Lotus plants are adapted to grow in the flood plains of slow-moving rivers and delta areas. Stands of lotus drop hundreds of thousands of seeds every year to the bottom of the pond. While some sprout immediately, and most are eaten by wildlife, the remaining seeds can remain dormant for an extensive period of time as the pond silts in and dries out. During flood conditions, sediments containing these seeds are broken open, and the dormant seeds rehydrate and begin a new lotus colony.
Under favorable circumstances, the seeds of this aquatic perennial may remain viable for many years, with the oldest recorded lotus germination being from seeds 1,300 years old recovered from a dry lakebed in northeastern China. Therefore, the Chinese regard the plant as a symbol of longevity.
It has a very wide native distribution, ranging from central and northern India (at altitudes up to 1,400 m or 4,600 ft in the southern Himalayas), through northern Indochina and East Asia (north to the Amur region; the Russian populations have sometimes been referred to as "Nelumbo komarovii"), with isolated locations at the Caspian Sea. Today the species also occurs in southern India, Sri Lanka, virtually all of Southeast Asia, New Guinea and northern and eastern Australia, but this is probably the result of human translocations. It has a very long history (c. 3,000 years) of being cultivated for its edible seeds, and it is commonly cultivated in water gardens. It is the national flower of India and Vietnam.
The lotus is often confused with the true water lilies of genus Nymphaea, in particular N. caerulea, the "blue lotus". In fact, several older systems, such as the Bentham & Hooker system (which is widely used in the Indian subcontinent) refer to the lotus by its old synonym of Nymphaea nelumbo.
While all modern plant taxonomy systems agree that this species belongs in the genus Nelumbo, the systems disagree as to which family Nelumbo should be placed in, or whether the genus should belong in its own unique family and order. According to the APG IV system, N. nucifera, N. lutea, and their extinct relatives belong in Proteales with the protea flowers due to genetic comparisons. Older systems, such as the Cronquist system, place N. nucifera and its relatives in the order Nymphaeles based on anatomical similarities.
The roots of lotus are planted in the soil of the pond or river bottom, while the leaves float on the water's surface or are held well above it. The flowers are usually found on thick stems rising several centimeters above the leaves. The leaf stalks (petioles) can be up to 200 cm (6 ft 7 in) long, allowing the plant to grow in water to that depth, and a horizontal spread of 1 m (3 ft 3 in). The leaves may be as large as 80 cm (31 in) in diameter, while the showy flowers can be up to 30 cm (12 in) in diameter.
Researchers report that the lotus has the remarkable ability to regulate the temperature of its flowers to within a narrow range just as humans and other warmblooded animals do. Roger S. Seymour and Paul Schultze-Motel, physiologists at the University of Adelaide in Australia, found that lotus flowers blooming in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens maintained a temperature of 30–35 °C (86–95 °F), even when the air temperature dropped to 10 °C (50 °F). They suspect the flowers may be doing this to attract coldblooded insect pollinators. Studies published in the journals Nature and Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences were in 1996 and 1998 important contributions in the field of thermoregulation, heat-producing, in plants. Two other species known to be able to regulate their temperature include Symplocarpus foetidus and Philodendron selloum.
The traditional Sacred Lotus is only distantly related to Nymphaea caerulea, but possesses similar chemistry. Both Nymphaea caerulea and Nelumbo nucifera contain the alkaloids nuciferine and aporphine.
The genome of the sacred lotus was sequenced in May 2013.
The Sacred Lotus grows in water up to 2.5 m (8 ft) deep. The minimum water depth is about 30 cm (12 in). In colder climates, such a low water level, which heats up more quickly, is helpful for better growth and flowering. Lotus germinates at temperatures above 13 °C (55 °F). Most varieties are not cold-hardy. In the growing season from April to September (northern hemisphere), the average daytime temperature needed is 23 to 27 °C (73 to 81 °F). In regions with low light levels in winter, the sacred lotus has a period of dormancy. The tubers are not cold resistant, but can resist temperatures below 0 °C (32 °F) if they are covered with an insulating cover of water or soil. During winter time, the roots have to be stored at a frost free place.
