Lotus plant : A multipurpose plant species

Y Ranjana Devi and P Mineshwor
Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera gaertn.) is the National flower of India and is commonly known as the sacred lotus of the Hindu. It is an aquatic perennial plant belonging to the family of Nelumbonaceae. The plant is native to Southeast Asia. It is an easy growing plant that spreads quickly and has many uses. Under favourable circumstances the plant seeds may remain viable for many years, with the oldest recorded lotus germination being from that of seeds 1,300 years old recovered from a dry lakebed in north eastern China. Water is required by the lotus to sustain it. The roots of lotus are needed in the soil of the pond or river bottom, while the leaves float on top of the water surface or are held well above it. The flowers are usually found on thick stems rising several centimeters above the leaves. The lotus flower closes in the evening and falls into the water and in the morning, it opens and is raised above the surface. The plant normally grows up to a height of about 150 cm and a horizontal spread of up to 3 meters. The leaves may be as large as 60 cm in diameter, while the showy flowers can be up to 20 cm in diameter. The stalks are hollow and when in growth are filled with a milk type of sap. Ancient cultures have venerated the lotus flower for its medicinal and healing powers, and widely used it in their cuisine.
The lotus plant has traditionally been used in Asian cooking. The seeds, leaves, and stem of the lotus are all edible. The flowers ae used as garnish, the leaves as food wraps, and the underground stem (rhizome) as a soup or stir-fry ingredient. Lotus stamens are used as a flavouring and scent for teas, and the roots as a vegetable in cooking. Young lotus stems are used as a salad ingredient in Asian cuisine. The rhizome is used as a vegetable in soups, deep-fried, stir-fried, and braised dishes. Lotus rootlets are often pickled with rice, vinegar, sugar, chilli and/or garlic. It has a crunchy texture with sweet-tangy flavours. In Asian cuisine, it is popular with salad, prawns, sesame oil and/or coriander leaves. The lotus seeds are quite versatile, and can be eaten raw or dried and popped like popcorn. They can also be boiled until soft and made into a paste. Combined with sugar, lotus seed paste becomes one of the most common ingredients used in pastries such as mooncakes and rice flour pudding. Lotus roots are highly nutritious and have been found to be rich in dietary fibre, vitamin C, potassium, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, copper, and manganese and very low in saturated fat.
Oils extracted from the lotus flower are used in making perfumes. The fragrance is said to elicit feelings of euphoria and heightened awareness.
Fibre is extracted from the lotus plant and the fabric obtained is used for weaving special robes for Buddha images called kyathingahn (lotus robe) in Myanmar.
The lotus flowers along with the young leaves are used for decorative purposes. The distinctive dried seed heads, which resemble the spouts of watering cans, are widely sold throughout the world for decorative purposes and for dried flower arrangement.
It has been established that lotus has the remarkable ability to regulate the temperature of its flowers to within a narrow range just as humans and other warm blooded animals do. The role of lotus as a thermoregulatory and a heat-producing, plant is evident by studies conducted in Adelaide botanic Gardens where it is found that the flowers that bloomed had maintained a temperature of 30- 350C, even when the surrounding air temperature dropped to 100C. It is suspected that the flowers may be functioning to attract the coldblooded insect pollinators.
The sacred water lotus has been used in the Orient as a medicinal herb for well over 1,500 years. Asian herbal medicine uses the lotus plant to treat diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, bleeding gastric ulcers, cardiac diseases, and other ailments. All parts of the plant are used as medicine. They are astringent, cardiotonic, febrifuge, hypotensive, resolvent, stomachic, styptic, tonic and vasodilator. In addition to presence of alkaloids nuciferine, aporphine, coclaurine and norcoclaurine, the plant is found to contain the flavanol miquelianin.
SEEDS : The sweet taste and nourishing qualities of the lotus seeds are beneficial to the spleen, kidney and heart. They can reduce blood pressure and relieve diarrhoea. The seeds are used to treat weak sexual function in men and leukorrhea in women. The seed also has calming properties that alleviate restlessness, palpitations, and insomnia. Inside the seed there is a green embryo that is quite bitter which is usually removed before the seed is provided as a food product. The embryo is bitter in taste. The bitter components are isoquinoline alkaloids with sedative and antispasmodic effects. The alkaloids dilate blood vessels and thereby reduce blood pressure. Seed kernel is eaten raw to enhance eye vision.
LEAVES : The lotus leaves are also bitter and are said to benefit the stomach, spleen, and liver. They are used for treatment of summer heat syndrome/sun stroke and dampness accumulation. Lotus leaf has become popular for lowering blood lipids and treating fatty liver. It promotes blood circulation and lowers blood fats. Rolled tender lotus leaf are eaten raw or as salad against strangury. Petiole is eaten raw regularly for treatment of stomach ulcer.
RHIZOMES : Lotus nodes are used medicinally in the same way as the leaves for treatment of summer heat and are used also to treat tightness in the chest. The rhizome nodes are astringent, benefiting the liver, lung, and stomach. They are mostly used to control bleeding. All parts of the lotus have antihemorrhagic effect, but the rhizome nodes are relied upon for that purpose specifically. One spoonful of rhizome paste along with little honey is eaten as a treatment against diabetes.
FLOWERS : Flowers are useful in treatment for vertigo. The flower stalk is haemostatic. It is used in treating bleeding gastric ulcers, excessive menstruation, post-partum haemorrhage. Lotus stamen is sweet in taste and is an astringent. The stamens of the lotus flowers are a diuretic. The stamens are used in treating urinary frequency, premature ejacula- tion, haemolysis, epistasis and uterine bleeding.
Keeping in view the multiple uses of the lotus plant, it is imminent to say that plantation of the lotus plant can be promoted in the wetlands for improving the livelihood of the people. Moreover because of its high nutritional value, consumption of the plant can help to supplement the nutritional deficiencies of the people in the region.
The writers are with Directorate of Instruction and College of Agricultural Engineering  and Post Harvest Technology, Central Agricultural University,  Ranipool, Gangtok, Sikkim
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