As we all know, plants, including aquatic plants, have so many benefits to living creatures. Sometimes you do not know the full potential of a plant just on the surface, there could be so much more lurking beneath, literally, especially true of the Four-Leaf Water Clover known as Marsilea mutica. The appearance of the plant would seem it was part of the clover family (Trifolium spp.) as it resembles a 4-leaf clover however, it belongs to the fern genus (Marsileaceae spp.) due to it producing spores. This plant serves both as protection and is edible as sustenance. Because it grows in shallow water bogs and spreads, it provides protection as a pond cover from predators for those beneath the surface and habitat to small aquatic animals above. Much like its appearance is provocative, the use of this plant is shrouded in a deadly story that occurred in the 1860s.
As avid herbalists know, correct identification, dosage and preparation is key to reap the full potential of the plant’s constituent benefits. Marsilea mutica’s spores are encased in a water-absorbent starch which expands many times its size when in contact with water and creates a gelatinous material. The Aborigines gather this useful part of the nut-like sporocarp and use it for food. They grind the sporocarps of the Marsilea Drummond species that grows in that area, into a fine powder and mix it with a good amount of water to create a gruel they called “Nardoo”. This was eaten raw or cooked into thin cakes. (Chaffey)
When a team of the first Australians came through the Outback and ran out of provisions in 1860, the friendly Aborigines showed them how to prepare the sustaining gruel. Instead of preparing the recommended gruel, the men made a type of pancake with a thicker paste because it made them feel fuller. The water ferns have an enzyme that breaks down thiamine, which has vitamin B1, and the correct preparation of nardoo with the correct amount of water washes away or dilutes the enzyme to minimize the effect. The men incorrectly prepared it and had such concentrated doses of it which resulted in a condition called “beriberi” and they died. (Klingaman)
Medicinal uses of the juice made from the leaves of the Marsilea quadrifolia species has anti-inflammatory properties, is a diuretic and fever reducer. It is also used to treat snakebites and applied to abscesses. This species also possesses compounds that may act as acetylcholinesterase and butyrylcholinesterase inhibitors, which could play a role in the management of Alzheimer’s disease. (Cao and Berent)
This water fern should not only be prepared with caution if you wish to eat it, but it should also be grown with caution, should you choose to have it in your water garden or pond as I do. Water clover grows in mud at the edge of a pond or will grow submerged in several inches of water. It is easy to grow and spreads quickly and because of this, it may become invasive in some areas so always check with your state/provincial and local regulations for the most up-to-date information regarding permits for control methods.
Natural Handcrafted Remedies
Klingaman, Gerald. "Plant of the Week: Water Clover." Division of Agriculture, Extension News, 12 Nov. 2010, www.uaex.edu/yard-garden/resource-library/plant-week/water-clover-11-12-10.aspx. Accessed 4 June 2021.
Chaffey, Calder. "A Fern which Changed Australian History." anspa.org.au, Australian Plants online, June 2002, anpsa.org.au/APOL26/jun02-6.html#photo1.
Cao, L, and L. Berent, 2021, Marsilea quadrifolia L.: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, and NOAA Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System, Ann Arbor, MI, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/GreatLakes/FactSheet.aspx?NoCache=12%2F10%2F2013+7%3A53%3A27+PM&Species_ID=293&State=&HUCNumber=, Revision Date: 8/16/2019, Access Date: 6/4/2021