The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Nuphar lutea (Linnaeus) Sibthorp et Smith


Yellow Water Lily




Nymphaeaceae (Water Lily Family)


The yellow water lily (Nuphar lutea), which is indigenous to Europe, produces opium-like effects. (Woodcut from Tabernaemontanus, Neu Vollkommen Kräuter-Buch, 1731)


Forms and Subspecies


It was formerly assumed that the genus Nuphar was composed of twenty-five or twenty-six species. Currently, only two species are recognized, and Nuphar lutea has been divided into nine subspecies (Beal 1956; Slocum et al. 1996, 165*):


Nuphar lutea ssp. lutea Beal

Nuphar lutea ssp. macrophylla (Small) Beal [syn. N. advena (Ait.) Ait. f.]

Nuphar lutea ssp. orbiculata (Small) Beal

Nuphar lutea ssp. ozarkana (Miller et Standley) Beal

Nuphar lutea ssp. polysepala (Engelm.) Beal

Nuphar lutea ssp. pumila (Timm) Beal [syn. N. microphylla Beal]

Nuphar lutea ssp. sagittifolia (Walter) Beal

Nuphar lutea ssp. ulvacea (Miller et Standley) Beal

Nuphar lutea ssp. variegata (Engelm.) Beal



Nenuphar luteum nom. nud.

Nuphar advena (Aiton) Aiton f.

Nuphar luteum Smith

Nuphar microphylla Beal

Nymphaea lutea L.

Nymphaea luteum S. Sm.

Folk Names


Amello, American spatterdock, andere seerose, Cape Fear spatterdock, carfano maschio, gael seebluomen, geel seeblume, geelseeblumen, gelber mummel, gelbe seerose, gelbe teichrose, gelbe wasserlilie, gele plomp (Dutch), lake rose, madonaïs, mummel, nailufar (Arabic, “water lily”), naunufero, nenuphar, ninfea, ninfea gialla (Italian), ninupharo, nuphar, nuphara, nuphar jaune, nymphe minor, nymphon, pond lily, seeblume, seekandel, spatterdock, teichrose, yellow water lily, yellow water-lily



The yellow water lily or lake rose was described by Dioscorides:269


Other lake rose. There is yet another Nymphaia (some call it Nymphon, its flower is called Nuphar) with leaves similar to that mentioned before [Nymphaea alba L.]; it has a large and rough root and a yellow, shiny flower like the rose. The root and the seed, when drunk in dark wine, have a good effect against the flow of women. But it grows in the region of Thessaly on the Peneus River. (3.139 [149])


The root was often used medicinally as an alternative to Nymphaea alba L. (Schneider 1974, 2:365*). No traditional use as a psychoactive substance is known.



Varieties of the yellow water lily occur in Europe, North America, and Asia. The plant thrives in standing and slowly flowing waters at depths of up to about 1.5 meters.



The yellow water lily is easily propagated through scions taken from the creeping rhizome (Slocum et al. 1996).



This perennial plant has oval, heart-shaped, long-stemmed, floating leaves and large flowers the color of egg yolks that tower above its leaves. The capsule fruit is bottle-shaped. The plant flowers between June and August. The rhizome can grow to a length of several meters and a width of up to 10 cm.

The yellow water lily is easily confused with the Japanese water lily (Nuphar japonica DC.). However, the latter has slightly reddish leaves and develops orange-red flowers (Slocum et al. 1996, 165*).

Psychoactive Material


—Roots (rhizoma nupharis lutei, nupharis lutei rhizoma, water lily root)


Preparation and Dosage


The fresh root is chopped and macerated in red wine (cf. Vitis vinifera). To date, no information regarding psychoactive dosages has become available. The seeds are edible.

Ritual Use


According to Dioscorides, the yellow water lily grew especially in Thessaly. It is possible that the plant may have played a role in the ancient witch cult of the area. The water lily has also been named as an ingredient in the early modern witches’ ointments.

An old recipe for a magical use has come down to us from central Europe; it appears to suggest a continuation of the ancient witches’ use:


The “water lily,” collected at the moment when the sun enters the sign of Cancer, and dried in the air of midnight, is an agent against dizziness if this plant is hung on the wall and merely looked upon. (Schöpf 1986, 141*)



The yellow water lily (Nuphar lutea) harbors narcotic powers. (Wild plant, photographed in northern Germany)


“Coebe. Is a type of the Nymphe minor, found frequently in Jappon in watery locations. Its leaves, of the shape of a heart, float upon the water, filled with small veins; the flowers are blue, in shape like Consolita Regalis or larkspur. When its flowers wilt, little balls like onions appear in their place, which are quite watery in taste, and which the Japponese consider to be cold in nature. They, the Japponese, when their sick are unable to sleep, give this onion to the patient in their food or drink, otherwise it is not used in any other way as a medicine.”





Medicinal Use


In the medicine of antiquity, the yellow water lily was used in ethnogynecology to treat such conditions as vaginal discharge.

The Japanese water lily (Nuphar japonica DC.) is used in Japan as a sleeping agent and sedative (Meister 1677, 114*) and to treat syphilis, circulatory problems, and postpartum complications (Tsumura 1991, 175*).

In homeopathy, the essence of the fresh root is known as Nuphar luteum—Yellow Water Lily (Schneider 1974, 2:365*). The agent is used as an alternative to Yohimbinum (see Pausinystalia yohimba), as some parts of the medical descriptions overlap considerably:


Nuphar luteum. Induces nervous weakness with pronounced symptoms in the sexual domain. . . . Male.—Complete lack of sexual desire; sexual organs are flaccid; the penis withdrawn. Impotence, with involuntary ejaculations while defecating and urinating, spermatorrhea, pain in the testicles and penis. (Boericke 1992, 556f.*)




The entire plant, and especially the rootstock (rhizome), contains up to 0.4% nupharine (empirical formula C18H24O2N2) and β-nuphari-dine. But the primary alkaloid is desoxynupharidine (= α-nupharidine; empirical formula C15H23NO) (Reichert et al. 1949, 3:839*; Roth et al. 1994, 520*). The root also contains 5.9% tannic acid, dextrose, 1.2% saccharose, 18.7% starch, meta-rabinic acid, and fat (Reichert et al. 1949, 3:839*).

The rhizome of the Japanese water lily contains the alkaloids nupharidine, desoxynupharidine, and nupharamine. Also present are β-sitosterol, oleic acid, palminic acid, nicotinic acid, and tannins (nupharine-A, -B, and –C) (Tsumura 1991, 175*).



Nupharine is said to have opium-like effects and to induce trancelike states (Goris and Crete 1919). Atropine- and papaverine-like effects have been observed in animal studies (cf. atropinepapaverine). Desoxynupharidine has tonic effects and raises the blood pressure (Roth et al. 1994, 520*).

Commercial Forms and Regulations


The plant is protected (as are all indigenous Nymphaeaceae). Apart from this, the plant is a “legal high.”



See also the literature for the entries Nymphaea amplaNymphaea caerulea, and papaverine.


Beal, Ernest O. 1956. Taxonomic revision of the genus Nuphar of North America and Europe. Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Society.


Goris, A., and L. Crete. 1919. Sur la nupharine. Bulletin de Science et pharmacologie 17:13–15.






(1677, CH. 10, 31*)