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kumbhika - Pistia stratiotus Linn.

kumbhika :

Floating plant Photograph by: Love Krittaya Pistia stratiotes, is often called water cabbage, water lettuce, Nile cabbage, or shellflower. Its native distribution is uncertain, but probably pantropical; it was first discovered from the Nile near Lake Victoria in Africa. It is now present, either naturally or through human introduction, in nearly all tropical and subtropical fresh waterways and considered an invasive species as well as a mosquito breeding habitat. The genus name is derived from the Greek word πιστός (pistos), meaning "water," and refers to the aquatic nature of the plants


The Quiapo district of Manila, the home of the Black Nazarene, derived its name from this water lily plant Kiapo, which was in profusion in the canals and rivers of the area, early in the Spanish colonized time when it thrived as a fishing village. 
Used as a famine food in India in 1877-1878.

Taxonomical Classification

Kingdom: Plantae - Plants
Subkingdom: Streptophyta
Superdivision: Spermatophyta - Seed plants
Division: Magnoliophyta - Flowering plants
Class: Magnoliopsida - Dicotyledons
Family: Araceae
Genus: Pistia
Species: Pistia stratiotes

Allied species:

Kodda-Pail Adans.
Zala Lour.
Apiospermum Klotzsch
Limnonesis Klotzsch
Zala asiatica Lour.


Sanskrit: Akashamuli, Ashakumbhi ,jalakumbhi
English: water lettuce, tropical duck-weed, Nile cabbage;
Hindi: Jalkimbhi
Urdu: جلکمبھی Jalakumbhi
Telugu: Akasatamara, Antara tamara
Bengali: Takapana, Topa pana
Marathi: Gondala, Jalamandvi, Prasni
Oriya: Borajhanji
Gujarathi: Jalashamkhala •
Tamil: Akasatamari, Agasatamarai, Akayat-tamarai
Malayalam: Kodda-pail
Kannada: Anthara gange •
Arabic: بستيا
Spanish: Lechuguilla de agua, Lechuguita de agua, Repollo de
Assamese: Borpuni
Japanese: ボタンウキクサ
Chinese: Shuo he lian, Shuo fu ping, Tian fu ping, Da piao.
French: Laitue deau, Pistie
German: Muschelblume, Wassersalat
Nepal: Kumbhika
Sinhalese: Diyaparadel,diyagova
Tulu: ಅಂತರಗಂಗೆ antaragange


There are a couple different varieties of water lettuce that water gardeners may be interested in. The two most common are the Ruffled Water Lettuce and Jurassic Water Lettuce. 
A. Ruffles
 has more wavy leaves and doesnt grow as large as the other varieties. It is perfect for small container ponds. Jurassic Lettuce is a large form that can grow to be the size of a dinner plate. It doesnt seem to grow as fast as the common variety. 

B. Splash
is a variegated form that stays smaller. It is still very hard to find


Genus name comes from the Greek word pistos meaning water in reference to the floating habit.


Synonyms in Ayurveda: kumbhika, variparni, varimuli, jalakumbhi

The genus name is derived from the Greek word πιστός (pistos), meaning "water," and refers to the aquatic nature of the plants
Rasa: Katu Tikta
Guna: Laghu Ruksha
Veerya: Sheetha
Vipaka: Katu
Karma: Kaphahara Pittahara Vatahara

The Plant is bitter, pungent flavored having cooling, laxative property. It is useful in "Tridosha," fever, and diseases of blood. The root is laxative, emollient, and diuretic. Leaves infusions have been mentioned in the folklore to be used for dropsy, bladder complaints, kidney afflictions, hematuria, dysentery, and anemia.


