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(Water Plantain family)


These cosmopolitan water or marsh plants comprise about 95 species in 11 genera. They resemble members of the Ranunculaceae, but are otherwise quite unrelated (Mabberley 2008).

Some species, for example the water-plantain (Alisma plantago-aquatica L.), are cultivated for their edible rhizomes; others, for example the arrowhead or swamp potato (Sagittaria sagittifolia L.) are cultivated for their winter buds known as turions, which are edible.

Skin irritancy following contact with members of this family has been noted.

Alisma plantago-aquatica L.
Water Plantain, Gewöhnlicher Froschlöffel, Wasserwegerich, Plantain d'Eau

According to Stillé & Maisch (1884), White (1887), and Remington et al. (1918), the leaves are rubefacient, and will sometimes even blister. However, in an investigation carried out by Coulter (1904), not one of 22 subjects treated with the leaves taken from plants on different dates showed any signs of skin irritation.

Sagittaria sagittifolia L.
Arrowhead, Giant Sagittaria, Hawaii Arrowhead, Pfeilkraut, Flèche d'Eau

In traditional Chinese medicine, the plant is known as t'zu ku or ye ci gu (野慈姑). According to Stuart (1911), the bruised leaves are applied in foul sores, and snake and insect bites, and the powdered leaves to itching diseases. However, it is noted in the Flora of China (Wang 2010) that most specimens determined as Sagittaria sagittifolia are, in fact, Sagittaria trifolia L. subsp. trifolia.

Nadkarni (1976) noted in a treatise on Indian materia medica that the plant is used in the treatment of skin diseases, but provided no further detail; and Behl et al. (1966) noted that sagittaria turions have caused dermatitis in those who handle them.


  • Behl PN, Captain RM, Bedi BMS, Gupta S (1966) Skin-Irritant and Sensitizing Plants Found in India. New Delhi: PN Behl [WorldCat]
  • Coulter S (1904, published 1905) The poisonous plants of Indiana. Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science: 51-63 [url] [url-2]
  • Mabberley DJ (2008) Mabberley's Plant-Book. A portable dictionary of plants, their classification and uses, 3rd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press [WorldCat]
  • Nadkarni AK (1976) Dr. K. M. Nadkarni's Indian Materia Medica. With ayurvedic, unani-tibbi, siddha, allopathic, homeopathic, naturopathic & home remedies, appendices & indexes, Revised enlarged and reprinted 3rd edn, Vols 1 & 2. Bombay: Popular Prakashan [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Remington JP, Wood HC, Sadtler SP, LaWall CH, Kraemer H, Anderson JF (Eds) (1918) The Dispensatory of the United States of America. 20th edn. Philadelphia: JB Lippincott [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Stillé A, Maisch JM (1884) The National Dispensatory. Containing Natural History, Chemistry, Pharmacy, Actions, and Uses of Medicines including those recognized in the Pharmacopœias of the United States, Great Britain and Germany, with Numerous References to the French Codex, 3rd edn. Philadelphia: Henry C. Lea's Son & Co. [doi] [WorldCat] [url]
  • Stuart GA (1911) Chinese Materia Medica. Vegetable Kingdom. Extensively revised from Dr. F. Porter Smith's work. Shanghai: American Presbyterian Mission Press [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Wang Q, Haynes RR, Hellquist CB (2010) ALISMATACEAE. In: Wu Z-Y, Raven PH, Hong D (Eds) Flora of China. Acoraceae through Cyperaceae, Vol. 23, pp. 84-89. St Louis, MO: Missouri Botanical Garden Press [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • White JC (1887) Dermatitis Venenata: an account of the action of external irritants upon the skin. Boston: Cupples and Hurd [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]

Richard J. Schmidt

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