O. javanica is a perennial herb that grows to about 1 m in height, with fibrous roots that emerge from all nodes, and flowers with 5 white petals and 5 stamens. The leaves are aromatic, glabrous, and have a sheath covering the stem. The leaflets are divided into lobes and crinkled. The 'Flamingo' variety has colorful pink edges. The plant grows wild in moist areas, along streams and on the edges or ponds.
While many other species of water dropwort are extremely toxic, Oenanthe javanica is edible, and is cultivated in China, India, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand (ผักชีล้อม), Taiwan, and Vietnam, as well as in Italy, where its spring growths (called seri セリ in Japanese, minari미나리 in Korean) are relished as a vegetable. It is one of the ingredients of the symbolic dish consumed in the Japanese spring-time festival, Nanakusa-no-sekku.