The sacred lotus requires a nutrient-rich loamy soil. In the beginning of the summer period (from March until May in the northern hemisphere), a small part of rhizome with at least one eye is either planted in ponds or directly into a flooded field. There are several other propagation ways via seeds or buds. Furthermore, tissue culture is a promising propagation method for the future to produce high volumes of uniform, true-to-type, disease free materials.
First step of the cultivation is to plough the dry field. One round of manure is applied after ten days, before flooding the field. To support a quick initial growth, the water level is held relatively low and is increased when plants grow. Then a maximum of approximately 4000 rhizome pieces per hectare (10000 per acre) are used to plant directly into the mud 10–15 cm (3.9–5.9 in) below the soil surface.
The stolon is ready to harvest two to three months after planting. It must be harvested before flowering. Harvesting the stolon is done by manual labour. For this step, the field is not drained. By pulling and shaking the young leaves in the shallow water, the stolon is pulled out of the water.
Three months after planting, the first leaves and flowers can be harvested. Flowers can be picked every two days during summer and every three days during the colder season. Four months after planting, the production of flowers has its climax. The harvest of flowers is usually done by hand during three to four months.
Seeds and seed pods can be harvested when they turn black four to eight months after planting. After sun drying for two to three days, they are processed by mechanical tools to separate seed coats and embryos.
The rhizomes mature to a suitable stage for eating in approximately six to nine months. Early varieties are harvested in July until September and late varieties from October until March, after the ponds or fields are drained. The large, starch rich rhizomes are easy to dig out of the drained soil. In small scale production, they are harvested by hand using fork like tools. In Japan and on bigger farms the manual labour harvesting is fully replaced by machines.
Varieties and cultivars
Lotus varieties have been classified according to their use into three types: rhizome lotus, seed lotus and flower lotus. Varieties that show more than one of these characteristics are classified by the strongest feature. Regarding production area in China, rhizome lotus has the largest area with 200,000 ha (490,000 acres), followed by seed lotus with 20,000 ha (49,000 acres).
Rhizome lotus cultivars produce a higher yield of and higher quality rhizomes than that of seed or flower lotus cultivars. Furthermore, this group grows the tallest and produces very few to no flowers.
Cultivars can be classified by harvest time or by the depth of rhizomes into these types:
- Pre-mature (early) cultivars are harvested before the end of July, serotinous (late) cultivars from September on and mid-serotinous or mid-matutinal cultivars are in between these harvest times. Using pre-mature cultivars, rhizomes can be harvested earlier and therefore be sold for a higher price.
- Ad littoral, deep, and intermediate cultivars are distinguished according to the depth in which the rhizomes grow underground. Adlittoral cultivars range from 10 to 20 cm (3.9 to 7.9 in) depth and are often pre-mature. They develop faster due to higher temperature in surface soil layers. When harvested in July, adlittorals have higher yields than deeper growing cultivars, but not necessarily when harvested in September. Rhizomes of adlittoral cultivars are crisp and good for frying purposes. Deep cultivars grow more than 40 cm (16 in) deep. They are often serotinous and can harvest high yield. Their rhizomes are starch-rich.
The main popular Nelumbo nucifera cultivars in China are Elian 1, Elian 4, Elian 5, 9217, Xin 1 and 00–01. Average yield of these cultivars is 7.5–15 t/ha (3.3-6.7 tons/acre) of harvest in July and 30–45 t/ha (13-20 tons/acre) of harvest in September. In Australia, the cultivar grown for the fresh rhizome market is Quangdong and in Japan the common rhizome cultivars are Tenno and Bitchu.
The characteristics of seed lotus cultivars are a large number of carpels and seed sets as well as large seeds with better nutritional properties. Roots of these varieties are thin, fibrous and do not form good rhizomes. The main popular cultivars for seed production in China are Cunsanlian, Xianglian 1, Zilian 2, Jianlian, Ganlian 62 and Taikong 36. Average yield of these cultivars in China is 1.05–1.9 t/ha (0.5–0.8 tons/acre) of dry seeds and weight of thousand seeds between 1,020 to 1,800 g (36 to 63 oz). Green Jade and Vietnam-Red are recommended cultivars for seed production in Australia.
Flower lotus cultivars are used exclusively for ornamental purpose, produce a large number of flowers and the lowest plant height.