Found though much of the tropics and subtropics at elevations from sea level to more than 1,000 metres. The optimal growth temperature range for the plant is 22 - 30°c
Plants cannot tolerate frosts
A free-floating, aquatic plant, succeeding in full sun or partial shade
Requires a lime-free water with a pH preferably in the range 6.5 - 7
Plants can survive in a dwarf form if stranded in wet soil
Plants can spread rapidly in warm climates, where they can become invasive
They are considered to be noxious weeds in many areas
Like Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), this plant also blocks irrigation canals; provides a breeding ground for mosquitoes; and chokes fishery waters
The plant provides a useful cover for spawning fish


Seed - it needs to be kept moist. In nature, the seeds float in the water for a few days, after which they sink and germinate. The seedling appears at the surface in 5 days
Division of the new plants formed at the ends of stolons radiating out from the mother plant


Mechanical control against P. stratiotes can be achieved in different ways - manual harvest to the net and at the fork from the shore, harvesting treadmill, harvest by harvester boat. This type of harvesting requires a piling on the bank followed by an evacuation by truck to another location or biomass will be left to rot. Given the speed of propagation of the water lettuce and the amount of biomass produced, this group of methods never allowed to fight effectively against an invasion by these species. 


 Plant yields steroid, triterpenoid, phenol, flavonoid, tannin, alkaloid, glycoside, and saponin.
- Study on leaves yielded alkanes, flavonoids and sterols.
- Study isolated for the first time: stigmasta-4,22-dien-3-one, stigmasterol, stigmasteryl stearate and palmitic acid.

- Yields large amounts of two di-C-glycosylflavones of vicenin and lucenin; lesser amounts of anthocyanin cyanidin-3-glucoside and a luteolin-7-glycoside, and traces of mono-C-glycosylflavones, vitexin, and orientin. 
- Yields 1% ash, chiefly potassium chloride and sulfate.
- Leaves contain stinging crystals of calcium oxalate.
- High potash content.
- Contains salts of potassium, sodium, magnesium, and lime: also, iron, aluminum, and silicic acid.
- Leaves are rich in vitamin A, C and also vitamin B.


Important formulations 
1. Chandhanadi taila
2. Balaswagandhadi tails
3. Jalakumbhibhasma prayoga
4. Vari parni

Parts used for medicinal purpose

Whole plant, ,


Juice-10-20 ml
Curna - 3 - 5 gm

Commercial value:

Pistia stratiotes has often been grown as an ornamental in lakes, ponds, aquaria and gardens. It is often used in tropical aquariums to provide cover for fry and small fish. It has medicinal properties and can be used as fodder for cattle and pigs. It can be beneficial in certain instances as it outcompetes algae for nutrients in the water, thereby preventing massive algal blooms. However, these uses cannot compensate for this plants overall negative impacts.


Pistia stratiotes is a floating plant, drift, without rod, formed of a leaf rosette, 5 to 25 cm in diameter and short runner giving rise to daughter plants. A large network of fibrous roots dangling underwater. The leaves in dense rosette, sessile, broadly spatulate, fleshy, composed of a floating airy fabric. Both sides are hairy, greyish or yellowish green. Flowers are numerous, small and hidden at the base of the leaves, surrounded by a small room pale green or white leafy 7 mm long. The fruits are small elongated bays 6 to 10 mm long, containing several dark seeds.

First Leaves
First leaves rounded or obovate, only stalked, plated at the water surface of 1 to 2 mm in diameter. Black seed remains attached to the seedling some time.

Floating aquatic plant, drifting without stem, spathulate leaves form a dense rosette of 3-15 cm in height and 5-25 cm in diameter, quickly bentgrass.

Underground System
Many fibrous roots fibrous, pendulous, measuring up to 50 cm long, with multiple perpendicular rootlets.

The rod is reduced to indistinct tillering plate at the base of the leaves. Presence of lateral runners extending from the base sheet, cylindrical 1 to 5 mm in diameter, depending on the size of the mother plant at the end of which thrive girls plants. These stolons appear at the stage 3-4 leaves of young plants from germination.

Leaves simple, alternate, sessile, spongy, dense spiral rosette. The limbus is spatulate, obovate with a rounded top and a truncated wedge base from 6 to 12 cm long and 3-6 cm wide, with 5-7  sub-parallel veins especially salient to the underside. The upper surface is green and downy while the underside is paler and tomentum denser.
Inflorescence small, hidden by leaves, carried by a very short stalk, about 4 mm long. It is formed of a whitish spathe long from 5 to 25 mm, persistent, smooth inside and outside tomenteuse forming two cavities.

