As autumn approaches the light is changing, the leaves are becoming crimson and gold and the air is crisp. Give thanks. I am enjoying the cool mornings and routine of autumn. It feels like a time of change and opportunity.

In Chinese medicine autumn is a time to strengthen the lungs. This is the organ most susceptible to weakness during these next two to three months. I have noticed that many people in my community have started to become sick and catch colds.

One remedy and addition to my diet especially important this time of year is lotus root.  Lotus root is used and loved by me. Usually you can find this at Asian markets, but is it organic?  Most likely it is not organic. With that being said, if you cannot find it fresh you can always buy it dried and rehydrate the lotus root. Not always the best option, but this is a food to know about and use from time to time.

In Japan I ate this as tempura and in soups. In China I was served this in soups as well and as elements in more complex dishes. Lotus root is super crunchy almost like water chestnuts. It is sweet and its shape and design by nature really resembles the inside of the lungs and the globules of blood.

Besides its use as a food, all parts of the lotus plant – seeds, leaves, and flowers as well as the root – have long been respected in the East for their medicinal properties. In Oriental medicine lotus seeds are eaten to increase energy and vitality and to aid digestion.

With 20% protein, the seeds are also nourishing. Though the entire rhizome can be used medicinally, the portion where the links join has the greatest effect. I find that the physical resemblance of lotus root to the lungs is a clue to its healing properties.

Lotus root has traditionally been used to treat various respiratory problems. Small doses of the juice extracted from raw, finely grated lotus root is prescribed for lung-related ailments, such as tuberculosis, asthma, and coughing, for heart disease, and to increase energy and neutralize toxins.

Lotus root is said to melt mucus accumulation in the body, especially in the respiratory system.

Combined with the juice of grated ginger, lotus root juice is said to be good for enteritis (inflammation of the intestine).

Lotus root is widely used in Japanese and Chinese cooking and is easily integrated into Western cuisine. Though it lacks much of the visual appeal of the fresh version, dried lotus root is convenient and easy to use. Simply soak for 2 hours, then drain. It combines well with most other vegetables. The dried root can be substituted for fresh lotus root in many recipes. It is particularly good in stir-fried or sautéed dishes, where it adds a pleasant crunch.

Lotus seeds are classified as astringents, being sweet and neutral, and benefiting the spleen, kidney, and heart. The sweet taste and nourishing qualities of the seed are responsible for the benefit to the spleen; this helps stop diarrhea associated with qi deficiency. The astringent quality helps prevent loss of kidney essence, so the seeds are used to treat weak sexual function in men and leukorrhea in women.

The seed also has calming properties that alleviate restlessness, palpitations, and insomnia (more so in the whole seed with embryo).

The lotus leaves are bitter, but neutral, and are said to benefit the stomach, spleen, and liver. They are used for treatment of summer heat syndrome and dampness accumulation; they also contain the lotus alkaloids with hypotensive effect. Lotus leaf has become popular for lowering blood lipids and treating fatty liver; it is commonly combined with crataegus, which promotes blood circulation and lowers blood fats, for that purpose. Lotus stems (hegeng) are used medicinally in the same way as the leaves for treatment of summer heat and are used also to treat tightness in the chest due to obstruction of qi circulation.

Lotus stamen (lianxu) is sweet, astringent, and neutral, benefiting the heart and kidney; it is mainly used for preventing discharge, such as treatment of leukorrhea or for frequent urination. It contains flavonoids and a small amount of alkaloids. Lotus nodes, the rhizome nodes (oujie), are astringent and neutral, benefiting the liver, lung, and stomach. They are mostly used to control bleeding. All the parts of the lotus have some antihemorrhagic effect, but the rhizome nodes are relied upon for that purpose specifically. The active component for reducing bleeding is not yet established, though quercetin and other flavonoids may play a role by improving capillary wall strength. By charcoaling the lotus plant parts, as is sometimes done, a hemostatic effect is assured, as charcoal itself has this effect (it promotes blood coagulation).

Cooking with Lotus Root:

If you manage to obtain fresh, tender lotus roots, peel the thin skin away, slice crossways and marinate in a dressing. They may be eaten raw and enjoyed for their crunchy texture, which is said to cool the blood. After cooking for a couple of hours it is credited with stimulating the appetite. Stalks of flowers and leaves counter diarrhea and the stamens of the lotus flowers are a diuretic.

The Sacred water lotus has been used in the Orient as a medicinal herb for well over 1,500 years. All parts of the plant are used, they are astringent, cardiotonic, febrifuge, hypotensive, resolvent, stomachic, styptic, tonic and vasodilator.

Normal Uses:

The lotus is one of the world most celebrated flowers. From time immemorial to the present day, it has always been in folklore, religion and the arts in one form or the other. Apart from its majestic beauty, the Lotus is held sacred because of the mystical effects it can produce.

The ripe seeds produce a wholesome effect in cases of Neurathenia, spermatorrhea, and metrorthoea. The leaves are the seed cores in decoction are effective of insomnia and haemorrhage and haemotemesis.

The flowers, seeds, young leaves and rhizomes are edible, while the big leaves, 2 feet in diameter, are used to wrap food in. Plant rhizomes are a source of lotus meal, which is rich in starch. It was often smoked or made into a tea with the idea that it would create a feeling of joy that permeated the mind and body.

Lotus Root Salad:

2 tablespoons ume (umbeoshi plum) vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon raw, organic tahini

1 tablespoon black sesame seeds

1 cup dried lotus root, rehydrated

2 big sheets of nori, torn into 1cm squares

Shake the vinegar and oil together in a small container to form a dressing. Add the tahini, and mix in with a fork, squashing any lumps to blend it in. Then mix in the seeds, and pour the dressing over the lotus root. Leave to marinade for at least twenty minutes before serving.

Just before the salad is eaten, sprinkle on the nori.