The Sacred lotus is not closely related to the Waterlily, although they are both water plants with many-petalled flowers. This species originates in Asia, but was introduced in Egypt over 2500 years ago. The fragrant flowers stand amidst long-stemmed peltate leaves, which look like small parasols above the water.
The leaf surface is water-resistant, so that a drop of water may rest in its centre, on the spot where the petiole is attached. The female part of the flower is a conspicuous capsule-like structure in which a large number of edible seeds (technically fruits) develop. It is also widely cultivated as an ornamental plant, with hundreds of cultivars. The plant in our Hortus is also a cultivar, which is hardy in our climate: Nelumbo nucifera ’Pekinensis Rubra’.
Most parts of the plant may be used in Traditional Chinese Medicine: the ‘seeds’ as Lianzi (莲子), the cotyledons as Lianzixin (莲子心), the receptacle (female flower part) as Lianfang (莲房), the stamens and anthers as Lianxu (莲须), the leaves as Heye (荷叶), and node of the rhizome as Oujie (藕节). The different parts are used for different purposes; many have astringent and tonic properties, they stop vaginal discharge, tonify the kidney, arrest seminal emission, have anti-bacterial effects, promote weight loss and slimming, nourish the heart, and tranquilize the mind.