Nelumbo Nucifera

Nelumbo Nucifera
Nelumbo Nucifera flower bud.
Photo by Alvesgaspar - image lic. under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Nelumbo Nucifera is the Latin name for the famous Lotus flower. The Lotus is of great cultural significance in the East and has been made the "national flower" of both India (Pink Lotus) and Vietnam (White Lotus). The plant is also native to Queensland, Australia. [1]

Nelumbo Nucifera is an "aquatic perennial" - meaning that it grows in watery places such as ponds or river beds. The roots of the plant go down into the soil below, while the top of the plant floats on the water surface. The flowers can be up to 20cm (8 inches) in diameter and the leaves can be up to 60cm (24 inches) across. The seed of the plant looks curiously like the "rose" or head of a watering can, being a flattish disc with a pattern of small holes in the top surface.

Despite wide appreciation of the plant's showy flowers, N. nucifera is considered a weed in some places and steps are taken to eradicate it. However, as will becom clear from reading the remainder of this article, it seems that Nelumbo nucifera may be due for a renewal of interest.

The Lotus flower has since old times been a symbol in the orient of purity and spirituality. Part of the reason for this is seen as symbolic, as it grows from mud yet rises in full color, looking perfectly clean.

Nelumbo nucifera is known to contain alkaloids nuciferine and aporphine. It is often confused with / or thought to be a relative of the water lily (Nymphaea Caerulea), which also contains these alkaloids, however the two plants are not actually related and should not be confused. [2]

The flowers, roots, seeds and young leaves of Nelumbo nucifera are all edible and are used in numerous ways in oriental cuisine, for example in salad ingredients, soups and stir fries. Care must be taken if eating the plant raw in Asia as there is the possibility of parasite transmission, therefore it is advised that the plant is cooked. Nelumbo nucifera roots are also pickled in Asia. The seeds too have many uses, sometimes eaten dried or popped like popcorn, or made into a paste used in many dishes. There is also a herbal tea made from the stamens of the flowers in China and Vietnam. [1]

Nelumbo nucifera also has use in traditional herbal medicine in the orient. It has been used as an antidote to mushroom poisoning (whole plant), also the roots or leaves are added to preparations for a variety of conditions including dysentry, dizziness, fever and haemorrhoids. The seeds are used in fever, cholera and as a tonic. The flowers are used in syphilis. [3]

Nelumbo Nucifera - General Science

In recent times, some fascinating scientific discoveries have been made regarding Nelumbo nucifera. One record the plant holds is that a 1300-year-old seed found in a dried lake bed was found to be germinable.

Even more interesting is that the remarkable "self-cleaning" ability of the leaves, known about in Asia for over 2,000 years, was studied by scientists and the principle behind it was named the "Lotus Effect." The lotus effect is actually caused by superhydrophobicity - very high water repellence. The surface of the leaves have a complex miscroscopic / nanoscopic structure which is of such a nature that only a very small amount of a water droplet is actually in contact with the leaf surface. This minimizes adhesion / wetting, and as a result dirt particles , fungi and other pathogens are very easily picked up by water droplets. The lotus effect has been mimicked by scientists who used it in the development of paint and other surface products that stay clean and dry. The fascinating lotus effect is also seen in some other plants, and also in insect species such as butterflies and dragonflies. [4]

Nelumbo Nucifera - History

The plant has been in use since ancient times. One of the earliest references which brought fame to the plant in the west, was the curious mention by Homer in the Odyssey:

"I was driven thence by foul winds for a space of nine days upon the sea, but on the tenth day we reached the land of the Lotus-eater, who live on a food that comes from a kind of flower. Here we landed to take in fresh water, and our crews got their mid-day meal on the shore near the ships. When they had eaten and drunk I sent two of my company to see what manner of men the people of the place might be, and they had a third man under them. They started at once, and went about among the Lotus-eaters, who did them no hurt, but gave them to eat of the lotus, which was so delicious that those who ate of it left off caring about home, and did not even want to go back and say what had happened to them, but were for staying and munching lotus with the Lotus-eater without thinking further of their return; nevertheless, though they wept bitterly I forced them back to the ships and made them fast under the benches. Then I told the rest to go on board at once, lest any of them should taste of the lotus and leave off wanting to get home, so they took their places and smote the grey sea with their oars."