The flower is formed of a whitish spathe long from 5 to 25 mm, persistent, smooth inside and outside tomenteuse forming two cavities. Inside there is a very reduced spadix, attached to the base of the husk on the one female flower in the lower cavity, without perianth and 2-8 apical male flowers in the upper cavity, inserted on a whorl axis underpinned by a shallow cup. The male flowers are reduced by 2 welded stamens. The female flowers are solitary, reduced to a unilocular ovary ovoid, inserted through the axis of the spadix, a lodge with several sessile ovules. The style is short, slightly curved towards the axis, topped with a globular stigma.

The fruit is an ellipsoid bay 6 to 10 mm long and 3-6 mm wide, thin-walled, containing 4 to 12 seeds.

Ovoid or oblong seed, about 2 mm long and 1 mm wide at the truncated apex and depressed disk-shaped. Integument rough, dark brown.


Leaf –TS passing through the proximal part of leaf shows it to be isobilateral and flattened; ventral surface slightly ridged, while the dorsal side is fully convex; epidermal cells thin walled squarish or polygonal; cuticle absent: epidermis bearing abundant multicellular hair varying widely in length from proximal to distal end of leaf but generally about 200 to 400 µ long and 29 to 36 µ wide, uniseriate with a characteristic bulbous base, which assumes a saucer like form in dried samples; terminal cell of hair when present drawn out or conical but more often incomplete and broken off; hair more abundant on the ventral side; stomata absent, mesophyll lacunate with some cells having spindle shaped raphides and star like druses of calcium oxalate crystals; occasionally some sub epidermal cells have brown pigments in them; circular groups of undifferentiated vascular tracts and mechanical tissues generally present in vertical rows of three; xylem and phloem cells poorly developed; leaf thinner towards the distal end; transection of the distal end shows ridges at regular intervals corresponding with main veins on both the surfaces; those on the lower surface more prominent; strands of mechanical tissue associated with the ridges, one occupying the centre of the upper ridge while another in the lower ridge; upper ridge become inconspicuous towards the distal tip of the leaf; in the lamina portion, 3 to 4 layers of subepidermal, thin walled cells are compactly arranged below the upper epidermis and have abundant and prominent chloroplasts; parenchymatous ground tissue towards the lower epidermis lacunate; druses and spindle shaped groups of raphides present in this region also. 

Stolon – The stolon is characterized by a ground tissue supporting longitudinal strands of undifferentiated mechanical elements and lacunae centrally; the outer 4 or 5 layers below the epidermis are without lacunae.

Geographical distribution:

Tropical and subtropical areas of Africa; Asia to New Guinea and N. Australia; southern N. America, S. America, the Caribbean and Central America


- Common in lakes, lazy streams and stagnant waters, even in rice paddies at low altitudes.
- Frequent decorative plant in residential ponds, aquariums and water fountains.
- Pantropic.

Plant conservation:

Pistia stratiotes is a major weed of lakes, dams, ponds, irrigation channels and slow-moving waterways in tropical, subtropical and warmer temperate regions. It can completely cover water bodies, disrupting all life on the water. It clogs waterways preventing river travel, blocks irrigation canals, destroys rice paddies and ruins fishing grounds. It affects hydro-electricity production as its vast mats clog the turbines. P. stratiotes has been included in the Global Invasive Species Database (GISD 2005). It has been listed as a noxious weed in South Africa (prohibited plants that must be controlled. They serve no economic purpose and possess characteristics that are harmful to humans, animals or the environment) and most Australian states.

General Use:

The plant is used to treat swellings and urinary tract infections
The roots are used externally to treat burns. They are pounded and applied as a poultice

Therapeutic Uses:

     The leaves are used in infusion for treatment of abnormal accumulation of  liquid s in cellular tissue,bladder complaints,diabetes,blood in urine,anaemia and dysentery.
   The root is used as a laxative,softens inflamed parts and promotes the flow of urine.
   The pounded leaves are used as a poultice for piles,tumours and boils.
   Mixed with coconut oil,the juice of the leaves is recommended for chronic skin diseases.

