Two of the most important aquatic plants for Aboriginal people in north Australia are depicted; above the water-line the emergent leaves of the Red Lotus Lily (Nelumbo nucifera) and on the water surface, the floating leaves and flowers of the Water-lily, (Nymphaea macrosperma).
The Red Lotus Lily is called miwulngini, it has a number of uses. The large green ‘seeds’ (actually fruit) are eaten raw or lightly roasted; they are very good to eat and occur in large numbers in the mid dry season. The roots are also eaten after roasting and they are used as medicine to treat constipation. The new leaf shoots are eaten raw. The large concave leaves can be used as a hat, as camouflage when hunting in the billabong or to carry water and to wrap food when cooking.
This species is considered sacred in India, Tibet and China being the padma devoted to Brahma (sacred red colour), cultivated throughout south east Asia for food; ‘seeds’ remain viable for several hundred years in river mud.
The Water-lily is called minimindi, it also has a number of uses. The fruit contain many small oily seeds that can be eaten raw or lightly roasted, they are very tasty. The flower stems called mintyangari, are also excellent bush tucker and taste like celery. The tubers are used as food and are also used to treat constipation. The flowers can also be eaten.
Collecting Water-lily fruits is one of the favourite activities of senior women at the Daly River. The fruit are found on the bottom of billabongs, as the fruit swell with seeds they get heavy and fall to the bottom. The fruit are located with the feet while slowly walking through the water.
The genus Nymphaea contains about 35 species worldwide, some of which are sacred and important in some cultures; an Indomalayan species is devoted to Ciwa (the sacred white colour).