Yellow Pond Lily: cool, moist and beautiful
Now paint the long necked lily-flower
Which deep in both worlds, can be still
As a painting, trembling hardly at all
~Ted Hughes, To Paint a Water-Lily
Meet Nuphar polysepalum, a North American pond lily. She is a well-loved creature that is quietly used by herbalists who know her. She's not flashy or able to be ordered in large quantities. You won't find her on the shelves or ordered online by large herbal retailers. She's regional; she's where she belongs: in wild lakes and ponds. She's a beloved plant of North American indigenous tribes and those who sit and gaze at her. Sit with her long enough, and you will get her message. Her effects on the physiology of the body are pretty specific, and in this post I am going to focus primarily on her effects on the reproductive system, well and what that can mean for our spirits since thus far that is what I have called on her for.
But first, a little about her:
Yellow Pond Lily, also known as West Wind, and in some cases Spatterdock, can be found throughout North America, from Alaska, to Cali to the Rockies. She loves shallow parts of lakes, the slow moving ponds and marshes and streams. She reaches her rhizomes deep into the soil beneath the water and grows straight up through the water, reaching up above it. While just a bit of the stalk and the flower pokes above the water, she is actually quite a large and secure plant, growing from 3 to 9 feet in length. Her lily pads can be a foot across, gently gracing the surface providing cooling refuge for fishes and bugs. She reproduces through seeds above ground and through her rhizomes underneath the water.
She has a history of use as both food and medicine.
The seeds can be roasted and eaten similar to popcorn and ground into flour. This is an important food, known as wokas, to the some of native peoples of the Pacific Northwest. The leaves have a history of use being dried and ground to a powder that could be mixed into an ointment to stop bleeding and for ulcerous and inflamed skin conditions. It is the rhizome, however, that is most referenced and used as an herbal remedy by indigenous healers and herbalists. Records indicate it was used internally for the treatment of Tuberculosis, colds, internal pain, rheumatism, heart conditions, sexually transmitted diseases, as a blood tonic and especially for inflamed skin conditions (decoction of the rhizome as a poultice).
What I have been most mesmerized with is her ability to calm hot, excessive irritation and irritability in the pelvis. It helps to reduce heat that creates dry, tense tissue states in the sexual anatomy, inflamed uterus and ovaries, soft tissues and/or lower urethra pain and. She helps relax the constriction + heat combo which eventually builds, driving away fluids in these soft tissues which are so necessary to their functioning. Nuphar is cooling, astringent (toning) and moistening. This is actually a rather rare combo of actions for a plant to have: to be astringent, which we typically associate with drying, and moistening (mucilagenous). But, I suppose what else would we expect from a plant that spends it's life surrounded in water, while maintianing the tone and strength to rise above it and hold its place in the currents? Understanding this about her will help us further understand her personality, her actions on human physiology.
I have worked with her for difficulties with menstruation that look like a fast sudden onset with heavy bleeding then quickly disappearing menses, premenstrual cravings for meat/protein and fats as opposed to sugars (per Michael Moore), inflammation of the uterus, prolapse of the uterus, and sexual irritability, which may indicate a surge of estrogen just before ovulation that is excessive. This not a general remedy for PMS, as its action are cooling to the tissues of the reproductive tract, not assisting the hormonal imbalances. It's important to understand that distinction, lest we say things like, "oh, yeah, pond lily is great for PMS." Not universally true. Yellow Pond Lily is wonderful ally for cooling the overheated tissues of the groin, helping to reduce the physiological excess that are resulting from a deeper cause. I do believe, however, that Yellow Pond Lily does have energetic/emotional benefits which can compliment the cooling of the tissues, which I will get to in a bit. I have not worked much with it for individuals with Y chromosomes (yet), but I suspect a similar ability to soothe trapped heat and erratic fluctuations of desire or fluidity.
Let's talk a bit more about this 'sexual irrtability.' phrase:
This is not a pelvic congestion that is cold, and needs stimulation (Michael Moore). This is not lymphatic congestion. This is a congestion of desire that cannot be properly used and/or released, causing the heat of excitation to be trapped, stuck in the tissues, unable to fully come to climax (or friution might be a better word here) and/or move through the body into the heart (causing feeling) and up into the throat (speaking ones desires/needs) or into the crown (expressing onesself). It can come from repressed sexual expression (as in the case often with survivors of sexual trauma, those of us who grew up with negative messages about sexualty/gender expression) as well as suppressed creative expression. It can also come from excessive sexual cravings (which I would define as cravings beyond what the person desires for their own body or to the deteriment of other ways of experiencing the body) and can be helpful for someone for whom sex is the primary way of experiencing intimacy, affection and closeness to the detriment of other forms of relating, leaving them feeling burned up, dry, and emotionally irritated. A good indication for use is someone who doesn't often feel sexually aroused by partners or life in general, but instead uses sex to relieve tension built up in the body without connection to self or to pleasure.
