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The Beautiful Lotus Plant (Nelumbo nucifera): Traditional Uses, Nutritive Facts, and Therapeutic Potential

Updated on March 7, 2020
Emmy ali profile image

Eman is a writer and an engineer. She is interested in reading about plant research and its nutritional and therapeutic facts.

Lotus Plant

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Nelumbo nucifera Gaertn has common names such as lotus or sacred lotus, Indian lotus, Chinese water lily. Nelumbo nucifera synonyms are Nelumbium nelumbo, N. speciosa, N. speciosum, and Nymphaea nelumbo.

Lotus is an aquatic perennial plant belonging to the monogeneric family Nelumbonaceae and has only two species: Nucifera and lutea. Lotus plants are usually found in ponds, lakes, and swamps.

Lotus plant has great economic importance because it has many medicinal uses as well as an ornamental flower.

All lotus parts, including seeds, leaves, flowers, and rhizomes are useful and have been used as a traditional medicine for thousands of years.

The lotus is rich in alkalis, flavonoids, vitamins, and other important chemical compounds. There are many studies on these chemical compounds and their potential use in the treatment of many diseases, particularly cancer.

Nelumbo nucifera occurs extensively in Southeast Asia. In China, the lotus plant is cultivated on more than 100,000 hectares and is widely found in India. It is also grown widely in New Guinea, Iran, North and East of Australia. N. lutea, the American lotus occurs in eastern and southern North America.

History of Lotus Plant

The Blue Egyptian Lotus Plant

Nymphaea caerulea in the Temple of Flora, Robert Thornton.
Nymphaea caerulea in the Temple of Flora, Robert Thornton.

The blue lotus (Nymphaea caerulea) was common on the banks of the Nile. Ancient Egyptians used the lotus plant as an analgesic and Anti-inflammatory treatment as well as in the perfume industry. The lotus was also used in Aromatherapy, a treatment that relies on the use of some flower oils to activate energy centers in the human body, to help the body to treat itself. The blue lotus oil is one of the strongest oils used in this type of treatment and has an effect on improving body immunity.

Iotus Plant

The symbol of beauty in ancient Egypt.
The symbol of beauty in ancient Egypt. | Source

Lotus Plant, Ancient Egypt

Seven lotus vases nesting in a shallow bowl on a table. Tomb of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhpotep. Oxford Expedition to Egypt.
Seven lotus vases nesting in a shallow bowl on a table. Tomb of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhpotep. Oxford Expedition to Egypt.

Lotus was not used only for therapeutic purposes, but it was also a symbol of beauty. The lotus has been used as a decorative element since the third millennium BC. The ancient Egyptian artist used the lotus flower as a decorative element on the walls, columns and all forms of ancient Egyptian architecture. Also, the ancient Egyptians made mirrors, jewelry as well as pots in the form of the lotus plant.

Around the first millennium, BC Lotus flower appeared in Assyrian decoration and carried to Syria and Greece in the seventh century BC. Then the lotus was planted extensively throughout Persia, India, and China.

Lotus was a large part of Chinese culture. Many have expressed the beauty of lotus through poems and paintings.

"June in the West Lake is different from other seasons of the year, the lotus leaves are extremely exuberant, and the lotus flowers are more red against the morning sun".

— A famous poet of the Tang Dynasty, Yang Wanli.

Lotus Plant, Chinese culture

Lotus Flower Breaking the Surface, Yun Shouping, Qing Dynasty, 17th century, China, Palace Museum, Beijing.
Lotus Flower Breaking the Surface, Yun Shouping, Qing Dynasty, 17th century, China, Palace Museum, Beijing. | Source

Lotus plant has been registered in the most famous medical book in China for more than 400 years. Lotus was transferred from China to Japan and has been cultivated for more than1000 years.

The lotus plant has also appeared in its exquisite form in textiles as well as stone and wood carvings in India.

Lotus plant was brought into horticulture in Western Europe around 1787 as a stove-house water lily under the auspices of the English Scientist Joseph Banks.

At present, the Lotus plant can be seen almost everywhere in the modern botanical gardens.

Lotus Gardens in Kyoto, Japan.

Description of Lotus Plant

Lotus Plant

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Nelumbo Nucifera Seed Head (Fruit)

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The fruit is a group of nutlets. The shape of mature nutlets is an oval or circular up to 1.0 m long and 1.5 cm wide with a solid smooth, grayish black or brown pericarp. Seeds fill in the mature carpel. The longevity of N. nucifera seeds exceeds any known species of flowering plants. Robert Brown, the first keeper of botany in the British Museum, experimented with the fruits of Nielambo at different times between 1843 and 1845, showed that they kept the germination force after 150 years of confinement in a box with a glass lid.