Seed production of flower lotus is poor regarding yield and quality. Flower types differ in the number of petals (single petals, double petals or multi-petals) and their colours range from single colour in white, yellow, pink, red to bi-colour, most often of white petals with pink tip or highlights.
About 70% of lotus for the human consumption is produced in China. In 2005, the cultivation area in China was estimated at 300,000 hectares (740,000 acres). A majority of lotus production takes place in managed farming systems in ponds or flooded fields like rice.
The most widely used system is crop rotation with rice and vegetables. This system is applicable if the propagule (small piece of rhizome) can be planted early in the year. The rhizomes are harvested in July, after which rice can be planted into the same field. Rice is then harvested in October. From November until March, the field stays either free, or a terricolous vegetable, such as cabbage or spinach, is planted. Alternatively, the vegetable can also be planted after the harvest of lotus.
Another alternative way is to not harvest the lotus rhizome, although it is ripe. A terricolous vegetable is planted between the rhizomes into the drained field. The rhizomes are then harvested next March.
A third way is to plant lotus in ponds or fields and raise aquatic animals such as fish, shrimp or crab in the same field. A more efficient use of the water for both, the aquatic animal and the lotus production, has been identified with this planting pattern.
The rhizomes of lotus (Chinese: 蓮藕 lián-ǒu) are consumed as a vegetable in Asian countries, extensively in China, Japan, and India: sold whole or in cut pieces, fresh, frozen, or canned. They are fried or cooked mostly in soups, soaked in syrup or pickled in vinegar (with sugar, chili and garlic). Lotus rhizomes have a crunchy texture with sweet-tangy flavours and are a classic dish at many banquets, where they are deep-fried, stir-fried, or stuffed with meats or preserved fruits. Salads with prawns, sesame oil or coriander leaves are also popular. Unfortunately, fresh lotus root slices are limited by a fast browning rate. Lotus root tea is consumed in Korea.
Lotus root is a popular vegetable in Sri Lanka, where it is often cooked in coconut milk gravy. In India, lotus root (also known as kamal kakdi) is cooked as a dry curry or sabzi.
Japan is one of the primary users of the rhizomes, representing about 1% of all vegetables consumed. Japan grows its own lotus but still must import 18,000 tons of lotus rhizome each year, of which China provides 15,000 tons yearly.
Rhizomes contain high amounts of starch (31.2%) without characteristic taste or odor. The texture is comparable to a raw potato. The binding and disintegration properties of isolated Nelumbo starch have been compared with maize and potato starch; Nelumbo starch is shown to be superior as an adjuvant in the preparation of tablets. When dried, N. nucifera is also made into flour, another popular use of this vegetable.
Lotus pip tea is consumed in Korea.
Fresh lotus seeds (simplified Chinese: 鲜 莲子; traditional Chinese: 鮮 蓮子; pinyin: xiān liánzĭ; Cantonese Yale: sīn lìhnjí) are nutritious but also vulnerable to microbial contamination, especially fungal infections. Therefore, mostly dry lotus seed-based products are found on the market. Traditional sun baking combining with charcoal processing dries the seeds but results in loss of nutrients. Freeze-dried lotus seeds have a longer shelf life and maintain original nutrients, while no differences in flavour are found after rehydration compared to fresh lotus seeds.
Dry stored lotus seeds are sensitive to moisture and mold infestation; researchers continue to explore new ways to preserve fresh lotus seeds, for example radiation processing.
Lotus seeds can be processed into moon cake, lotus seed noodles and food in forms of paste, fermented milk, rice wine, ice cream, popcorn (phool makhana) and others, with lotus seeds as the main raw material. Traditional Eastern medicine claims that fresh lotus seed wine has thirst quenching, spleen healing and anti-diarrheal advantages after drinking, attributed to unspecified bioactive compounds. Lotus seed tea is consumed in Korea, and lotus embryo tea is consumed in China and Vietnam.
Young lotus stems are used as a salad ingredient in Vietnamese cuisine. And as vegetable ingredient for some soup and curry in Thailand, such as "Keang som sai bua"(Thai: แกงส้มสายบัว, Lotus stem sour soup) and "Keang kati sai bua"(Thai: แกงกะทิสายบัว, Lotus stem in coconut milk curry)
In north and eastern regions of India, the stalk of the flower is used to prepare a soup called "kamal gatte ki sabji" (Hindi: कमल गट्टे की सब्जी) and starter called "kamal kakdi pakode" (Hindi: कमल ककडी पकौडे).In South Indian states, the lotus stem is sliced, marinated with salt to dry, and the dried slices are fried and used as a side dish. In Kerala (Malayalam: "താമര") and Tamil Nadu, this end product is called "Thamara Vathal".