Heat in the pelvic tissues can be exacerbated by sitting cross legged or with legs closed during long work days or long drives where movement is restricted. Conversely, it can be used to quell the heat of having lots of sex, helping to cool, calm and restore tone to inflamed skin and organs...cause it happens ☺. The fresh root has pain relieving, cooling and tissue toning effects, as well as the ability to help stop hemorrhaging. Use tincture or deep decoction of the rhizome in sitz bath, plus short term tincture internally (think few days to a week) for the support of inflamed sexual tissues that have received lots of joyful action.
Medicine for when the waters are burned up
Both water and pond lilies are ruled by the moon and the water element. These are members of the same family of plants as lotuses. Both water lilies and lotuses have strong historical, magical and mythological connections to rebirth, trance work, optimism, sexuality and enlightenment. The flowers rise from the nourishment of the mud, where nourishment and regeneration occurs, through the waters to reach for the light and be known. Water lilies play an important role as shelter for many pond creatures. In some North American indigenous traditions, yellow pond lily belongs to the spirits underneath the worlds and that the lilies are who pull down the clouds to create the fog. They believe this plant to be a connector of the earth and sky spirits. The pond lilies have evolved to allow pollination by beetles, an insect that also has a long mythological connection with rebirth.
The yellow pond lily can help us with clarity about our desires, and our direction, helping energetically to facilitate the trapped desires in the lower part of the body to emerge up through the heart, without getting lost in the confusion of emotions, into the throat where they can be expressed. She helps teach us to stand clear in the midst of changing emotional landscapes, particularly when the changes are due to us outgrowing old emotional patterns and stories: in effect, allowing us to be reborn into ourselves.
We don't have to be reborn as newborns, nor do we have to die entirely in order to experience the effects of being resurrected. We are complex beings and for many of us, parts of us slowly die through adulthood, until something comes along to resurrect it, or something shakes us out of the patterns we have known and been trapped by.
This is important in reference to the above patterns we may experience in the body: pelvic heat and inflammation from repressed creative and sexual desires, sexual activity used to fulfill blocked or scary emotional needs (combine with milky oats), heated frustration from unmet desires with accompanying premenstrual floods and tension (rose + lemon balm + violet are great allies here), and cravings during uneven emotional temperaments. She prompts us to explore the stories we carry about ourselves, our desires, that trap us in patterns of being unfulfilled. The flower essence has the ability to assist with letting go of old stories and emotional attachments, helping us to develop inner strength and clarity when we feel like we are sitting in a pool of our emotions or that our emotions are turbulently swirling around us and connects us with the throat chakra so that we can express ourselves with clarity, creating the opportunity for our needs to be met. I have personally noticed a rather lovely ability to fully concentrate after a few drops of an elixir I made with Yellow Pond Lily, as well as a fresh tincture of the root, especially in prayer and trance.
As a last funny note, I gave yellow pond lily tincture to several friends to learn of their experiences with her and one pattern I noticed was that my watery types, the Pisces, Cancers and Scorpios (to a lesser degree) reported a sense of feeling heavier and more tired after taking the tincture, more 'concentrated' energetically as one oput it. Whereas, my hotter air and fire signs did have a response much more akin to this I explored above, reporting a relaxed focus, less pelvic heat and feeling a release of some creative desire after about a week of use. If someone says they feel emotionally "all dried up," or "desire is burned up," or they are struggling with hot, excessive pelvic consitions and tend towards or stuck in constitutional excesses and tension and heat, she can be a great ally. Watery folks whi lack the excessive dryness but instead feel like they are being drowned by their own emotions can benefit from drop doses of the tincture, balanced formulas and/or the flower essence. She's lovely to play with and let folks taste. Usually they will tell you if it feels right.
Some specifics for use in herbal medicine:
Tastes: pungent, bitter, mucilangenous
Actions: astringent, demulcent, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anodyne
Constituents: Tannic and Gallic acid (astringent), alkaloids, mucilage, sterols, flavenoids, glycosides,
Flower: flower essence, seeds for food
Leaves: young leaves used in stews, older leaves dried and powdered to stop wounds from bleeding
Stalk: used in some magickal traditions in spells to reduce excessive sexual desires
Rhizome: most popular for herbal medicinal use, harvested for decoctions and tinctures
Contraindications: do not use when signs of cold pelvic stagnation present, reproductive deficiencies or tissues with torpor and damp conditions
For energetic healing, I recommend a few drops of a fresh plant tincture or elixir several days in a week, for a full period of the moon, same with the flower essence. For cooling excessive heat in the reproductive and urinary tract, Michael Moore recommends 10-20 drops, 3x daily, or strong decoction of the rhizome 3x daily and used as internal rinse/sitz bath for inflamed tissues.
References & Further Research: