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Lotus roots and osmanthus bring autumn to a sweet conclusion

As the Chinese saying goes, “All parts of the lotus are treasures (荷莲一身宝).” From its spiritual petals to its crunchy seeds and fragrant leaves, the lotus plant has been venerated for centuries in Chinese literature, religion, medicine, and food.

Yet as the second part of the saying emphasizes, “the lotus root in the autumn is the most nutritious” (秋藕最补人). Harvested starting late July in southern and central China, the lotus root (莲藕 lián’ǒu, or 藕 ǒu) is a popular autumn food and medicinal ingredient in both its raw and cooked forms. In the Ming dynasty’s Compendium of Materia Medica (《本草纲目》), it is honored as a “magic root” (灵根) that can bring joy to frequent consumers. According to The Classic of Herbal Medicine (《神农本草经》) written over 2,000 years ago, the raw ou is noted for being able to relieve heat, nourish the lungs, and strengthen the spleen.

Cooked lotus root is more often served at the dinner table. One dish in particular, lotus root with sticky rice and osmanthus (桂花糯米藕), is a quintessential snack of the Jiangnan region south of the Yangtze River. It features a spongy texture and sweet flavor from the combination of soft boiled lotus root, glutinous rice (糯米 or 江米), and the dried petals or syrup of the osmanthus flower (桂花).

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Tan Yunfei is the editorial director of The World of Chinese. She reports on Chinese language, food, traditions, and society. Having grown up in a rural community and mainly lived in the cities since college, she tries to explore and better understand China's evolving rural and urban life with all readers.

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