Live plants have long been considered a way to create a natural habitat for aquarium fish. But some of the plants commonly used in aquariums may also have a benefit to humans, as a source of food. These plants can add unusual flavours to your diet or be used for medicinal purposes. Be careful before making a salad out of your aquatic plants: chemicals used in the aquarium may be harmful to consume or the plants could harbour waterborne diseases. Also, some water plants may look similar to an edible species, but be dangerous to eat.
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Also known as water hyssop or Brahmi, this hardy plant is native to India and can grow well in an aquarium if given enough light and nutrients. If the plant is allowed to grow above the water surface, it will also produce small white flowers. The leaves are bright green and can be used as seasoning. Bacopa extract is sold as a memory-enhancing and anti-inflammatory agent.
The scientific name for duckweed is Lemna minor. It's one of the smallest plants that grow in an aquarium, though it can reproduce quickly into a dense colony of plants that cover the water surface. It reproduces so quickly it can starve an aquarium of oxygen, so good control is necessary. In the wild, it's considered an invasive weed. Cooks can blend duckweed into soup, but it has an unusual, tough texture, says Jim Meuninck, author of "Basic Essentials: Edible Wild Plants and Useful Herbs."
This plant has long, thin, reddish leaves and requires highlight and frequent fertilisation to grow well in an aquarium environment. However, in the wild it grows vigorously in marshes and swamps and can often be found where rice is cultivated, which gives it one of its common names---rice paddy herb. Limnophila aromatica has a citrus aroma and is commonly used in Vietnamese and Thai soups and curries.
Several closely-related species bear the name pennywort and can be grown in an aquarium. Hydrocotyle leucocephala, or Brazilian pennywort, has round, bright green leaves shaped like lily pads. In addition to rooting it in the aquarium gravel, pennywort can also grow floating along the surface of the water. The leaves are said to have a peppery flavour. Centella asiatica, also called Indian pennywort or gotu kola, has been used in Asia for thousands of years for its medicinal properties.
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- "The Herb Companion"; Give Your Brain a Boost with Bacopa; Gina Mohammed PhD.; 2005
- "Basic Essentials: Edible Wild Plants and Useful Herbs"; Jim Meuninck; 2007
- "Edible: An Illustrated Guide to the World's Food Plants"; "National Geographic"; 2008
- Aquatic Plant Central: Hydrocotyle Leucocephala
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Gotu Kola