The following article is reprinted with permission from Susan Wittig Albert, whose weekly blog About Thyme always starts Monday off on the right foot. Susan is the author of the China Bayles mystery series. China is both an herbalist and sleuth and her mysteries always teach you a lot about herbs and gardening.
The Remarkable Lotus
I can't think of anything prettier than a pool of clear, cool water in a garden, reflecting the moving clouds during the day and the silver moon at night. And there's certainly nothing prettier in a pool than the waxen blossoms of a blooming lotus, which has to be one of the most exotic and beautiful herbs we can grow. If you have a water garden, the richly evocative lotus would be a delightful—and different—addition to your collection of herbs.
A Plant of Plenty and Abundance
Throughout Asia, the rhizomes, seeds, leaves and flowers of the lotus are all eaten. The rhizomes are roasted, pickled, or dried and sliced for use in curries and soups. The sweet seeds, removed from their bitter covering, are eaten raw, roasted, boiled, or candied. They are also ground into flour. The young leaves, leaf stalks and flowers are eaten as vegetables.
The flowers became symbolic of immortality and resurrection because people observed that they would grow from the bottom of dried up pools after the monsoon rains. Lotus seeds exhibit a remarkable longevity, apparently due to a special enzyme. In the 1920s, some were recovered from a lake northeast China, and successfully grown; in the 1990s, when scientists were at last able to determine their age, it was found that they were an astonishing 1300 years old.
In traditional Asian medicine, the lotus has been used for centuries to treat fungal infections, diarrhea, dysentery, fevers, and sexually transmitted diseases. The dried flowers are used in a syrup to treat coughs. The perfume was also thought to be medicinal: it raised the spirits and banished melancholy. The seeds were used as prayer beads, and the fiber was woven into cloth.
Observing the lotus grow from the silt of a long-dried pool when it was filled with monsoon rains, Hindu and Buddhist artists used plant as a symbolic representation of death and resurrection, and the flowers as symbols of good fortune, plenty, and abundance.
Lotus are easy to grow, and hardy in USDA Zones 4-10. They need at least six hours of sun a day. The height depends on the variety you choose, which should be suited to the depth of your water garden. Obtain rhizomes in the spring from your local water-garden plant supplier or from online sources. Plant them in enriched soil in shallow pans (a kitty-litter pan is fine), on overturned clay pots stacked at appropriate heights. Check with the supplier for additional culture instructions.
Read more about lotuses and other water garden plants:
* The Lotus: Know It and Grow It, by Kelly Billing
* Lotus, by Kazuaki Tanahashi
* The Encyclopedia of Water Garden Plants, by Greg Speichert
And if you need a pool to put them in, here's help:
# The Complete Guide to Water Gardens, Ponds, and Fountains, by Kathleen Fisher"
We dedicate this Monthly Spirit to Leor Warner on the occasion of his birthday.
Lotus is available in print, greeting card or t-shirt.