Herb: White Water Lily

Latin name: Nymphaea alba

Synonyms: Castalia alba, Castalia speciosa

Family: Nymphaeaceae (Water-lily Family)

Medicinal use of White Water Lily:

The rhizome is anodyne, antiscrofulatic, astringent, cardiotonic, demulcent and sedative. A decoction of the root is used in the treatment of dysentery or diarrhoea caused by irritable bowel syndrome. It has also been used to treat bronchial catarrh and kidney pain and can be taken as a gargle for sore throats. Externally it can be used to make a douche to treat vaginal soreness or discharges. In combination with slippery elm (Ulmus rubra) or flax (Linum usitatissimum) it is used as a poultice to treat boils and abscesses. The rhizome is harvested in the autumn and can be dried for later use. The flowers are anaphrodisiac and sedative. They have a generally calming and sedative effect upon the nervous system, reputedly reducing the sex drive and making them useful in the treatment of insomnia, anxiety and similar disorders. A complete cure of uterine cancer by a decoction and uterine injection has been recorded. According to one report the plant is not used in modern herbal practice, though it has been quoted as a remedy for dysentery.

Description of the plant:


July to


Habitat of the herb:

Marshes, ponds, slow moving streams, lakes and canals up to 1.2m deep.

Edible parts of White Water Lily:

Root - cooked. Eaten when several years old. It contains up to 40% starch, 6% protein. Some caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity. The roasted seed is a coffee substitute. Seed - cooked. It contains about 47% starch.

Propagation of the herb:

Seed - sow as soon as it is ripe in a greenhouse in pots submerged under 25mm of water. Prick out into individual pots as soon as the first true leaf appears and grow them on in water in a greenhouse for at least two years before planting them out in late spring. The seed is collected by wrapping the developing seed head in a muslin bag to avoid the seed being lost. Harvest it 10 days after it sinks below the soil surface or as soon as it reappears. Division in May. Each portion must have at least one eye. Submerge in pots in shallow water until established.

Cultivation of White Water Lily:

Marshes, ponds, slow moving streams, lakes and canals up to 1.2m deep.

Known hazards of Nymphaea alba:

One report suggests that the plant is poisonous but gives no further details. The plant contains the toxic alkaloids nupharine and nymphaeine, these substances have an effect on the nervous system.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.