An Eco-sustainable World
HerbaceousSpecies Plant

Nymphaea alba

Nymphaea alba

The white waterlily or European white water lily, white nenuphar (Nymphaea alba L., 1753) is a herbaceous species belonging to the Nymphaeaceae family.

Systematic –
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Eukaryota domain,
Kingdom Plantae,
Spermatophyta Superdivision,
Division Magnoliophyta,
Class Magnoliopsida,
Subclass Magnoliidae,
Order Nymphaeales,
Family Nymphaeaceae,
Genus Nymphaea,
Species N. alba.
The terms are synonymous:
– Castalia alba (L.) Greene;
– Castalia alba Wood;
– Castalia alba var. depressa (Casp.) Vollm.;
– Castalia alba var. minor Murr;
– Castalia alba var. oviformis (Casp.) Vollm.;
– Castalia alba var. sphaerocarpa (Casp.) Vollm.;
– Castalia alba var. urceolata (Hentze) Vollm.;
– Castalia biradiata (Sommier) Hayek;
– Castalia minoriflora Simonk.;
– Castalia odorata Greene;
– Castalia speciosa Salisb.;
– Leuconymphaea alba (L.) Kuntze;
– Leuconymphaea alba var. minoriflora;
– Nymphaea alba f. alba;
– Nymphaea alba f. circumvallata (Casp.) Asch.;
– Nymphaea alba f. csepelensis Soó;
– Nymphaea alba f. depressa (Casp.) Asch.;
– Nymphaea alba f. froebelii Hegi;
– Nymphaea alba f. limosa Soo;
– Nymphaea alba f. rosea Mela;
– Nymphaea alba f. sphaerocarpa (Casp.) Asch.;
– Nymphaea alba subsp. biradiata (Sommer) Nyman;
– Nymphaea alba subsp. biradiata (Sommerauer) Hartm.;
– Nymphaea alba subsp. melocarpa (Casp.) Asch. & Graebn.;
– Nymphaea alba subsp. melocarpa (Casp.) Mela;
– Nymphaea alba subsp. melocarpa Casp.;
– Nymphaea alba subsp. minoriflora (Borbás) Stucchi;
– Nymphaea alba subsp. occidentalis (Ostenf.) Hyl.;
– Nymphaea alba subsp. occidentalis Ostenf.;
– Nymphaea alba subsp. rosea;
– Nymphaea alba subsp. rubra Lönnr.;
– Nymphaea alba var. biradiata (Sommerauer) Hartm.;
– Nymphaea alba var. circumvallata Casp.;
– Nymphaea alba var. depressa Casp.;
– Nymphaea alba var. erythrocarpa (Hentze) Casp.;
– Nymphaea alba var. major Rchb.;
– Nymphaea alba var. major Syme;
– Nymphaea alba var. melocarpa Casp.;
– Nymphaea alba var. minor Besler;
– Nymphaea alba var. minor Besler ex DC.;
– Nymphaea alba var. minor Schltdl.;
– Nymphaea alba var. minor Syme;
– Nymphaea alba var. minoriflora (Borbás) Asch. & Graebn.;
– Nymphaea alba var. occidentalis (Ostenf.) N.Hylander;
– Nymphaea alba var. occidentalis Ostenf.;
– Nymphaea alba var. sphaerocarpa Casp.;
– Nymphaea alba var. urceolata (Hentze) Casp.;
– Nymphaea alba var. vulgaris Schltdl.;
– Nymphaea bashiniana Steud.;
– Nymphaea bashiniana Turcz.;
– Nymphaea basniniana Turcz.;
– Nymphaea biradiata Sommier;
– Nymphaea candida f. biradiata (Sommerauer) Lindstr.;
– Nymphaea candida var. biradiata (Sommerauer) F.Henkel et al.;
– Nymphaea candida var. kosteletzkyi (Palliardi ex Lehm.) F.Henkel et al.;
– Nymphaea candida var. neglecta (Hausleutner) F.Henkel et al.;
– Nymphaea erythrocarpa Hentze;
– Nymphaea exumbonata Rupr.;
– Nymphaea kosteletzkyi Lehm.;
– Nymphaea melocarpa (Casp.) Asch. & Graebn.;
– Nymphaea milletii Boreau;
– Nymphaea minoriflora (Simonk.) Wissjul.;
– Nymphaea neglecta Hausl.;
– Nymphaea occidentalis (Ostenf.) Moss;
– Nymphaea officinalis Gaterau;
– Nymphaea parviflora Hentze;
– Nymphaea permixta Boreau;
– Nymphaea polystigma E.H.L.Krause;
– Nymphaea rotundifolia Hentze;
– Nymphaea splendens Hentze;
– Nymphaea suaveolens Dumort.;
– Nymphaea urceolata Hentze;
– Nymphaea venusta Hentze.

Etymology –
The term Nymphaea derives from the Arabic word nenufar (derived in turn from the Persian “blue lotus”), introduced into botanical nomenclature by the German physician, botanist and theologian Otto Brunfels (Mainz, 1488 – Bern, 25 November 1534) in 1534.
The specific epithet alba refers to the white color of the flower.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Nymphaea alba is a plant native to a vast area that includes: Africa (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia), Asia (Armenia, Azerbaijan, India Iran, Iraq and Turkey) and Europe (Albania, Austria, Belgium, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina , Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Norway, Holland, Poland, Portugal, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia , Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and Hungary).
Its habitat is that of lakes, ponds, canals, generally in calm waters, up to 3 m deep. The plant prefers to live in still or slow-growing waters, is rooting and perennial, and is particularly resistant and propagates easily, so much so that in some cases it is considered invasive. It is actually more marsh than aquatic as it is a species that can easily tolerate temporary drops in water levels.

Description –
Nymphaea alba is an aquatic herbaceous plant that reaches an average height ranging from 20 to 200 cm (also considering the submerged portion).
The depth of the roots in water can reach over one meter; the roots are fixed on the muddy bottom. Generally they arise from the underwater stem in a position opposite to each leaf insertion.
The stem is fleshy, rhizomatous, almost tuberous and slightly branched and not of the stoloniferous type. This stem is different from the aerial stems of terrestrial plants in that it does not have to support any weight; consequently the woody parts are minimal in favor of the aerial tissues. In fact, these stems (as well as the petioles and peduncles) are crossed by large air channels (to ensure flotation) in the walls of which numerous minute crystals of calcium oxalate are immersed. Generally the stems are flaccid but tenacious. The surface is marked by the scars of the petioles of previous years. Rhizome diameter 5 – 7 cm.
The leaves are large, with a leathery consistency and a flat, peltate blade with a petiole inserted 1/3 of the blade in a narrow and deep inlet. These are floating, with a more or less round (or roped) shape with acute basal ears. The length of the stalk depends on the depth of the water. Generally they are extended and cover large areas, but sometimes they can also be found in a semi-erect position and therefore partially emerging. The two pages (the one above and the one below) obviously have different anatomical structures interfacing two completely different elements (air and water). The upper plate is protected by a waxy layer (so as not to be wet, so the water slides away without blocking the air openings) and sprinkled with several stomata for the air exchange. The lower lamina instead contains anthocyanin (which is why it is purple). Anthocyanin is a nitrogen-free glycoside that has the function of converting the sun’s light rays into heat. In this way even the lower part of the leaf collaborates to increase the metabolic processes of the entire leaf. The leaves have veins that radiate from the central nerve and at the edge of the leaf they split several times at 90°. Each plant with its leaves can occupy an area of approximately 150 cm in diameter. Leaf diameter: 10 – 30 cm.
These leaves develop in such a way as they grow straight from the bottom towards the surface with the two semi-blades rolled up on themselves from the outside towards the central vein of the leaf; at the right moment they unroll, unfolding completely on the surface of the water. The leaves arise from the underlying rhizome in spiral-alternate orders and can be divided into three types (leaf dimorphism):
– thin and fragile submerged leaves with short petioles;
– floating leaves (thick and leathery) with the majority of the organs arranged on the upper surface (stomata and assimilating palisade cells);
– leaves with a normal structure, always on the surface, thick and leathery, and with stomata also on the lower surface.
The flowers are diurnal, hermaphroditic, self-fertile, delicately scented, floating, 10-20 cm in diameter, on a peduncle also provided with channels in which air is present, with 4 lanceolate sepals externally yellowish green in colour, white internally, about 5 cm long, 20-25 white, ovate-oblong petals, 3-6 cm long, and yellow stamens.
At the end of flowering, the peduncle dives, bringing the forming fruit to the bottom, where it completes ripening. The fruits are semi-globose, green, 3 cm in diameter, containing numerous ellipsoid seeds about 3 mm long. The seeds initially float due to the presence of air in the aril (fleshy envelope that completely or partially envelops the seed), which favors their dispersion, until this falls apart, becoming soaked in water, causing them to settle to the bottom.
The fruit is a globose berry, 2.5 – 3 cm in size, leathery and spongy with irregular dehiscence. On its surface there are characteristic scars due to the fall of the petals and stamens which are not persistent, while at the apex it is crowned by what remains of the styles. The peculiarity of this fruit is that its ripening occurs underwater, immersed in the muddy bottom. In fact, at the end of flowering, the fruit falls into the water and the axial protective tissue detaches in several parts from the free carpels, in this way the numerous seeds have a clear path for dissemination.
The seeds contained in the fruit are ellipsoid in shape, smooth and provided with albumen, with a size of 2 – 3 mm.