In China and Korea, lotus leaf tea (Korean: 연잎차 yeon'ip-cha) is made from the leaves of the lotus. It is also used as a wrap for steaming rice and sticky rice and other steamed dishes in Southeast Asian cuisine, such as lo mai gai in Chinese cuisine or kao hor bai bua (Thai: ข้าวห่อใบบัว), fried rice wrapped in lotus leaf in Thai cuisine.
Vietnamese also use lotus leaves to wrap green young rice cốm which is eaten as a prized delicate treat in autumn. The leaves impart a unique scent to the soft moist rice.
In Korea, lotus flower tea (연꽃차 yeon'kkot-cha) is made from the dried petals of the white lotus.
The stamens can be dried and made into a fragrant herbal tea (Chinese: 蓮花 茶; pinyin: liánhuā cha; Cantonese Yale: lìhnfāa chah), or used to impart a scent to tea leaves (particularly in Vietnam). This Vietnamese lotus tea is called trà sen, chè sen, or chè ướp sen.
The petals, leaves and rhizome can also all be eaten raw, but there is a risk of parasite transmission (e.g., Fasciolopsis buski): it is therefore recommended that they be cooked before eating.
Use in water treatment
Nelumbo nucifera shows high potential for usage in wastewater treatment removing polluting compounds and heavy metals. It is able to grow in variable water conditions and in low light intensity. Various studies show the successful use of N. nucifera to counteract water eutrophication. The leaves of the floating lotus reduce sunlight reaching the lower part of the water. This suppresses algae growth in N. nucifera aquatic systems and thus, the oxygen content is up to 20% higher than in other aquatic plant systems. Due to intense agricultural practices, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution are major problems in aquatic systems. N. nucifera is able to assimilate a higher content of phosphorus than aquatic plants currently used for water remediation (such as water hyacinth). It also assimilates nitrogen ("denitrification") and creates a habitat for bacterial growth in the water body. Through rhizofiltration, heavy metals – including arsenic, copper and cadmium – can be removed efficiently from the water. The results observed are impressive showing 96% of copper and 85% cadmium metals removed after a seven-day incubation period. The accumulation of heavy metals doesn't show morphological symptoms of metal toxicity; however, the rhizome quality for human consumption needs further study.
Storage and commercialization
Currently most rhizomes are consumed fresh and it is not common to store them due to their poor shelf life performance. This limits export possibilities for low-income production countries in Asia. Rhizomes quickly lose water, oxidation occurs and nutrient composition changes within a short time after harvest. Optimal storage temperatures range between 5 to 8 °C (41 to 46 °F). There are three different approaches to storing rhizomes. By stacking the rhizomes, they are storable and remain fresh for about three weeks. Special stacking with silver sand and soil results in five to six layers that prevent water loss, thus the rhizome stays fresh for up to two months. However the method is not suitable for commercialization but rather for home use. Hydrogen sulfide fumigation reduces enzymatic browning and therefore ensures rhizome quality. Dipping the rhizomes in a salt solution prevents oxidation and bacterial reproduction, which allows storage for up to five months and a greater export ability. This treatment is related to high cost and inefficient cleaning process before eating the rhizomes.
Use in bioengineering
Nelumbo nucifera contains some thermal-stable proteins that might be useful in protein bio engineering processes. The proteins are characterized by seed longevity used for cell protection and repair under stress. There are also several indications that compounds of N. nucifera are used in drug fabrication in human health research for multiple 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 arranging.
In Asia, the petals are sometimes used for garnish, while the large leaves are used as a wrap for food, not frequently eaten (for example, as a wrapper for zongzi).
A unique fabric called lotus silk, from the lotus plant fibers, is produced only at Inle lake, Myanmar and in Siem Reap, Cambodia. This thread is used for weaving special robes for Buddha images called kya thingan (lotus robe).
