Botanical name: Euryale ferox
Common name: Euryale seed, Fox nut
Part used in Chinese medicine: seeds
Major Chinese medicine actions:
Strengthens Spleen, stops diarrhea, stabilizes Kidneys,
secures Essence, eliminates dampness
Photo Credits: (top to bottom)
Photo 1: Euryale ferox; 08/2008; author Hamachidori; permission under GFDL
Euryale ferox is a striking giant waterlily with leaves spanning over 3 feet in diameter. The entire plant is covered with small sharp stinging thorns. The lower side of the leaves are especially dense with prickly veins, becoming purplish as they mature. Small purple flowers are followed by fruit containing many seeds. The fruit is enclosed in a spiny packet having the shape of the head of a hen, therefore is sometimes called “chicken head”. Historical records tell of peddlers in Beijing selling the harvested fruits in the 7th month, walking in the streets calling “old chicken heads! Just out of the river!”
The history of the name of this plant makes reference to its prickly appearance. According to Greek mythology, “Euryale” is the name of one of the three Gorgons. These sisters (one also being Medusa) had serpents coming out of their heads instead of hair. The word “ferox” is Latin for “fierce”.
All parts of the plant are eaten and considered good food in famine times. The rhizome, young leaves, and flower buds may be eaten as vegetables, and the seeds have long been used ground into flour. In Chinese medicine, the seeds are used in both herb prescriptions and as medicinal food, cooked in soups and congees and added to rice and chicken dishes.
A simple, but highly nutritional staple food is made with rice, euryale seeds, Job’s tears, and jujube. 1 cup Qian Shi (Euryale), 1/2 cup Yi Yi Ren (Job’s tears), 1 cup Da Zao (Jujube), and 1 cup rice are combined, rinsed and drained. 2 Tablespoons sugar or honey and 2 gallons of water are then added, the mixture is brought to a boil and simmered for 3 hours.
Growing and Propagation
Euryale is a perennial aquatic plant that grows in ponds and lakes, native to East Asia from China to North India. It has long rhizomes that grow deeply buried in the mud at the water’s bottom. In the winter the plant becomes dormant, and in the spring, leaves growing up through the water to the surface. The leaves are relatively short-lived and are constantly being replaced. Flowers bloom in summer and are also quite short-lived.
The plant prefers growing in still or very slightly flowing water and requires full sun. It is not cold hardy and is grown as an annual in cooler climates. It can be grown as a perennial in places where summer temperatures stay about 82 degrees F or greater, or can be cultivated in a large heated greenhouse. In cold winters, the seeds over-winter well in mud and will germinate and grow when temperatures become warm enough. They need about 2.5 cubic feet of mud to grow a sufficient root structure.
When growing from seed, it should be sown as soon as it is ripe as it has a short viability. Seed should not be allowed to dry out. Sow seeds in pots in a greenhouse and immerse the pots in water. Young plants can be set outside only when temperatures are above 60 degrees F.
Harvesting and Preparation
Qian Shi is generally used in it unprepared, dried form, but when using the herb for its stabilizing and securing properties, it is commonly dry-fried at a moderate heat until the seeds turn slightly yellow. When prepared in this manner, the herb becomes slightly warm in nature, while the raw herb is neutral.
For medicinal use, good quality Qian Shi seeds are unbroken, with a purplish red or yellowish white outer color, depending on if the seeds have been peeled. The cross section should be white with a powdery texture.