South African waterblommetjie bredie

by Jeanne on May 17, 2010

in Monthly Mingle, Recipes - gluten-free, Recipes - meat, Recipes - South African

Post image for South African waterblommetjie bredie

When most people think of edible flowers, they picture a couple of nasturtiums strewn across a salad; maybe a pansy garnish; or some sugared rose petals on a cake.  What flowers are not usually associated with are hearty stews.  That is, unless you come from the Western Cape region of South Africa!

I have written before about the history of South Africa, including the colonisation by the Dutch in the 1600s in order to establish a refreshment station for Dutch East-India Company shops sailing around the tip of Africa on their way to the East.  These colonists did eventually cultivate crops successfully, but for the first few years, things were pretty rough and there was little to eat, particularly since much of what they had had to be given to ships calling at Table Bay.  In desperation, the colonists turned to whatever fresh fruit and vegetables were locally available, and it is thought that this is how waterblommetjies entered into South African cuisine.



Waterblommetjies literally means “little water flowers”, but the more scientific name is Aponogeton Distachyos – known in English as Cape Pondweed or Water Hawthorn.  These aquatic plants are native to South Africa’s Western Cape  province but have also been introduced elsewhere in warm, temperate winter rainfall areas. They prefer growing in ponds or swamps which dry up in summer, when the plant becomes dormant.  When the ponds fill with autumn rain, the plant sprouts again.  The leaves are narrow and oval and float on the surface, and the sweetly scented white flowers grow in raised Y-shaped spikes that stand clear of the water.  But if you want to eat the flowers, they need to be harvested while they are still in bud phase, which is typically in the winter months of June to September.

Waterblommetjies have been successfully cultivated in France and the UK as ornamental plants, but nowhere has the idea of eating them caught on as strongly as in the Cape, where waterblommetjie bredie (a stew made from lamb potatoes and waterblommetjies) is a much-loved delicacy.  The texture of the flowers is somewhat like miniature artichoke leaves, but the taste is far more subtle – think green beans with a hint of lemon.  The good news for those of you who want to make this authentically South African dish is that you do not have to dig a pond and start growing – tinned waterblommetjies are available at good South African shops around the world.  If you are using fresh waterblommetjies, make sure to soak the flowers in water first to remove all dirt and creepy crawlies, and cook them for a little longer than you would tinned waterblommetjies.

The recipe below is an amalgamation of a number of recipes that I researched.  Although some call for red wine and chopped tomatoes, I thought I would rather go for a version that played up the subtle green flavour of the waterblommetjies. The cayenne pepper and coriander are not, strictly speaking, traditional but they certainly were a delicious addition.  Most traditional recipes call for wild sorrell leaves to add a sour tang – but as I was unable to find even cultivated sorrell, I added white wine and some watercress instead, which worked perfectly.  I loved the finished product – despite being a red meat stew, it retained an unusual lightness, and the subtle tang of the waterblommetjies was a delicious reminder of home (and so much cheaper than a plane ticket!).

Looking for other lamb recipes to try?  Why not look at:






For printable recipe, click here.


1kg lamb short ribs, bone in (or I used 750g lamb leg steaks, cubed)
olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
250ml dry white wine
500ml lamb or beef stock
salt and pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp ground coriander
500g potatoes, chopped (I used halved baby potatoes)
400g tin of waterblommetjies, drained
2 handfuls fresh watercress, plus some to garnish


Pre-heat the oven to 180C.

Heat a little olive oil in a heavy-based pan.  Season the meat with salt and pepper and brown in batches in the olive oil.  Remove the meat from the pan and transfer to oven-proof casserole.  Add the onions, garlic, cayenne pepper and coriander and fry gently until the onions are translucent.  Add the onion mix to the casserole (you can deglaze the pan with a splash of the wine, scrape up any bits and add to the casserole dish).

Add the wine, the stock, and the potatoes.  Bring to a gentle simmer.  Cover the casserole dish with a tight-fitting lid and place in the oven to simmer gently for about 60 minutes (or until the meat is tender.

Add the waterblommetjies on top of the casserole and two good handfuls of watercress.  Return to the oven for a further 15 minutes.  Before serving, you may want to thicken the gravy either by stirring in a little cornstarch mixed with water, or by mashing up a couple of the potato pieces in the stew and stirring the mash into the gravy.

Serve on creamy mashed potatoes.

I am just squeeeeaking in under near the deadline to submit this recipe as my second entry into this month’s Monthly Mingle, the even started by my gorgeous sister-from-another-mother Meeta.  The theme she selected is South Africa – so how could I resist making something to show off my country’s cuisine to you? FYI, my previous entry was delicious roosterkoek!


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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Marisa May 17, 2010 at 11:53 am

Hoe honger maak jou post my nou… Dis juis waterblommetjie seisoen hierso!


bellini valli May 17, 2010 at 12:50 pm

I love to hear about these traditional dishes that were once foraged foods. It would be a treat to be able to try these flowers freshly picked.U am still trying to get the farmers to see the virtue of giving up there zucchini flowers to me:D


Hila May 17, 2010 at 12:58 pm

when you do come home again lets take a drive to tulbagh where i have had on of the best waterblommetjie stews I have had in a while


E. L. May 17, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Dankie vir hierdie resep! Alhoewel diep Suid-Afrikaans, het ek nog nooit waterblommetjiebredie gemaak of selfs geeet nie. Dit is ewe skielik baie hoog op die prioriteitslys! Kry mens die blikkies waterblommetjies in Engeland?


Gourmet Chick May 17, 2010 at 3:19 pm

What an interesting dish – something I had never heard of before. Great to see the return to focus on foraged foods.


