


Green Deane February 11, 2013 at 07:20

The like it dried, chopped, up then ground. They will put on weight eating it.


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