Belonging to the genus Nymphaeaceae, water lilies are aquatic plants growing perennially from a sunken stem buried in the mud, where the rootlets of the plant put away for anchor. This aquatic plant produces leaves that are rotund, rubbery and deeply serrated at the base. The round leaves of this aquatic plant may often be around 30 cm in diameter and usually for each plant, they take up a stretch of around 150 cm. The plant produces a white blossom with several petals during the period between June and September. The flowers have a white hue having numerous small stamens within. Water lily has a preference for big lakes and ponds.
The Latin name of this plant has reference to the nymphs, insignificant divine characters of Greek mythology that dwelled in natural locations, such as rivers, lakes and streams. Similar to a number of the nymphs, flowers of the Nymphaeaceae family too are beautiful and also inhabit water bodies. Usually, small pools may be found overlaid with water lilies, on other occasions a whole pond may be found jam packed with the bobbling heads of these plants.
The common water lily is among the most familiar member of the Nymphaeaceae family. In fact, herbalists have often prescribed the stems of this plant as an anaphrodisiac, an agent that slows down sexual craving. It is possible that the innocent looking bloom appearing from a dirty pond hints at the use of this plant for abating passion. The European white water lily or Nymphea alba possesses several therapeutic attributes that are also common to the yellow pond lily. In effect, the yellow pond lily and Nymphea alba both belong to the genus Nuphar and, hence, are close relatives. Both these aquatic plants enclose tannin as well as mucilage and have been used in the form of astringents to stop diarrhea. In addition, they also possess demulcent properties that enable them to provide comfort to aggravated and tender throats.
In additional to the medicinal uses, these aquatic plants are also known to have other uses. For instance, the rootstock of the yellow pond lily is crushed and boiled in milk to prepare a formulation that is known to eliminate cockroaches and beetles. In addition, the smoke of the yellow pond lily helps to repel crickets.
The aquatic plant water lily belonging to genus Nuphar possesses a number of attributes that are beneficial for our health. The rhizome of this plant is antiseptic as well as astringent. A decoction prepared with the water lily rhizome is effective in curing dysentery or diarrhea caused by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In addition, practitioners of herbal medicine have also used the water lily plant to treat other conditions, such as kidney pain, congestion of the bronchi as well as recommended using it as a gargle to treat aching throats. The rhizome is also used to prepare a douche to treat soreness of the vagina and abnormal vaginal discharges. Combined with other herbs like linseed or slippery elm, the water lily rhizome is also used as a poultice to treat abscesses and boils.
Like the rhizome, even the flowers of water lily have therapeutic uses. Since long, the flowers of this aquatic plant are presumed to lower sexual cravings. Generally, the flowers have a soothing and tranquilizing impact on the nervous system which makes the flowers valuable for treating conditions like nervous anxiety, insomnia as well as other problems involving the agitation of the nerves.
During the World War I, the potent alcoholic extract of Nymphaea alba or the European white lily was used as an anesthetic with great success when the conventional opiate anesthetic became scarce. Nymphaea alba is said to be a close relative to the blue lotus (botanical name, Nymphaea Caerulea) that was earlier revered as a prophetic plant, besides symbolizing of the beginnings of life. Similar to the blue lotus, the white lotus also encloses equal amounts of alkaloids. However, the white lotus is not in as much demand as the blue lotus, primarily because it is not so colourful. Nevertheless, it is available as a less costly and incredibly well-accepted substitute of the blue lotus.
It is said that ingesting a decoction or herbal tea prepared with the flowers of water lily causes an effect very akin to apomorphine (an alkaloid obtained from morphine which works as a quick-acting emetic). In effect, the white lotus flowers enclose aporphine, a substance known to be intimately associated with apomorphine, only varying in the absence of two hydroxyl groups. It is perhaps possible to transform aporphine into apomorphine by means of improvement, storage or via the metabolism of an individual. Several people who have ingested a potion prepared with white water lily have reported that they have experienced ecstatic sensations and a floating mood.
