The Sacred Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera)

The above photo was taken September 2007 at the Summer Palace in Beijing by my daughter, Kathy, during our visist to China. An immature lotus seed pod is at center left.

There are two species of the lotus genus, sacred lotus also known as Chinese lotus, Nelumba nucifera and American lotus, Nelumbo lutea. Both lotuses are perennial aquatic plants.

Native to Asia, Australia, New Guinea and parts of the Middle East and widely cultivated in China, the sacred lotus grows in the mud of shallow fresh water ponds, lakes and lagoons.

The lotus leaf (pad), thin, flat and circular in shape supported on long stem well above the water, can be up to 24 inches across. In some culture, the leaves and stems are eaten. In the Chinese culture, the leaves are used as a wrapper for savory dishes. One popular savory rice dish is Lo Mai Gai served during dim sum. Lo Mai Gai (see NOTE 1) consist of glutinous rice, chicken, Chinese sausage, Chinese mushrooms, sauces and spices wrapped in lotus leaf and steamed. The delicate lotus leaf flavor is infused into the glutinous rice through steaming.

The lotus flower and pod, multi petaled flower mostly pink but also comes in rose and white, rise high above the water on long stem and can grow up to 8 inches across. After the petals fall, the seed pod is exposed (see photo above). The pod has a flat surface with many cavities. It dries to a brown color with a seed in each cavity.
Right photo: Lotus seed pod with seeds.

The lotus seed, round/oval about the size of hazelnut, is covered with a brown outer skin (similar to almonds). Peeled, the seed is off white.
Photo above right: bottom left an unpeeled seed, bottom right a peeled seed.
Unpeeled it is used in savory dishes and soup. Peeled it is used in both savory and sweet dishes. It also is boiled until soft, pureed and use as filling for sweet pastries.

The lotus root (rhizome) grows in the mud is made up of sections connected by joints” and can reach up to 4 feet in length. “Tunnels” run the length of each section and the “tunnels” become pin holes at the “joints”. The lotus root is hard with light brown skin. Peeled, the flesh is a soft orange/pink. Sliced crosswise it lends a special eye appeal to dishes. Cooked briefly it has a crunchy texture, cooked longer it has a soft starchy texture.
If the opportunity presents itself, try this:
1. Bang a lotus root section on the edge of the kitchen counter or a table to break it.
2. Gently pull the 2 pieces apart.
3. Observe the thin silk threads connecting the 2 pieces, sooooo cool.
Cutting with a knife will not produce the silk threads. Cooking lotus root sections or chunks until soft however will produce the silk thread when cut or when biten into.

To use: Remove and discard the “joints”, peel section using a vegetable peeler.
Stir-fry, slice thinly and use as part of the vegetables in any stir fry dishes.
Soups, leave section whole or cut into chunks and cook until soft, 1 hour or longer (usually with soup bones, ginger, Chinese red dates and Chinese mushrooms).
Salad, slice thinly, blanch briefly, cool under cold running water, drain, pat dry. Combine with greens and other ingredients. Toss with your favorite salad dressing.
Deep fried, slice thinly crosswise, deep fry until golden brown, or coat with a tempura batter and deep fry. Or slice lengthwise into finger-sized pieces and deep fried as you would French fries.

As the Chinese New Year approaches, fresh lotus root will become more readily available in the Asian markets. Also available during this period are candied lotus root slices and candied lotus seeds.

Lotus Root Salad

From Wokking Your Way to Low Fat Cooking by Norma Chang

1½ tablespoons pulverized Chinese rock sugar or white sugar
1 – 2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar or to taste
1 tablespoon soy sauce, regular or gluten free
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Combine all the above in a small dish. Mix well to dissolve sugar and salt. This is the sauce.

