Sunday, August 23, 2009


In his new book, author Mark Griffiths traces the history of the sacred plant Nelumbo nucifera the edible, incredible lotus flower.
Across Japan in the next few weeks, in lakes and tubs, ponds and paddyfields, the massive buds of the lotus flower will open in the dawn. From Ueno Park in downtown Tokyo to the remotest rural fastness, lotus-viewing festivals will take place, turning a flower show into a mass spectator sport during what is known as the Time of the Lotus.

Already fixtures in the Japanese diet, lotus rhizomes and seeds will be devoured in even greater quantities than usual; rice wine will be poured onto the plate-like leaves and their hollow stalks stuck between the lips to act as metre-long drinking straws. Around the middle of the month, a vast harvest of flowers and leaves will bring the lotus into millions of homes where it will play an essential role in Obon, Japan's great annual celebration of the returning dead.

This magical flower, which has touched so many civilizations and reconciled nature and culture, science and spirituality, has disappeared from our gardens and consciousness. Yet Nelumbo is easy to grow in a tub filled two thirds with soil, one third with water, and we have conservatories and sunny terraces aplenty. It is time for a revival.