Systemic Use:

The leaves are diuretic, emollient, expectorant, laxative and stomachic
They are used in the treatment of dysuria and stomach problems
They are mixed with rice and coconut milk in the treatment of dysentery; and mixed with rose water and sugar for treating coughs and asthma
The leaves are used in the treatment of gonorrhoea, probably because they act as a diuretic
The leaves are used externally to treat skin diseases, such as boils, piles and syphilitic sores
They are also applied to haemorrhoids
 A decoction is added to bathwater to treat oedema


The powdered dry leaves,mixed with a little honey,make a remedy for infectious veneral disease,taken in doses of 3 to 4 teaspoons a day.


- Root is emollient, laxative and diuretic.
- Leaves are demulcent and refrigerant.
- Plant considered antiseptic, antitubercular, antidysenteric.
- Studies have shown antidermatophytic, hypotensive, cytotoxic, larvicidal, bronchodilating, antidiabetic, antioxidant, phytoremediating, antinociceptive, CNS depressant, anthelmintic, antimicrobial, radioprotective, diuretic properties.

Clinical trials:

1.Antidermatophytic activity of Pistia stratiotes / Premkumar VG, Shyamsundar D. / Indian J Pharmacol 2005;37:127-8

2.Pharmacologic activities of Pistia stratiotes / K. J. Achola, A. A. Indalo and R. W. Munenge / Summary Pharmaceutical Biology / 1997, Vol. 35, No. 5, Pages 329-333

3.Chemical constituents of Pistia stratiotes L. / Ling, Y; Wan, F et al / Department of Pharmacy, Navy General Hospital, Beijing 10003

4.Cytotoxicity of fractions of Pistia stratiotes l. On larvae of Culex mosquito and A. salina / M D Mukhtar, A Sani, A A Yakasai / Animal Research International, Vol 1, No 2 (2004)

5.Evaluation of Anthelmintic Activity of Pistia stratiotes Linn. / H K Sundeep Kumar et al / Journal of Basic and Clinical Pharmacy

6.In vitro Evaluation of Free Radical ScavengingActivity of Pistia stratiotes / Megha JHA et al / International Journal of ChemTech Research, Vol 2, No 1, pp 180-184, Jan-Mar 2010

7.Chemical constituents of Pistia stratiotes L. / Y Ling, F Wan, B He, Y Zhang, J Zheng / China journal of Chinese materia medica (1999), Volume: 24, Issue: 5, Pages: 289-290, 318

8.Diuretic activity of Pistia stratioites leaf extract in rats / Tripathi Pallavi, Arora Sandeep et al / IRJP, 2(3), Mar 2011, pp 249-251



2.The Use Of Pistia stratiotes To Remove Some Heavy Metals From Romi Stream: A Case Study Of Kaduna Refinery And Petrochemical Company Polluted Stream./ Adamu Yunusa Ugya, Tijjani Sabiu Imam and Salisu Muhammad Tahir / Journal of Environmental Science, Toxicology and Food Technology (IOSR-JESTFT), Vol 9, Issue 1 Var II , Jan 2015 / DOI: 10.9790/2402-09124851

3. The efficacy of aqueous and ethanolic leaf extracts of Pistia stratiotes linn in the management of arthritis and fever / S. Kyei, G. A. Koffuor and J. N. Boampong / Journal of Medical and Biomedical Sciences (2012) 1(2): 29-37 

4. Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes, Linn) Potency as One of Eco-friendly Phytoextraction Absorbers of Zinc Heavy Metal to Solve Industrial Waste Problem in Indonesia / Pebri Nurhayati, Sapta Abimanyu, Siti Kaswati and Iqbal Raditya Fajr / IPCBEE vol.41 (2012) © (2012)

5. Ocular anti-inflammatory effect of aqueous and ethanolic leaf extracts of Pistia stratiotes Linn (Araceae) in endotoxin-induced uveitis / Kyei, Samuel; Koffuor, George A.; Boampong, Johnson N.; Owusu-Afriyie, Osei / Journal of Natural Pharmaceuticals, Volume 3, Issue 2, July-December, 2012 / DOI: 10.4103/2229-5119.102752

