Water Soldier

Medical Herbs Catalogue


Water Soldier

Botanical Name: Stratiotes aloides
Family: N.O. Hydrocharidaceae

Synonyms: Water Houseleek. Water Aloe. Water Sengren. Sea Green. Crab's Claws. Knight's Pondweed. Freshwater Soldier. Water Parsnip.
(French) Aloides.
(German) Wasserfeder.
Part Used: Herb.

Culpepper describes under the name of Water Houseleek, Water Sengren or Seagreen, a plant that has nothing to do with any of these other succulent plants, and that nowadays generally goes by one of its other popular names, Water Soldier, and is botanically known as Stratiotes aloides.

It is an aquatic plant, the only British representative of its genus, and is found growing in ditches in the Eastern counties of England, mostly in the Fen district. The roots extend some distance into the mud and throw up numerous deep-green, spreading, narrow, rigid and brittle leaves, from 6 to 18 inches long, very sharply pointed, with sharp prickles on each margin. They are strikingly similar to the foliage of an aloe hence its specific name, aloides, and another of its popular English names, Water Aloe. The name of the genus is derived from the Greek word for a soldier, in reference to its crowded, sword-like leaves.

Description: The flower-stalk is stout and short, about 6 inches high, bearing at its summit a two-leaved sheath, which is likened by old writers to the claws of a crab, from which another of its names, Crab's Claws, is derived. Stamens and pistils are on different plants. In the case of the staminate flowers, the sheath contains several delicate white flowers, with three petals and numerous stamens, twelve of which are perfect, as well as many other imperfect ones. The flowers containing the ovary - which is six-celled and six-angled, and develops into a pulpy, flaskshaped berry - are solitary on the stem.

After flowering in the month of July, the plant sinks to the bottom and ripens its fruit while submerged. It is a perennial and propagates itself freely by stolons as well as by seed. Although each root only flowers once, the parent plant rooted in the mud at the bottom of the ditch, after flowering, sends out buds of leaves at the end of long runners, which rise to the surface in the spring, and become separate plants, forming roots, flower, and then sink to the bottom, where they fix themselves in the mud, ripen their seeds and become, in their turn, parents of another race of young offsets, which in turn rise in the spring and float on the surface, sometimes eight or ten in a circle, so thick as to entirely fill up the surface of the ditches, and prevent all other plants from growing.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Culpepper tells us that the herb 'is good against St. Anthony's Fire, and assuages swelling and inflammations in wounds; an ointment made of it is good to heal them.' He also informs us it is good for 'bruised kidneys.' It had in olden times the reputation of being an unfailing cure for all wounds made by iron weapons.