It is also possible to separately smoke the dehydrated buds and flowers of water lily or by blending them with other smoking substances. In effect, smoking a couple of dried buds is known to be an effective psychoactive (something that affects mental activity) dosage. In addition, freshly obtained rhizome of this aquatic plant can be consumed raw or after cooking. It has been established that consuming a whole fresh rhizome results in a gentle feeling of ecstasy. It is interesting to note that in several magical charms of the Mayan culture, water lily has been conjured to cure ulcers and other skin disorders. On the other hand, numerous reports from the contemporary Yucatán (a peninsular in Central America and Mexico) depict the use of water lily plant for ethnomedicinal reasons (pertaining to the study of dissimilar cultural methods to health, illness, and disease).
The rhizome of water lily possesses numerous therapeutic properties, including astringent, antiscrofulatic (any medicine that cures scrofula), anodyne (a medicinal substance that alleviates pain), sedative and demulcent. As mentioned earlier, the rhizome is collected during autumn and can be dehydrated and stored for use when necessary. The flowers of this aquatic plant are known to decrease sexual desire (anaphrodisiac) and have a tranquilizing effect. It is believed that ingestion of any formulation prepared with water lily flowers soothes the nervous system and has a narcotic consequence on the nerves. These properties of water lily flowers make them useful for treating conditions like sleeplessness, nervousness and other comparable problems. It has been recorded that a decoction prepared with water lily flower and administered as a uterine injection can cure uterine cancer completely.
Water lily plant encloses active alkaloids, such as nymphaeine and nupharine. While traditional herbal medicine extensively used the roots, stalks and flowers of water lily, actually the petals as well as other floral parts of this aquatic plant are extremely strong and effective. The active alkaloids enclosed by the water lily plants can be extracted by using alcohol. These active alkaloids actually enhance the tranquilizing consequences of alcohol. In earlier days, monks and nuns used the roots of this plant for centuries as an anaphrodisiac to diminish their sexual drive. The roots were crushed and blended with wine before consumption. Authors of medical textbooks that were printed in the earliest times usually made note of this particular use of the water lily roots along with a caution that the roots of this plant ought not be taken in large amounts and too often.
Habitat and cultivation
Water lily is indigenous to Europe where the plant is found growing naturally in various water sources, including pond and still water canals, lakes and rivers. This is really an ornamental plant. The rhizome of this aquatic plant has numerous medicinal and other uses and is harvested during autumn.
Water lily is an aquatic plant that needs a fertile soil and a sun-drenched location in stagnant or leisurely flowing water. The plant thrives well when it is grown in water bodies having a depth of anything between 2 meter and 2.5 meter. It also has a preference for a pH between 6 and 7 and, according to another report, has an aversion for acidic conditions. This particular species is able to endure temperatures around -20°C. The genus Nuphar comprises two central types of plants. The ‘crawler' species have horizontal roots that multiply freely very frequently as a result of which new plants grow at regular distances at the length of the root. These species are helpful for natural growth, but these species do not blossom easily in cool summer conditions. Another species in the genus Nuphar is called ‘clumpers', which have vertical roots and grow very sluggishly spreading clusters and give rise to offsets around their crown. These offsets easily develop into flowers higher up. The flowers of this species only open up during the daytime and possess a supple and frail aroma.
The water lily can be propagated by the plant's seeds. The process of propagating this aquatic plant by its seeds involve submerging the seeds in pots containing at least 25 mm of water immediately as they ripen in a greenhouse. When the seeds germinate and the first true leaves come to view, prick each seedling individually and cultivate them in water in a greenhouse for a minimum of two years. Subsequently plant these young plants outdoors in the water bodies during the latter part of spring. It may be noted that since the seeds of water lily are extremely minute, they are collected by covering the growing seeds in a muslin bag with a view to avert losing any seed. It is advisable to harvest the seeds 10 days after the plants are submerged beneath the surface of the underwater soil or immediately when they reappear.
The water lily plants may also be propagated by the division method during the month of May. While making the division, ensure that each part contains a minimum of one eye. After the division, sink the parts in pots containing shallow water and leave them intact till they are established.