Water Hyacinth

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

water hyacinth Eichhornia crassipes, an aquatic plant of Brazilian origin, with beautiful blue flowers. It spreads rapidly and can form dense mats of vegetation in still or sluggishly flowing waters; in fact it is a menace to the health of the rivers, canals, and lakes which it invades.

American Indians used its young leaves, stalks, and flower buds as food, but their example has not been widely followed. In Malaysia, Burkill (1965–6) suggests that the plant is handicapped by the name bunga jamban, which refers to its luxuriant growth in the vicinity of latrines. Ochse (1981) observes that it is eaten in Java but that its tendency to cause itching when eaten raw is not entirely dispelled by cooking; and it seems that Indonesians would anyway prefer other herbaceous waterplants, such as Monochoria spp, which are free of problems. However, the buds of the water hyacinth are appreciated in parts of the Philippines, as Gilda Cordero-Fernando (1976) explains:

In May and June, the fresh waters of Pakil bloom with purple water hyacinths and the boatmen row to collect the buds (called beno) in them. Baptized ‘sea peanuts’ by tourists, inside the tough green peel, beno is white, and looks like a shelled peanut. Always eaten with salt, beno, when young, is soft and fresh-tasting, though some prefer it mature and mealy.