Lotus Leaf

Leaves are large, round with diameter 20-90 cm, and non-wet-able. There are two types of leaves: floating and aerial are petiolated and glaucous. The floating leaves are flat while the aerial leaves are cup-shaped. The leaves of aerial are usually between 24 and 33 cm, and the floating leaves range between 23 and 30 cm. The smell is distinct. Fractures are fibrous. The petioles of the aerial leaves are upright, soft, green or greenish-brown in color with small brown dots and are sometimes rough.

Lotus Leaf Surface

Lotus leaf surface. Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) showing the microstructures on the surface of a leaf from a lotus (Nelumbo sp.) plant.
Lotus leaf surface. Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) showing the microstructures on the surface of a leaf from a lotus (Nelumbo sp.) plant. | Source

The above photo is electron microscopy (SEM) showing microstructures on a leaf surface of a lotus plant. These structures on the top of the leaf, along with a waxy layer, help to repel water droplets. This helps to keep leaves clean and prevent fungi and other organisms from settling on them.

Lotus Flower

Flowers are solitary, large, and 10-25 cm in diameter and have peduncles arising from the nodes of the rhizomes, sheathing at the base, 1-2 cm long, green or blackish green, hard, soft or rough due to the presence of numerous small scattered prickles, petals, sepals, and stamens are spirally arranged, passing gradually one into another. The colors of the flowers are white, pink or pinkish-white fragrant.

Lotus Root (Rhizome)

A transverse section of the lotus roots shows an outer layer of the epidermis, surrounded by cuticle followed by a thick sub-epidermal layer, a sponge layer and an inner dense layer, continuous with the parenchyma cells.
A transverse section of the lotus roots shows an outer layer of the epidermis, surrounded by cuticle followed by a thick sub-epidermal layer, a sponge layer and an inner dense layer, continuous with the parenchyma cells. | Source

The rhizomes are 60–140 cm long, 0.5–2.5 cm in diameter with longitudinal striations, brown patches, nodes as well as internodes. The colors of the rhizomes are yellowish-white to yellowish-brown.

Nutritive and Therapeutic Potential of Lotus Plant

White Lotus Seeds

Brown Lotus Seeds

Seeds

Lotus seeds are used as a health food in Asia and in the traditional medicine to treat many diseases such as leprosy, tissue inflammation, cancer, poor digestion, leucorrhoea, dermatopathy, halitosis, diarrhea, insomnia, antidote, diuretic, heart complaints, insomnia, and high fever. Also, the seed powder mixed with honey to treat a cough.

The seeds are usually sold in the shelled and dried form. There are two types of dried lotus seeds: the white and brown peel.

White lotus seeds are deshelled and de-membraned. The bitter-tasting germ of the seed is removed at harvest time using a hollow needle, although some may remain in the seeds due to production supervision.

Brown peel lotus seeds are brown in color because the seeds have joined the membrane. These seeds are usually broken down in half to remove the germ as the seeds are solid enough to make removing the germs by the needle difficult.

Nutritive Value of Lotus seeds:

Ash 4.50%, Moisture Content 10.50%, Crude Fat 1.93%, Protein 10.60, Carbohydrate 72.17%, Crude Fiber 2.70%, and Energy 348.45 cal/100 gm.

A study showed that lotus seeds are important sources of protein and carbohydrates. The lotus flour has better functional properties especially swelling power, insolubility and emulsion properties compared to many traditional legumes or grains, indicating that they can be added to food systems, especially in bakery products, meat products, and nutrient supplements.

Percent concentration of various elements of Nelumbo nucifera seeds:

Chromium 0.0042%, Sodium 1.00%, Potassium 28.5%, Calcium 22.10%, Magnesium 9.20%, Copper 0.0463%, Zinc 0.0840%, Manganese 0.356%, and Iron 0.1990%.

Chemical Evaluation of lotus seeds:

Moisture is 7.26% and Oil 3.62%.

Physicochemical values:

Saponification value is 175.8%, Iodine value 90%, free fatty acid (as oleic acid) 1.86%, Unsaponifiable matter 0.52%, Acid value 3.70%, and Ester value 172.1%.

Alkaloids:

The main secondary metabolites present in the seeds are alkaloids such as dauricine, armepavine, Pronuciferine, liensinine, isoliensinine, nuci-ferine, roemerine, neferine and Lotusine.


According to the Oxford Dictionary, alkaloids are any class of organic nitrogen compounds of plant origin that occur physiological actions on humans.

Dauricine structure

Skeletal formula of dauricine—an isoquinoline alkaloid and acalcium channel channel blocker.
Skeletal formula of dauricine—an isoquinoline alkaloid and acalcium channel channel blocker. | Source

Several studies have shown that dauricine plays a variety of biological roles in the human body, the most important of which is to inhibit the growth of cancer cells.

A study has been shown that dauricine has anti-tumor effects in colon cancer and it suppresses the growth of colon cancer cells. Another study has shown that dauricine inhibits human breast cancer. Dauricine has been shown to have anti-tumor effects in many urinary cancers, including bladder cancer and prostate cancer.

Experiments have shown that liensinine (C37H42N2O6) and nuciferine (C19H21NO2) are able to prevent bone destruction by breast cancer. Liensinine showed significant inhibition of migration and invasion of both MDA-MB-231 and MCF-7 breast cancer cells compared with nuciferine.

Also, experiments demonstrated the ability of soliensinine and neferine to treat breast cancer.

Kaempferol Structure

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Flowers

Flowers are traditionally used to treat abdominal cramps, cholera, fever, hepatopathy, diarrhea, and bloody discharges. The stalk of the flower is used to treat excessive menstruation, postpartum hemorrhage, and gastric ulcer bleeding.

Flowers are rich in kaempferol: a type of Flavonoid, many studies suggested that the consumption of kaempferol may reduce the risk of various types of cancer and it is currently being studied as a potential cancer treatment.

A study has shown that kaempferol suppresses breast cancer cell growth caused by estrogen and triclosan in cellular and xenograft breast cancer models.

The Multiethnic Cohort Study provided evidence for a preventive effect of kaempferol on pancreatic cancer.

Kaempferol is a good candidate for the chemoprevention of ovarian cancers. A study showed that kaempferol stimulates apoptosis in ovarian cancer cells through regulating pro-apoptotic and anti-apoptotic protein expressions in the intrinsic apoptosis pathways.

In vitro and in vivo studies evidenced that kaempferol inhibits gastric cancer tumor growth.

Also, the researchers found through experiments in mice that Kaempferol significantly improves high blood sugar and reduces the incidence of diabetes from 100% to 77.8%

Isoquercetin Structure

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Leaves

Traditionally the leaves are used to clear heat, cooling the blood, removing heatstroke, stop bleeding, epistaxis, haematuria, hemoptysis, hyperlipidemia, haematemesis, metrorrhagia, and obesity.

Research has shown that lotus leaves are rich in alkaloids and flavonoids such as quercetin (C15H10O7), leucoanthocyanidin (C15H14O3), rutin (C27H30O16), (+)-cate-chin (C15H14O6), hyperoside (C21H20O12), isoquercetin (C21H20O12), and astragalin (C21H20O11).

According to the National Cancer Institute, isoquercetin is being investigated for the prevention of blood clots in cancer patients. According to clinicalquiries.gov isoquercetin as an agent is able to reduce fatigue in kidney cancer patients taking sunitinib.

Quercetin has been studied in basic research as well as small clinical trials. Quercetin supplements have been enhanced to treat cancer and other diseases. There is no evidence that quercetin (by dietary supplements or food) is beneficial for cancer or any disease. U S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warning messages to confirm that quercetin is neither specific nor antioxidant and is not regulated as a drug to treat any human disease.

Rutin (rutoside or rutinoside) is under preliminary clinical research for its potential biological effects, such as in reducing post-thrombotic syndrome (PTS) and deep venous insufficiency (DVT). According to the Cochrane Library, there was no evidence for its safe and effective uses.

Edible Rhizome (Lotus Root)

Traditionally, the rhizome nodes are used to treat nasal bleeding, hemoptysis, uterus bleeding, cancer, chronic liver cirrhosis, tissue inflammation, blood stasis, dysentery, diarrhea, and improving appetite.

Nutritive Value of Lotus Rhizome:

Fresh rhizome contains 83.80% water, 31.2% starch, 0.11% fat, 1.56% sugar, 2.70% protein, 0.41% sucrose, 0.06% calcium, 0.80% fiber, and l.10% ash.

The Vitamins:

Riboflavin is (0.6 mg per 100 g), niacin (2.10 mg per 100 g), ascorbic acid (1.5 mg/100 g), Vitamin C (44 mg per 100 g), and thiamine (0.22 mg/100 g).

The Elements:

Potassium 0.756%, magnesium 0.398%, calcium 1.15%, copper 0.0015%, zinc 0.0032%, sodium 0.10%, barium 0.00064%, and iron 0.053%.

Lotus rhizome is rich in vitamin C which reduces the duration and severity of common cold symptoms by promoting immune responses and by acting as anti-histamine.

Histamine

Skeletal formula of histamine.
Skeletal formula of histamine. | Source

Histamine is the mediator of common symptoms of colds and allergies, and this anti-histamine property of vitamin C can work to reduce the severity of the cold.

According to in vitro, vitamin C destroys histamine by breaking the structure of the imidazole ring of the molecule. According to in vivo, plasma histamine concentrations are reduced by 40% in healthy adults after 2 weeks of vitamin C supplementation.

People with high intakes of vitamin C may be less risk to get many cancers, such as lung, breast and colon cancers but no evidence that vitamin C treats from cancer or protect people from getting it.

People who eat plenty of fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C seem to have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease because the antioxidant content of these foods might be partly responsible for this association.

Researches believe that oxidative damage is a major cause of cardiovascular disease.

However, scientists are not sure whether vitamin C itself, either from food or supplements, helps prevent from cardiovascular disease.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the most common liver disease in industrialized countries. A study has shown that lotus root is able to suppress the lipogenic enzyme activities and Messenger RNA (mRNA) expression. Furthermore, the hepatic expression of inflammatory genes such as Tumor necrosis factor alpha and CCL2 (monocyte chemoattractant protein-1) markedly suppressed by the Lotus diet.

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© 2018 Eman Abdallah Kamel

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    • Emmy ali profile imageAUTHOR

      Eman Abdallah Kamel 

      17 months ago from Egypt

      Thanks, Hayley Dodwell. I'm really glad you liked the article.

    • profile image

      Hayley Dodwell 

      17 months ago

      A very interesting article. Fascinating read! Thank you!

    • Emmy ali profile imageAUTHOR

      Eman Abdallah Kamel 

      18 months ago from Egypt

      Thanks, Linda for the comment. Lotus is a beautiful and healthy plant as well.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      18 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for sharing so much information about the lotus plant, Eman. This is an interesting article with some lovely photos.

    • Emmy ali profile imageAUTHOR

      Eman Abdallah Kamel 

      18 months ago from Egypt

      Thank you, Dr. Mohammed. Lotus is a useful and beautiful plant. I hope you can plant it. I appreciate your visit and comment.

    • profile image

      Mohamed Sobih 

      18 months ago

      Thank you, Eman for this extensive, focus information about this useful plant. I wish if I could plant it on our balcony.

    • Emmy ali profile imageAUTHOR

      Eman Abdallah Kamel 

      18 months ago from Egypt

      Thank you, Liz, for this additional information. You are welcome.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      18 months ago from UK

      There are some places like the Eden Project in Cornwall that use large dome structures to create warm climates and grow plants that would not otherwise thrive in our cold climate.

    • Emmy ali profile imageAUTHOR

      Eman Abdallah Kamel 

      18 months ago from Egypt

      Thanks, Linda. I agree with you that lotus is an amazing plant.

    • lindacee profile image

      Linda Chechar 

      18 months ago from Arizona

      Emmy, I had no idea the lotus plant has so many medicinal uses. They are absolutely beautiful and beneficial for a variety of health issues. This article is extremely in-depth and brimming with historical and scientific information about this amazing plant.

    • Emmy ali profile imageAUTHOR

      Eman Abdallah Kamel 

      18 months ago from Egypt

      Thanks, Liz. The weather in most of the year is cold and winter is very cold in the UK and the lotus needs warmth. I have read that most people there plant lotus in pots using dry seeds indoors or in greenhouses. If it is grown in large greenhouses it will need more attention.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      18 months ago from UK

      This is an extremely detailed and well-illustrated article. Unfortunately, the climate in the UK is not suitable for these plants.

    • Emmy ali profile imageAUTHOR

      Eman Abdallah Kamel 

      18 months ago from Egypt

      Thank you very much, Mr. Holland. I wish the global awareness of the importance of the lotus plant as well as interest in its agriculture around the world.

    • Emmy ali profile imageAUTHOR

      Eman Abdallah Kamel 

      18 months ago from Egypt

      Thank you very much, Mr. Holland. I wish the global awareness of the importance of the lotus plant as well as interest in its agriculture around the world.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      18 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Very interesting information, Eman! Thank you for adding to my education. The seeds are beautiful in their simplicity.

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