The flavonol miquelianin, as well as the alkaloids (+)-(1R)-coclaurine and (−)-(1S)-norcoclaurine, can be found in the leaves of N. nucifera. The plant also contains nuciferine, neferine and many other benzylisoquinoline alkaloids with medicinal properties.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||278 kJ (66 kcal)|
|Dietary fiber||3.1 g|
|Pantothenic acid (B5)|
|†Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults. |
Source: USDA FoodData Central
All parts of Nelumbo nucifera are edible, with the rhizome and seeds being the main consumption parts. Traditionally rhizomes, leaves, and seeds have been used as folk medicines, Ayurveda, Chinese traditional medicine, and oriental medicine. While leaves are used for hematemesis, epistaxis, and hematuria, the flowers are used for lowering blood sugar levels, diarrhea, cholera, fever, and hyperdipsia. Rhizomes are promoted have purported diuretic, antidiabetic, and anti-inflammatory properties. In Chinese medicine, seeds are still used as Lian Zi Xi.
Lotus rhizomes and seeds and their processing by-products are widely consumed in Asia, Americas, and Oceania for high content of physiologically active substances. Especially in China, lotus seeds are popular with a cultural history going back about 3000 years. As early as the Han Dynasty, lotus seeds were already recorded as sweet, astringent, nourishing the heart and kidney in "Shen Nong's Herbal Classic". Nowadays there are 22 varieties for the four known Chinese lines, which are found particularly in Jianning (still called "the town of Jianlian lotus seeds in China") and Guangchang ("the town of white lotus seeds in China").
These days the perennial aquatic herb is gaining popularity because of its nutraceutical and historical importance It will be of economic value if the different parts of lotus can be developed as functional food. Because of the special role in human health and richness in nutrients and bioactive substances, the Chinese Ministry of Health approved the use of N. nucifera as both "food and medicine".
The rhizomes are 60–14 cm (23.6–5.5 in) long, 0.5–2.5 cm (0.20–0.98 in) in diameter, yellowish white to yellowish brown, smooth and with nodes and internodes.
The lotus root is used to add seasoning to food. Lotus root is a moderate calorie root vegetable (100 g of root-stem provides about 74 calories) and is composed of several vitamins, minerals, and nutrients: 83.80% water, 0.11% fat, 1.56% reducing sugar, 0.41% sucrose, 2.70% crude protein, 9.25% starch, 0.80% fiber, 0.10% ash and 0.06% calcium. 100 g of root provides 44 mg of vitamin C or 73% of daily recommended values (RDA).
Lotus seeds are mostly oval or spherical, with sizes varying according to varieties. They are generally 1.2–1.8 cm long, with diameter ranging from 0.8 to 1.4 cm and a weight of 1.1–1.4 g. After lotus seeds have been decorticated and peeled, they are edible and rich in nutrients, and can be dried for storage. Their nutritional values can differ due to culture environments and varieties.
Not only do these seeds contain proteins of high quality and are rich in variety of essential amino acids including high contents of albumin (42%) and globulin (27%), they also contain unsaturated fatty acids, carbohydrates, vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, phosphorus and other trace elements. They also provide water-soluble polysaccharides, alkaloids, flavonoids, superoxide dismutase and other bioactive components.
The functional components (polyphenols, protein, polysaccharides) in N. nucifera seeds can help combatting high blood pressure, diabetes and gallstones. Lotus seed's water-soluble polysaccharides have also been shown to promote lymphocyte transformation and enhance the immune function.
After lotus seed germination, crude protein and fat levels in the endosperm significantly increase. It is therefore an important method to enhance its nutritional quality.
- Lotus field
- Fruit; the dried seed cup is commonly used in flower arrangements.
- Developing fruit
- Bud of Nelumbo nucifera
Cultural and religious significance
Nelumbo nucifera is the species of lotus that has historical cultural and spiritual significance. It's a sacred flower in both Hinduism and Buddhism, representing the path to spiritual awakening and enlightenment. It was also an important symbol in ancient Egypt, where it represented the path from death to rebirth to the afterlife.
In Asian art a lotus throne is a stylized lotus flower used as the seat or base for a figure. It is the normal pedestal for divine figures in Buddhist art and Hindu art, and often seen in Jain art. Originating in Indian art, it followed Indian religions to East Asia in particular. Lotus flowers are also often held by figures.
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