IN THE GARDEN | Grow — and eat — your own waterblommetjies

Cape pond weed or waterblommetjie along the Matjiesrivier valley in Cederberg, Western Cape
DELICIOUS TREAT: Cape pond weed or waterblommetjie along the Matjiesrivier valley in Cederberg, Western Cape

Potatoes, garlic, onions, ginger, fennel and chives have been part of our culinary diet for most of time.

Yet many of us are not aware that some of the herbs, flavourings and vegetables we enjoy at our dinner table are edible bulbs.

Most popular on our local menu, for example, is the traditional SA waterblommetjiebredie, made from Cape pondweed flowers (waterblommetjies) with other bulbous plants for flavouring and lamb shanks as the meat content.

See the recipe at the bottom of the page.

The plant is generally used as a pond decoration, producing flowers from June to September, timed just right when the cooler weather calls for the flowers to be used in hearty comfort food and stews

Waterblommetjies are a fat- and cholesterol-free vegetable offering a good source of protein, iron and vitamin C.

You will notice there are large areas in the Eastern and Western Cape where dams and ponds are covered with a profusion of their unusual single-petalled flowers during the colder seasons.

However, they do need cutting back regularly to prevent them from taking over. 


Autumn and early winter are the best times for planting waterblommetjie rhizomes (a rhizome is a horizontal swollen stem such as found in agapanthus and clivia plants too).

They enjoy a semi-shade to full sun position. The pond depth should be between 10cm to 60cm deep.

Take care that the water is not polluted.

Grow them in ponds with muddy bottoms by simply throwing them in the water.

If the bulb does not sink, it may be weighted down by tying it to a stone.

Alternatively, they may be planted in a pot of well-composted soil.

To ensure the soil does not escape from the pot once it is in the water, weigh it down with coarse sand or fine pebbles.

The bulbs should be planted at least one metre apart.

Waterblommetjies are fast growers, with their progress being clearly notable from day to day.

Their bright green oblong leaves — 20cm long and 7cm wide — spread outwards and float on the surface of the water.

The white, sweet-smelling edible flowers project 8cm above the water.

Can you grow waterblommetjies in a koi pond?

Koi in the pond will disturb the soil and eat the waterblommetjie leaves.

Should you wish to grow waterblommetjies in a pond with koi, you will need to create a barrier with a coil of stiff plastic mesh which is closed around the bottom of the pot and reaching above the water surface.

The advantage of growing the plants in a koi pond is that the nutrient cycle of the fish provides nourishment for the waterblommetjies.

Do take care to keep the water reasonably clean.

The plants are not subject to any pests or diseases.

During periods of drought, they shed their leaves and enter a period of dormancy until the conditions become more favourable.


The flowers are mostly pollinated by bees and will set seed.

The seeds will germinate on the soil’s surface. These plantlets may be used for replanting or sharing.

Their lifting and planting time is in March.

Lift the container out of the water, divide the rhizomes, then replant immediately.

(The plants we term as “bulbs” are in fact corms, tubers, tuberous roots or rhizomes. Only some are true bulbs.)

Waterblommetjiebredie recipe

500g waterblommetjies (freshly opening flowers)

1kg lamb shanks


Olive oil


6 shallots (spring onions) — or use one large onion if shallots are not available

Leaves of 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary

Leaves of 4 sprigs of fresh thyme

8 leaves of sage

1 slice of ginger

3 generous pinches of sea salt

2 pinches of freshly ground black pepper

A few scrapings of lemon rind

2 cloves of garlic

Dash of chilli to taste

2 tsp lemon juice

700g of unpeeled baby potatoes

250ml white wine

250ml sweet dessert wine (or white wine with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar)

250ml beef stock

1 finely chopped anchovy fillet

1 handful of watercress


Soak waterblommetjies for one hour in salted water to clean them.

Preheat oven to 220°C

Coat shanks with salt and a little olive oil and a light dusting of cornflour.

Pour a thin layer of olive oil in the base of a heavy-bottomed pan. Once hot, add the lamb shanks for browning (2 minutes a side). Place in oven for 15 minutes, turning once halfway through. Prepare onion or shallots by chopping them coarsely.

Use a pestle and mortar to grind the herbs, ginger, lemon rind and pepper together. Add garlic, chilli and lemon juice.

Remove lamb shanks from the oven. Turn down the temperature to 180°C. Remove the lamb and set aside. Pour out the fat from the pan. Discard.

Heat fresh oil and add potatoes and onions for browning. Pour in wine, dessert wine and stock and heat till it boils.

Add lamb and push down to the bottom of the pot. Add lemon juice mixture, anchovies and watercress.

Return to the oven. Allow to cook for a further 90 minutes. Stir halfway through this time and add a little water to prevent it drying out if necessary. 


  • Waterblommetjie (Aponogeton distachyos) bulbs are readily available from Hadeco or nurseries. The harvested flowers are also sold in packs to use in recipes in supermarkets.



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