|Illustration of Euryale ferox from Curtis's Botanical Magazine (1812).|
Euryale ferox (common names prickly waterlily, fox nut, foxnut, gorgon nut or makhana) is the only extant species in the genus Euryale. It is a flowering plant classified in the water lily family, Nymphaeaceae, although it is occasionally regarded as a distinct family, Euryalaceae. Unlike other water lilies, the pollen grains of Euryale have three nuclei.
Makhana or Euryale is a perennial plant native to eastern Asia and southern Asia , and is found from India - Bihar in nine districts viz, Madhubani, Darbhanga, Katihar, Sitamarhi, Purnea, Kishanganj, Araria, Saharsa and Supaul (local name Makhana) and Loktak Lake Manipur (local name Thangzing) - to Korea and Japan, as well as parts of eastern Russia. Bihar produces 90% of the world production of fox nut. It grows in water, producing bright purple flowers. The leaves are large and round, often more than a meter (3 feet) across, with a leaf stalk attached in the centre of the lower surface. The underside of the leaf is purplish, while the upper surface is green. The leaves have a quilted texture, although the stems, flowers, and leaves which float on the surface are covered in sharp prickles. Other leaves are submerged. In India, Euryale normally grows in ponds, wetlands etc. Recently the Indian Council of Agricultural Research has developed a technique for the field cultivation of Euryale.
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The plant produces starchy white seeds that are edible. The plant is cultivated for its seeds in lowland ponds in India, China, and Japan. The Chinese have cultivated the plant for centuries. More than 96,000 hectares of Bihar, India, were set aside for cultivation of Euryale in 1990-1991. The plant grows best in locations with hot, dry summers and cold winters. Seeds are collected in the late summer and early autumn, and may be eaten raw or cooked.
In India, in the northern (Punjab) and western parts of the country, Euryale ferox seeds are often roasted or fried, which causes them to pop like popcorn. These are then eaten, often with a sprinkling of oil and spices. It is used in cooking, especially to make a porridge or pudding called kheer.
Evidence from archaeobotany indicates that Euryale ferox was a frequently collected wild food source during the Neolithic period in the Yangtze region, with large numbers of finds coming from the sites of Kuahuqiao, Hemudu, and Tianluoshan. The earliest recorded use of E. ferox was found in Gesher Benot Ya'aqov, Israel, among artifacts of the Acheulean culture 790-750,000 years ago.
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