Common Name: Water Chestnut, Chinese Water Chestnut, Apulid, Haeo Chin, Cu Nang, Ma Tai.
Latin Name: Eleocharis dulcis.
Origin: Asia and Australia.
Description (what it looks like): A rush-like plant to 1m tall, found bordering swampy, tropical areas and wetlands. It is an annual that has erect, narrow, tubular leaves (clums). The plant spreads by a creeping rhizome which, through the summer months, produces additional sucker plants.
Uses (function): Bush food. Aquatic marginal plant. Great for pots. Adds another eco-system to your backyard, which brings frogs and dragonflies. Add small freshwater fish to the container to avoid mosquitoes breeding. Dried plant stems make great fibres for basket-weaving. Safe space for small animals to hide within the leaves. The stems may be used for mulch, fodder, fruit and vegetable packaging and crafts. Some varieties are not sweet and are grown for starch or pig feed.
Nutritional value: Water chestnuts contain vitamin B6, potassium, copper, riboflavin, and manganese, along with a smaller array of other vitamins and minerals. The corms are a rich source of carbohydrates and fiber. While water chestnuts don’t have an overwhelming amount of detailed nutritional information, they do seem to have a reputation in traditional Asian and aboriginal medicine. Drinking water chestnut juice has been touted as a way to alleviate nausea, relieve suffering from jaundice, and detoxify the body from impurities. Making the powder into a paste is still used as a remedy for inflammation and is said to be useful, stirred up in water, as a cough elixir and for easing patients with measles. The corms contain an antibiotic principle called ‘puchin’, which acts like penicillin, helping in immune functioning.
Growing details (propagation, seed etc): A bathtub makes a great backyard container to grow water chestnut. Plant 2 corms to the square metre, 5cm deep. Overcrowding will dramatically reduce yield. Keep well watered and allow growth to reach around 10cm high before flooding 7-10cm deep. Maintain this depth for the whole growing season which should be at least 7 frost-free months. In late autumn, when the tops have browned off, drain completely to encourage hardening-off of corms. Leave 3-5 weeks to mature. Keep refrigerated until used, or until replanting next spring. The corms are ready to harvest when the leaves turn yellow, then turn brown and dry off. A single corm may produce 100 corms within a growing season!
Best time to grow: Plant out in early spring.
Soil: Poor draining soil (i.e. clay with a mix of sand), with a neutral pH (6.6-7.3). Since water chestnuts are harvested by hand, maintain the soil as free of hard debris as possible (stones, woody plant material, etc).
Sun: Full sun.
Water: Best planted in approximately 200mm of water. Keep submerged.
How to eat it: Appreciated for their crisp texture and their delicate sweet coconut-like flavour. Whether thinly sliced in soups, minced as an egg roll ingredient, or sautéed in a stir fry with snow peas, coconut oil, and ginger, water chestnuts remain crispy even after cooking. Sometimes wrapped with bacon strips as an hors d’oeuvre. In Indonesia they’re blended into a drink. The chestnuts should be first washed and peeled. They can be eaten raw or cooked. Thin, raw slices can be added to salads (even fruit salads) or clear soups. Add a few drops of lemon juice to keep them from turning brown. They need only brief boiling or frying, can be added to any stew or curry, be used as stuffing for poultry, made into flour, used as thickener, or minced and made into puddings, pickled in vinegar, or crystallized in sugar or honey as a sweet. Water chestnuts keep in the fridge for several weeks.
- The Incredible Edibles - A Tropical Superfoods Guide by Tonielle Christensen.
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