It is hard to ascertain the exact identity of plants mentioned by ancient texts and we have no way to be sure that the "lotus" of this famous tale is our Nelumbo nucifera. The name Lotus had many meanings to the ancients and the identity of the lotus mentioned by Homer and Herodotus is much disputed. What could Homer's lotus possibly be, that caused hardened men of the sea to lose all care, weep when ordered back to the ships, and require to be chained to their position at the oars? It sounds as though they were experiencing "withdrawal symptoms" akin to those spoken of the opium user. However, it turns out that claims have been made in recent times for mind altering and aphrodisiac properties of Nelumbo nucifera.

It is thought by some that the Lotus of Herodotus may have been Zizyphus lotus, a relative of the jujube. [5] There are several further candidates. Dioscorides and Pliny also describe a lotus, thought to be a variety of the ebony, which produced a fruit that "caused oblivion". [6] Again, the identity of these ancient plants is uncertain.

Nelumbo Nucifera and Altered States

The lotus was also used in the Orient to symbolize the chakkras or cosmic energy centers of the human body, in the Yogic / Tantric system used to describe the attainment of heightened consciousess. Here, too, there is the possibility that such works were influenced by consciousness altering or aphrodisiac qualities of the plant.

Modern "experimenters" appear to have (re)discovered consciousness enhancing effects of Nelumbo nucifera. They are said either to smoke resin extracts of the the plant or to use the essential oil, adding it to smoking blends or even ingesting it. The essential oil is said to be difficult to obtain in the West, however at least one online vendor claims to have the genuine article, although it is advised to be careful - as many, even suppliers, are known to have confused the plant with Nymphaea caerulea (Blue Lily). [7]

It is said by several sources that Blue Lotus produces a wonderful feeling of euphoria. One report stated that "The effects seem primarily cerebral, but are quite noticeable and very enjoyable. There is a feeling of joy that permeates the whole body, emanating from every cell. This is delightfully wonderful and lasts for some time." [8]

Another detailed "user report" is more explicit about the aphrodisiac quality of the plant, describing it as somewhat sedative, strongly euphoric, immensely pleasureable and "certainly an aphrodisiac". However the reporter noted that after much use he experienced mild withdrawal symptoms, categorising it as "mildly addictive". [9] This correlates somewhat with Homer's account, though it seems that Homer's oarsmen experienced a more severe form of withdrawal. Perhaps, all things being relative, in comparison with a possibly wretched existence at sea, the pleasureable experience of the Lotus eaters was a sharper contrast; we will of course probably never know.

In addition to nuciferine and aporphine (mentioned above), Nelumbo nucifera is also reported to contain lotusine, demethyl coclaurine, neferin [8], aporphine [7]

It turns out that use of N. nucifera as an aphrodisiac has a traditional basis. Lotus seeds are considered by Ayurveda to be one of the most significant herbal aphrodisiac tonics. [10] There is also report of the roots being used traditionally in aphrodisiac preparations [11] .

Nelumbo Nucifera - Modern Scientific Reports

Turning to modern science, we find that a wide range of research has been done in investigation of the plant's medicinal qualities and a total of 168 papers referencing Nelumba nucifera appear on Pubmed. Numerous papers report isolation of compounds from the plant, a few of which are noted here. Interesting conclusions are reported indicating potential for a wide variety of medicinal uses including antiobesity, radioprotective and anti-amnesic.

