Nelumbo nucifera, known by a number of names including Indian Lotus, Sacred Lotus, Bean of India, or simply Lotus, is a plant in the monogeneric family Nelumbonaceae. The Linnaean binomial Nelumbo nucifera (Gaertn.) is the currently recognized name for this species, which has been classified under the former names, Nelumbium speciosum (Willd.) and Nymphaea nelumbo, among others. Names other than Nelumbo nucifera (Gaertn.) are obsolete synonyms and should not be used in current works. This plant is an aquatic perennial. Under favorable circumstances its seeds may remain viable for many years, with the oldest recorded lotus germination being from that of seeds 1,300 years old recovered from a dry lakebed in northeastern China.
A common misconception is referring to the lotus as a water lily (Nymphaea), an entirely different plant as can be seen from the center of the flower, which clearly lacks the structure that goes on to form the distinctive circular seed pod in the Nelumbo nucifera. Water lilies come in various colors, whereas the lotus has flowers ranging in hues of white to hot pink.
Native to Tropical Asia and Queensland, Australia, it is commonly cultivated in water gardens. The white and pink lotuses are national flowers of India and Vietnam, respectively.
Plant taxonomy systems agree that this flower is in the Nelumbo genus, but disagree as to which family Nelumbo is in, or whether it should be part of its own unique family and order tree. The roots of Nelumbo nucifera are planted in the soil of the pond or river bottom, while the leaves float on top of the water surface or are held well above it. The flowers are usually found on thick stems rising several centimeters above the leaves. The plant normally grows up to a height of about 150 cm and a horizontal spread of up to 3 meters, but some unverified reports place the height as high as over 5 meters. The leaves may be as large as 60 cm in diameter, while the showy flowers can be up to 20 cm in diameter.
Researchers report that the lotus has the remarkable ability to regulate the temperature of its flowers to within a narrow range just as humans and other warm blooded animals do. Dr. Roger S. Seymour and Dr. Paul Schultze-Motel, physiologists at the University of Adelaide in Australia, found that lotus flowers blooming in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens maintained a temperature of 30–35 °C (86–95 °F), even when the air temperature dropped to 10 °C (50 °F). They suspect the flowers may be doing this to attract coldblooded insect pollinators. The study, published in the journal Nature, is the latest discovery in the esoteric field of heat-producing plants. Two other species known to be able to regulate their temperature include Symplocarpus foetidus and Philodendron selloum.
The traditional Sacred Lotus is distantly related to Nymphaea caerulea and possesses similar chemistry. Both Nymphaea caerulea and Nelumbo nucifera contain the alkaloids nuciferine and aporphine.
The distinctive dried seed heads, which resemble the spouts of watering cans, are widely sold throughout the world for decorative purposes and for dried flower arranging.
The flowers, seeds, young leaves, and "roots" (rhizomes) are all edible. In Asia, the petals are sometimes used for garnish, while the large leaves are used as a wrap for food, not frequently eaten. In Korea, the leaves and petals are used as a tisane. Yeonkkotcha is made with dried petals of white lotus and yeonipcha is made with the leaves. Young lotus stems are used as a salad ingredient in Vietnamese cuisine. The rhizome is used as a vegetable in soups, deep-fried, stir-fried, and braised dishes and the roots are also used in traditional Asian herbal medicine. Petals, leaves, and rhizome can also all be eaten raw, but there is a risk of parasite transmission, it is therefore recommended that they be cooked before eating.
Lotus rootlets are often pickled with rice vinegar, sugar, chili and/or garlic. It has a crunchy texture with sweet-tangy flavours. In Asian cuisine, it is popular with salad, prawns, sesame oil and/or coriander leaves. Lotus roots have been found to be rich in dietary fiber, vitamin C, potassium, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, copper, and manganese, while very low in saturated fat.
The stamens can be dried and made into a fragrant herbal tea called liánhuā cha in Chinese, or (particularly in Vietnam) used to impart a scent to tea leaves. The lotus seeds or nuts are quite versatile, and can be eaten raw or dried and popped like popcorn, phool makhana. They can also be boiled until soft and made into a paste, or boiled with dried longans and rock sugar to make a tong sui (sweet soup). Combined with sugar, lotus seed paste becomes one of the most common ingredients used in pastries such as moon cakes, daifuku, and rice flour pudding.
In Vietnam, the bitter tasting germs of the lotus seeds are also made into a tisane (trà tim sen). A unique fabric from the lotus plant fibers is produced only at Inle lake, Union of Myanmar and is used for weaving special robes for Buddha images called kya thingahn (lotus robe).
Source, Images: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nelumbo_nucifera