It has been a while since we’ve featured a family of primarily aquatic and wetland herbs–Menyanthaceae fits the bill! The family’s five genera consist of a total of between 60 and 70 mostly perennial species that are distributed broadly over the surface of the planet; the genera themselves are not globally distributed, however, as some (Liparophyllum, Villarsia) are native only to the southern hemisphere and others (Menyanthes, Nephrophyllidium) are native only to the earth’s northern half. The family boasts a number of common ornamentals that are characterized by creeping rhizomes and five-parted flowers that exhibit fused petals dressed either with cilia (tiny marginal hairs) or with lateral wings.
Menyanthes is a monotypic genus (consisting of a single species) first described by Linnaeus in the 18th century. That species, Menyanthes trifoliata, is a herbaceous perennial plant with long rhizomes, mostly basal leaves, and racemes capped with multiple, distylous white flowers furnished with small cilia. Menyanthes trifoliata–which is variously known as buckbean, bugbean, or marsh clover–is native to the somewhat elevated mud-, swamp-, and bog-waters of the northern temperate regions of Europe, North America, and Asia (China, Japan, Mongolia, Kashmir, Russia, Nepal).
The plant, which can be invasive in some areas, excels in moist, peaty soil, and produces its flowers from May to July. While hardy with regard to colder temperatures, it has a distinct aversion to shade. An extract from Menyanthes trifoliata–the specific name of which derives from the arrangement of the plant’s shiny, three-parted leaves–was once used as a remedy for scurvy, and today it remains a somewhat effective treatment for rheumatism, inflammation, various skin diseases, and gout (when mixed with whey). The plant’s roots are edible, once treated and cooked, and its bitter leaves are sometimes used to flavour beer.