Yesterday’s assignment for the newspaper was the Lotus Festival—in one word, yay! I spent two hours touching, looking, eating, drinking, and talking lotus and various other water plants. The only problem was that the information in my notebook far exceeded my 15-inch article allotment.
For one, water lilies were as big of a draw for the festival as lotuses and the only flower you’ll see a picture of here on Lettuce Share or over at the Herald-Tribune. Debby Downer strikes again; the pounding rains damaged a lot of leaves and blooms. Marilyn Eigsti, owner of Wonderful Water Lilies, holds this plus a Tropical Water Lily and Spring Festival annually in her backyard/the prettiest nursery I’ve ever seen. And from what the crowd said, a few of which drove over from Naples, Eigsti is the only person to buy water lilies and lotuses from because of the variety and quality she offers. The number one tip I picked up on buying these particular plants: don’t buy them from Home Depot. The national chain sells varieties that won’t grow in Florida. You need a local, but no worries because Wonderful Water Lilies is open by appointment. You don’t have to wait for a festival to buy.
When buying and deciphering between the two plants, the major difference is that the leaves of the water lily lie flat on the water, and the leaves of the lotus stand above the water. There are also a few slighter differences. Water lily stems are smooth and their leaves have a split in them. Lotus stems have tiny bumps that make them rough to the touch, and their leaves are completely rounded without a split.
But those are basics and not the reason so many people attended the festival yesterday. They were genuinely amped up about the lotus…maybe a strange choice of word when talking about plants–amped–but there was true excitement amongst the shoppers yesterday. It seemed like more of a treasure hunt than a plant sale.
One shopper practically shouted, “In the rest of the world, the lotus is huge!” Another woman approached me several times, each time with a new interesting tidbit and every time ending the conversation with, “I could go on and on about the lotus.” I’d call it the Lotus Effect, but that’s already a thing. It refers to the way lotus leaves self-clean. A scanning electron microscope showed how the leaf structure beads water and carries away dirt. The Lotus Effect has been integrated into products such as fabric, paint and solar panels.
In Myanmar and Cambodia, strands from the lotus stem are woven into a fabric finer than silk. One robe requires over 200,000 plants! To see how fine the strands are, snap a stem and pull it apart. And if you’re hungry, eat it when you’re done. Every part of the lotus is edible.
The leaves are used like banana leaves to wrap up meats and vegetables in a pouch to then bake, steam or grill. The nuts can be smashed into pastry, and the stems are often pickled. This is the recipe for the lotus salad served at the festival:
Peel and thinly slice 1 pound lotus crosswise (cut in half lengthwise if using a large root). Par boil 3-4 minutes. Prepare sauce by combining 2 cups rice vinegar with 2 cups sugar, and pour over the lotus. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup diced carrot and 3×4 inches slivered konbu for color (konbu is kelp). Mix well and serve cold. May be made 2-3 days in advance.