As reported in a 2011 paper from researchers at Kobe Pharmaceutical University, Kobe, Japan, three bisbenzylisoquinoline alkaloids (nelumboferine and nelumborines A and B) along with four known compounds, neferine, liensinine, isoliensinine and anisic acid, were isolated from the embryos of seeds of N. nucifera. [12]

A 2011 paper from Xiangya Hospital, Central South University, Changsha, P.R. China, reported that Neferine, extracted from the seed embryo of Nelumbo nucifera, has multiple cardiovascular pharmacological effects, including having a beneficial effect on endothelial nitric oxide (NO) production. [13] Although this paper was not directly related to investigating aphrodisiac qualities of the plant, this report is of great interest to the aphrodisiologist as decreased vascular NO is marked in men with erectile dysfuction. Endothelial nitric oxide (NO) synthase (eNOS) is widely accepted to have "an indispensable role in the erectile response". [14] This, combined with the noted sedative / euphoriant effects, could be an explanation for the tradition of aphrodisiac use of Nelumbo nucifera and the belief that it is beneficial to males in particular.

Betulinic acid is another component that has been identified in N. nucifera rhizome (root) extract. [15]

A 2010 acute toxicity study found that a daily dose of 5000 mg/kg of N. nucifera stamen extract produced no treatment-related signs of toxicity or mortality in any of the animals tested during 14 days of the study. A 90 day sub-acute study reported as part of the same paper found no abnormality of internal organs. [16]

A few more papers of general interest:

"Novel effects of Nelumbo nucifera rhizome extract on memory and neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus of the rat hippocampus" (2008)

"Nelumbo nucifera extract improves memory in rats" (2009)

"Extract from the leaf of nucifera reduced the development of atherosclerosis" (2010)

"Comparative analysis of essential oil components and antioxidant activity of extracts of Nelumbo nucifera from various areas of China" (2010)

Nelumbo Nucifera - Conclusion

This fascinating plant has ancient associations with mysticism and possibly with use as a euphoriant; traditional Ayurvedic use as an aphrodisiac; a very small "cult" of modern users testifying to pleasureable and aphrodisiac effects; hints of medicinal potential suggested by scientific research, and a long history of use with little in the way of negative reports. It appears that there is a challenge to obtain the genuine article (especially with the confusion with Nymphaea caerulea), and one user warns of a "mild" potential for misuse or addiction ( [9] ). This is not medical advice.

Nelumbo nucifera is listed in the AHPA's "Herbs of Commerce", the standard reference work for herbal supplements in the USA; meaning that it falls within the general guidelines for use as a herbal supplement / supplement ingredient in the USA.[17]

Nelumbo Nucifera (Gaertn.) - other names:

Indian Lotus, East Indian Lotus, Sacred Lotus, Sacred Water Lily, Chinese Water-Lily, Coptic Bean, Pythagorean Bean, Spiral Thread, Thousand Petalled Lotus, Vishnoo's Navel, Oriental Lotus, Sacred water lotus, Chinese Arrowroot, Lotus Bean, Bean of India, Lotus, Blue Lotus (English), Nelumbium speciosum (Willd.) (obsolete Latin), Nymphaea nelumbo (obsolete Latin), Padma (Oriya), Karambe-ul-ma, Nilufer, Uss-ul-nilufer (Arabic), Kombol, Komal, Pudmapudu, Padama (Bengal), Padung ma (Myanmar), Kamal (Ayurveda), Kamala, Tavaribija, Tavarigadde (Kanarese), Hoa Lien, Lien, Lien Jou (Chinese), Lis rose du Nil (French), Ambuj, Kamal, Kanval, Podam, Podma, Pankaj (Hindi), Ambhoja, Ambuja, Ambupadma, Amlana, Arvinda, Asyapatra, Harivetra, Jalajanama, Pankaja, Rajiva, Varisoha (Sanskrit), Ambal, Tamarai, Sivapputamarai (Tamil), PadamLoto Sagrado, Lotus Sacré, Nelumbium.


















[17] "Herbs of Commerce" (AHPA) (2000 edition) - Michael McGuffin, John T. Kartesz, Albert Y Leung, Arthur O. Tucker p.100

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