1 section lotus root (about ¾ pound) Peel and cut into about 1/8″ thick slices. Immerse in cold water to prevent discoloration.
2 quarts water
1 – 3 cups Chinese parsley leaves Wash and dry well.
1 – 2 teaspoons toasted black sesame seeds (see NOTE 2)

1. Bring water to boil in a 3 – 4 quart pot using high heat. Drain lotus root and add to boiling water. Return to a boil. Lower heat to medium low; simmer lotus root for 3 minutes. Drain at once and cool under cold running water. Drain and pat dry each slice.
2. Place dried lotus root in a mixing bowl. Add sauce and mix well. Refrigerate until ready to use.
3. Scatter Chinese parsley on a serving platter. Drain lotus root and arrange on top of parsley. Garnish with black sesame seeds. Serve.

NOTE 1: Lo Mai Gai is the Cantonese pronunciation for this dish. Lo mai is glutinous rice (also known as sticky rice and sweet rice), gai is chicken.

NOTE 2: When toasting black sesame seeds add a few white ones to act as a guide, when the white sesame seeds are toasted the black ones will be toasted too.

DSC01344weblarge copyLotus root (rhizome)

Copyright © by Norma Chang

Robin is the host for Thursdays Kitchen Cupboard. Head on over to to see what others are cooking.

About Norma Chang

I am the author/publisher of 2 user-friendly Chinese cookbooks: "My Students' Favorite Chinese Recipes (updated edition)" and "Wokking Your Way to Low Fat Cooking" A gardener who enjoys cooking and eating and loves to think outside the box A garden volunteer at Locust Grove Heritage Vegetable Garden Conduct hands-on cooking workshops for teenagers Conduct cultural programs for children and family Conduct healthy cooking classes for adults
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22 Responses to The Sacred Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera)

  1. Ann Drohosky says:


    A brief note to say hello!
    Enjoyed your blog on the Lotus Root! Your pictures are wonderful as well. I am certainly learning lots about Asian vegetables! Keep up the great work! Regards, Ann Drohosky

    P.S. Looking forward to spring!!

  2. I have always been intimidated by Lotus Root and hesitant to work with it. Thanks for breaking it down!!!

  3. Mary says:

    This was a great post. While I live in a small community I am able to get lotus root here in town. I usually bread and fry it, but I am looking for other ways to prepare it.. Your blog looks like it has a wealth of information and I’ll be back often to see what you are sharing with your readers. I hope you have a great day. Blessings…Mary

    • Norma Chang says:

      Hello Mary,
      Thanks for stopping by, hope you visit often. I wanted to post a few more recipes but had no photo and there was no lotus root at the store so I could not create the recipes for photos. Will do a follow up post when I get my hands on some lotus root.

  4. Liz says:

    I too have always been a bit scared of lotus root but perhaps now is the time to try it. Thanks for the comprehensive information – really enjoyed it and I had no idea that lotus was native to Australia.

    • Norma Chang says:

      Hello Liz,
      Yes do try cooking with lotus, and if you remember, let me know what your experiences are. Also feel free to contact me anytime if you have questions or need additional information.

  5. I love lotus root and lotus seed but I have yet cook them or prepare them myself. Thank you for sharing the recipe. 🙂

  6. Jeanette says:

    I have eaten but never prepared lotus root myself. I will have to give this a try for Chinese New Year!

  7. Robin says:

    What a great post! I knew nothing about the Lotus plant before reading it. Thanks for sharing!

    • Norma Chang says:

      Hello Robin,
      Thanks. Happy to share. I feel I have accomplished a little when readers learn something from my post. Went to New York City Chinatown today and bought lotus root. Will create a stir fry this week and post on Friday.

  8. rainfield says:

    Lotus plays a major role in Chinese culture.

    IT is edible, and appears very often in myths, literature and so on.

    Nice to see you, by the way.

  9. leduesorelle says:

    Lotus root is one of my childhood foods, but I never learned how to cook with it — thanks so much for showing how to prepare it!

  10. Durga Soma says:

    In India lotus roots are used in different ways.
    Picked, used in curries as a vegetable, fried and dried and fried etc.
    Thanks Norma.
    Durga Soma

  11. Ramona says:

    There are thousands of these at our favorite fishing lake.

    I had no idea you could eat those seeds.

    Great info. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

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