6. Cytotoxicity, Antimicrobial, and Neuropharmacological Evaluation of Ethanolic Extract of Pistia strtiotes L. / Khan Md. Ahad Ali et al / IRJP 2(2) 2011: 82-92

7. Evaluation of Antinociceptive and Antidiarrheal Properties of Pistia stratiotes Leaves / M A Rahman, E Haque, M Hasanuzzaman, S R Muhuri, and I Z Shahid / Journal of Pharmacology and Toxicology, 2011 / DOI: 10.3923/jpt.2011 


Water lettuce is a very aggressive invader and can form thick floating mats. If these mats cover the entire surface of the pond they can cause oxygen depletion and fish kills. Water lettuce should be controlled so they do not cover the entire pond.

Toxicity studies:

All parts of the plant contain calcium oxalate crystals plus unknown toxins
Ingestion, in large quantities, can cause an intense burning and swelling of the lips, tongue, and throat; nausea and vomiting. Diarrhoea may also occur

Use in other system of medicine:

- Used as a famine food in India in 1877-1878.
- In China, young leaves are eaten cooked.
- Leaves added to soup; prior parboiling advised to removed acridity from calcium oxalate crystals. 

- Infusion of leaves used for dropsy, bladder complaints, kidney afflictions, diabetes, hematuria, dysentery, and anemia.
- Used for dysuria and as an expectorant.
- Poultice of pounded leaves used in hemorrhoids, tumors and boils.
- The juice of leaves, mixed with coconut oil, is used for a variety of chronic skin conditions.
- Leaves mixed with rice and coconut milk, given for dysentery; with rose water and sugar, used for coughs and asthma.
- Ash of the plant applied to ringworm
- Powdered dry leaves mixed with a little honey used for syphilis, 3 to 4 teaspoons a day.
- Leaves used for treatment of ringworm of scalp, syphylitic eruptions, skin infections, boils and wounds.
- Oil extract used for worm infestations, tuberculosis, asthma, dysentery, piles, ulcers, burns.
- Used for menorrhagia.
- Ash of leaves applied to ringworm of the scalp.
- In Gambia, plant is used as an anodyne eyewash.
- In China, used in various prescriptions for boils, syphilitic eruptions and skin complaints.
- In the Peruvian Amazon, used for arthritis.
- In Indian traditional medicine, leaves are used for the treatment of ringworm infection of the scalp, syphilitic eruptions, skin infections, dysuria, boils and wounds. Oil extract used for worm infestations, TB, asthma, dysentery, hemorrhoids, ulcers, syphilitic infections and burns.
- Owing to high potash content, used as diuretic; also used for gonorrhea.
- Fodder: Sometimes used for feeding hogs and ducks.
- Soap: Used for making soap in West Tropical Africa. 
- Stain removal: Plant used with soap to removed stains out of clothing. 
- Insecticidal: Leaves considered insecticidal.


Pistia stratiotes L. commonly known as water lettuce belongs to Araceae. It has been used in various medicines for the treatment of eczema, leprosy, ulcers, piles, stomach disorder, throat and mouth inflammation, a few to mention. This review article is a compilation of  the updated information regarding phytochemical, pharmacological, medicinal, bioremediation potential, allelopathy, utilization and management of water lettuce. In Pakistan it was first reported from Razmak, South Waziristan in 1972, but now it is widespread throughout the country. Information regarding the uses and effects of different extract (ethanolic and methanolic) of this plant is also documented. Pistia stratiotes possess different useful activities like, diuretic, antidiabetic, antidermatophytic, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties against harmful diseases. It has great potential for absorption of heavy metals (Fe, Zn, Cu, Cr, and Cd) without developing any toxicity or reduction in growth due to metal accumulation and has shown a wide range of tolerance to all the selected metals and therefore can be used for water purification and to combat water pollution in waste water bodies such as drainage ditches and channels carrying industrial effluents.

Photos of kumbhika -

Pistia stratiotes

KEY WORDS: kumbhika, Pistia stratiotes

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