The Medicinal Herb Info site was created to help educate visitors about the often forgotten wisdom of the old ways of treating illnesses. Many of today's drugs and medicines were originally derived from natural ingredients, combinations of plants and other items found in nature.

We are not suggesting that you ignore the help of trained medical professionals, simply that you have additional options available for treating illnesses. Often the most effective treatment involves a responsible blend of both modern and traditional treatments.

We wish you peace and health!

Water Lily

Scientific Names

Water Lily

  • Nymphaea tuberosa L.
  • Nymphaea odorata L.
  • Nymphaeaceae
  • Water-lily family

Common Names

Nymphaea odorata:

  • Cow cabbage
  • Cow lily
  • Fragrant water lily
  • Pond lily
  • Sweet scented pond lily
  • Sweet scented water lily
  • Sweet water lily
  • Toad lily
  • Water cabbage
  • Water nymph
  • White pond lily
  • White water lily

Nymphaea tuberosa:

  • Tuberous water lily

Back to Top

Parts Usually Used

Nymphaea odorata: Root
Back to Top

Description of Plant(s) and Culture

Nymphaea odorata: White pond lily is an aquatic perennial plant; its little-branched, large, spongy, fleshy rootstock produces large orbicular or oblong-orbicular, entire leaves that float on the surface of the water, leaf notched at the base. They are dark green on top and mostly purplish underneath. The sweetly fragrant, large, many-petaled white flowers, 5 inches across, bloom above the water for 3 days, opening in the forenoon each day. Flowering time is from June to September.

Nymphaea tuberosa: CAUTION: Do not mistake the white pond lily (N. odorata) for the tuberous water lily (N. tuberosa), which can cause poisoning. The poisonous plant can be distinguished by its tuberous rootstock and odorless (or nearly so) flowers.

Another variety: Nuphar polysepalum is also called pond lily. On Klamath Marsh are about 10,000 acres of this great golden water lily. It was formerly harvested by the Native American women with dugouts poling slowly along, and pulling the pods off their stems. The days harvest was brought to shore and emptied into a hole where fermentation ensued for weeks or until the end of the season, when the heap was stirred up and the best seeds brought up and dried and subsequently roasted. When ground, these seeds make a fine cereal, but the preparation is difficult. “Wokas”, Klamath is the name.

The Water Lily of China is Euryal ferox, called Ch’ien-shih. Used medicinally for gonorrhea, spermatorrhea, polyuria, etc.
Back to Top

Where Found

Nymphaea odorata: Commonly found in ponds and slow streams in eastern North America. Newfoundland to Florida; Texas to Nebraska.
Back to Top

Medicinal Properties

Nymphaea odorata: Antiseptic, astringent, demulcent, deobstruent, discutient, vulnerary
Back to Top

Legends, Myths and Stories

Nymphaea odorata: The water lily takes its genus name, Nymphaea, from the Greek numphe, meaning “water nymph” or “virgin”. The Greeks are said to have given the flower this name because of its reputed anti-aphrodisiac qualities. Poets and artists through the ages have also associated a virginal aloofness with water lilies, especially the white-flowered ones. The plant has often been used as a symbol of purity and chastity, for the water lily flower holds itself erect as if disdaining to touch the murky water surrounding it.

As long as 5,000 years ago, the lotus flower, whose different varieties are members of the water lily family, was one of the most important symbolic and religious plants in both the Near East and the Orient. In Egypt the lotus symbolized the fertility of the rich soil of the Nile’s yearly inundation on which the prosperity of Egypt depended. Lotus blossoms were often placed on statues of Osiris, the god of vegetation and regeneration. The lotus was also a symbol of immortality, an attribute to both Osiris and his son Horus, god of light and the sun. Horus is sometimes pictured in Egyptian art sitting on a lotus blossom. In Persia the lotus also symbolized the sun and light.

The lotus has similarly been a major symbol in the culture of India. Brahma, the Hindu god who created the universe, issued forth out of a lotus blossom and, like the Egyptian Horus, is often pictured sitting on the flower. Many of India’s spiritual ideas are linked with the lotus. For example, the state of samadhi, or spiritual ecstasy, in yoga is represented by a thousand-petaled lotus flower. Indian Buddhists claim the lotus for a symbol of Buddha also, because the flower is supposed to have sprung up to announce his birth. Chinese Buddhists consider the lotus as Buddha’s footprint, and their concept of heaven features a sacred lake of lotuses.

The Mayas of Central America and Mexico revered the water lily growing in their region as the sacred symbol of the earth.

The flowers of the yellow species of water lily possess an odor similar to that of brandy; and the roots, if moistened with milk, are said by Linnaeus to destroy crickets and cockroaches.

Culpeper says of water lilies; “Of water-lilies. They are cold and dry, and stop lust: I never dived so deep to find what virtue the roots have.”
Back to Top


Nymphaea odorata: This is one of the old-fashioned remedies. Used as a douche for leukorrhea, treats diarrhea, bowel complaints, scrofula, inflamed tissues in various parts of the body, and for bronchial troubles. Used for dropsy, kidney troubles, catarrh of the bladder, or irritations of the prostate. Heals inflamed gums. Externally, a poultice made for painful swellings, boils, ulcers, wounds, and cuts. Apply the powdered root, combined with flaxseed, as a poultice. A tea made from the root makes a good gargle for irritation and/or inflammation in the mouth and throat, used as an eyewash, and a vaginal douche. As a lotion, it helps heal sores, makes skin soft and smooth. Both root and leaves are sometimes made into poultices for wounds, cuts, and bruises. Native Americans used root tea for coughs, tuberculosis (TB), inflamed glands, mouth sores, to stop bleeding. A folk tradition, a mixture of root and lemon juice was used to remove freckles and pimples.
Back to Top


Nymphaea odorata: Large doses may be toxic.

Nymphaea tuberosa: CAUTION: Do not mistake the white pond lily (N. odorata) for the tuberous water lily (N. tuberosa), which can cause poisoning. The poisonous plant can be distinguished by its tuberous rootstock and odorless (or nearly so) flowers.
Back to Top


Buy It! Back to Eden, by Jethro Kloss; Back to Eden Publishing Co., Loma Linda, CA 92354, Original copyright 1939, revised edition 1994

Buy It! Culpeper’s Complete Herbal & English Physician: Updated With 117 Modern Herbs, by Nicholas Culpeper, Meyerbooks, publisher, PO Box 427, Glenwood, Illinois 60425, 1990, (reprint of 1814)

Buy It! Chinese Medicinal Herbs, compiled by Shih-Chen Li, Georgetown Press, San Francisco, California, 1973.

Buy It! Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants, by Steven Foster and James A. Duke., Houghton Mifflin Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10000

Buy It! The Herbalist Almanac, by Clarence Meyer, Meyerbooks, publisher, PO Box 427, Glenwood, Illinois 60425, copyright 1988, fifth printing, 1994

Buy It! The Herb Book, by John Lust, Bantam Books, 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY. copyright 1974.

Buy It! Indian Herbalogy of North America, by Alma R. Hutchens, Shambala Publications, Inc., Horticultural Hall, 300 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, 1973

Buy It! Indian Uses of Native Plants, by Edith Van Allen Murphey, Meyerbooks, publisher, PO Box 427, Glenwood, Illinois 60425, copyright 1958, print 1990

Buy It! Old Ways Rediscovered, by Clarence Meyer, Meyerbooks, publisher, PO Box 427, Glenwood, Illinois 60425, published from 1954, print 1988

Buy It! Webster’s New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, Victoria Neufeldt, Editor in Chief, New World Dictionaries: A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 15 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10023

Back to Top