Cultivation –
Nymphaea alba is a perennial plant that is harvested in the wild for local use as food and medicine.
It is an aquatic plant that requires rich soil and a sunny position in still or slow-moving water and is best grown in 2 to 2.5 meters of water.
It is resistant to temperatures down to approximately -20°C.
It is a very ornamental plant with flowers that open only in full sun and have a light and delicate scent.
This plant was once very widespread throughout its original range but has progressively declined in many areas due to excessive anthropization. It requires full sun and preferably alkaline or neutral water, even deep, up to 3 m, but it can tolerate short periods of dryness, with the water level reduced to zero, in which case it produces aerial leaves of small dimensions and on a short peduncle. Due to its wide distribution, it can be cultivated in practically all climates.
This species reproduces by seed, which has an intrinsic dormancy that can be interrupted by cold stratification, keeping them immersed in water at a temperature around 5 °C for 1-2 months, but more frequently by division of the rhizomes in spring.

Customs and Traditions –
Nymphaea alba is a plant known by various common names, including: European white waterlily, white lotus, white water-lily (English); Nénuphar blanc, nymphéa blanc (French); carfano, white water lily, common water lily (Italian); ninféia branca (Portuguese); aguapé blanco, nenúfar blanco (Spanish); weiße seerose (German).
These plants are known as they perfectly decorate water gardens, so much so that it is unthinkable to see one without the precious presence of “water lilies”. This naturally pushed many specialists to create a multitude of hybrids or cultivars for the garden flower market. It is also a valid plant for production as a cut flower.
In Finland and in certain areas of Russia this plant finds edible uses (underwater stems) even if it contains various tannins and is rather bitter.
The name of this flower is connected to several tales and stories of ancient civilizations. Greek mythology includes many nymphs. This name comes from ancient Greek (“νύμφη”) and means “young girl”. Nymphs are most often semi-deities of nature.
It is said that the nymphs were daughters of Zeus or Uranus and that their myths were linked to deities such as Artemis, Apollo or Poseidon. Generally, virgins of marriageable age are represented as attractive girls. The term is also linked to the Latin verb nubere (= to take a husband).
Famous among the nymphs is Eurydice, wife of Orpheus, or Eco, the nymph of Mount Helicon.
Even in more recent times she has been a source of various artistic inspirations. Famous in impressionist painting is the painting Water Lilies created in 1918 by the French painter Claude Monet.
Some substances are contained within the plant, including: tannins, resins, glucosides and various toxic alkaloids nufarin and nympheine; these substances have an effect on the nervous system
The plant is known to have some healing properties: according to folk medicine these plants are used as they have the following medicinal properties: cardiotonic (regulates the heart rate), anti-inflammatory (reduces an inflammatory state), emollient (resolves an inflammatory state), sedative (calms excessive nervous or painful states) and astringent (limits the secretion of liquids).
The parts used are the flowers and the underwater rhizome.

Preparation Method –
Nymphaea alba is a plant that, in addition to ornamental uses, is known and used for food or medicinal purposes.
The edible rhizomes and leaves contain sedative substances.
The rhizomes, rich in starch, are edible, after removing the external layer, and cooked for a long time, with water exchange, to eliminate toxic substances, but with a rather bitter taste, and were consumed in the past during periods of famine .
In the food sector, the cooked root is used. It is eaten when it is several years old; contains up to 40% starch, 6% proteins, although caution is advised due to its possible toxicity.
The roasted seed is a coffee substitute; Furthermore, cooked it contains approximately 47% starch.
In the medicinal field, the rhizomes and leaves have been used in folk medicine since ancient times, the plant contains various substances, including nympheine and nufarin, with sedative properties, used in extremely low doses because they are highly toxic, with effects on the nervous system that can be mortal.
Although the roots and stems are used in traditional herbal medicine along with the flower, the petals and other parts of the flower are the most important parts.
Alcohol can be used to extract the active alkaloids and also increases sedative effects. The root of the plant has been used by monks and nuns for hundreds of years as an anaphrodisiac, being crushed and mixed with wine. In the first printed medical books, the authors maintained this use, but warned against consuming high and frequent doses.
The rhizome is anodyne, antiscrofulatic, astringent, cardiotonic, emollient and sedative.
A decoction of the root is used in the treatment of dysentery or diarrhea 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 take a shower to treat vaginal pain or discharge. In combination with elm (Ulmus rubra) or flax (Linum usotatissimum) it is used as a poultice to treat boils and abscesses.
The rhizome is harvested in autumn and can be dried for later use.
The flowers are anaphrodisiac and sedative; they have a generally calming and sedative effect on the nervous system, supposedly reducing sexual desire and making them useful in treating insomnia, anxiety, and similar disorders.
A complete cure of uterine cancer by decoction and uterine injection has been recorded.
According to one report the plant is not used in modern herbal practice, although it has been cited as a remedy for dysentery.

Guido Bissanti

– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– GBIF, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora d’Italia, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.

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Attention: Pharmaceutical applications and food uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not represent in any way a medical prescription; we therefore decline any responsibility for their use for healing, aesthetic or food purposes.

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