Kit May 17, 2010 at 4:22 pm

I’m going to have to try making this some time this winter. I haven’t had it since a marathon feast at Die Strandloper, just after we got married. I ate way too much and had the worst indigestion ever – not the fault of the waterblommetjies – I blame the potbrood myself!


Jeanne @ CookSister! May 17, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Marisa – ek is skaam om te sê dis de eerste keer wat ek dié bredie maak… maar beslis nie die laaste nie! Kan die regtig anbeveel.
Val – I must make a plan next time I am in SA to try the fresh flowers. And yes – foraged foods are certainly making a comaback! Sign of the economic times :o)
Hila – oh, I’d love that!!
E.L. – Yes, tinned waterblommetjies are indeed available through South African shops in the UK – here is one supplier, but I am sure there are others:
GourmetChick – I thought I’d showcase something totally different!
Kit – mmmm, sounds like a justifiable reason for indigestion ;-) It is perfect winter comfort food!


Wizzythestick May 17, 2010 at 11:28 pm

Wow. I would love to taste these flowers one day. In my country the most popular edible flower is wild hibiscus


Tandy - Lavender & Lime May 18, 2010 at 5:47 am

I have the same tin hiding in my cupboard waiting for a cold winters night. Thanks for an inspiring recipe!


Tandy - Lavender & Lime May 18, 2010 at 5:47 am

I have the same tin hiding in my cupboard waiting for a cold winters night. Thanks for an inspiring recipe!


Tandy - Lavender & Lime May 18, 2010 at 5:47 am

I have the same tin hiding in my cupboard waiting for a cold winters night. Thanks for an inspiring recipe!


Firefly May 18, 2010 at 7:18 am

I am ashamed to say that I have never had waterblommetjiebredie


Barry Gerber May 18, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Try lemon rind in place of the sorrel, it works beautifully.


Manggy May 18, 2010 at 1:30 pm

I think of capers when you talk about cooking with flowers! Well, that and zucchini flowers :) I’ve never seen a can of waterblommetjie before – I’ll be on the lookout for them!


diva May 18, 2010 at 2:11 pm

what a fun dish! i like flowers and i do like eating them, although the ways of doing that sometimes ain’t that fun like getting a bit of raw petal stuck between your teeth. This, i’ve never heard of but do want to try! Must be so comforting as well on a cold, rainy night! x


Sommer @ A Spicy Perspective May 19, 2010 at 4:48 am

How interesting–I’ve never seen edible flowers in a can! IT looks truly delicious.


FOODESSA May 19, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Hello Jeanne…this was incredibly educational. I do love knowing that everyday is a learning experience. I’m not sure if this particular product would appeal to me…however, I certainly can understand its usefullness in certain specialized recipes.
Thanks for sharing and flavourful wishes, Claudia


Kitchen Butterfly May 19, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Ha, last week, we were in Uxbridge (far, far away from you :-) and I bought some sorrell at Tescos! Yep. And these waterblommetjies look interesting.


Solange May 20, 2010 at 10:32 am

Unbelievable. I want some now. xx

Reply May 20, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Oe lekkerte! I had it a couple of times while we were in SA last year. Should have had it more often though. Yum!


Ethan May 24, 2010 at 6:45 pm

I can’t begin to tell you how much I love your traditional SA recipes. I’ve never been (but I am actually spending a semester next spring studying in Jo’burg, so I’ll be there soon enough!) but I love SA food and desserts especially. I try to recreate your recipes as best as I can! Melktert is such a huge hit with my friends here in New York/New Jersey USA that I seem to be making one every couple of weeks! Thanks so much!
Check out my tea blog and connect!
all the best!


Casey Angelova May 26, 2010 at 12:08 pm

My friend has suggested waterblommetjie bredi to me as something I should try to make for Africa Day, but I didn’t want to begin to thing about how to locate them in Bulgaria. It is good to know that they come in cans. Thanks for sharing!
My blog celebrated Africa Day with a collection of recipes from across the continent. I would love your thoughts.


Colleen Skinner May 31, 2010 at 1:12 pm

So divine – I am going to have to place an order with Bokke Foods so I can make this! Thanks for sharing!


Rich June 12, 2011 at 3:30 pm

hier een hollander in de hier waterblommetjies te krygen?dank u voor uw fantasties recepte!!


lorna vanderhaeghe June 15, 2011 at 9:02 am

If you’re looking for African-themed meal, this is the right dish.


Hein January 10, 2013 at 5:48 pm

Hi There,
me and my family are big fans of Waterblommetjie cause i love making food with it but the problem is that we are staing in gauteng and we can only get hold of the cans somtimes if we are lucky. The other problem is the cans is allso so overpriced that you cant exactly buy like 20 cans at a time. i was looking on the internet but i see that it is very scares. i would like to actually get hold of some one that can supply fresh waterblommetjie/ water lily and sell them per KG. Can someone perhaps help me or direct me ?
i will realy apreciate it


Jeanne January 14, 2013 at 5:49 pm

Hi Hein – It does not seem that you are living in the ideal place for fresh waterblommetjies, I’m afraid… I have seen people saying that Thrupps in Illovo sell them, but I suspect these might be cans rather than fresh. Another option is to contact Oude Pont Farm outside Wellington who apparently sell them fresh for about R20/kg, but then you would need to courier them up to Gauteng. But possibly they can put you in touch with another supplier, or at least tell you if you are on a futile search? Their number is 021 873 4884. GOOD LUCK! Let me know if you come right.


Hein January 15, 2013 at 9:12 am

Thank you very much for the help im going to phone them with in this week.
i will let you know what they sayand if they can help me or not.
Regards Hein


Koos September 30, 2013 at 9:15 am

Kan iemand my dalk se waar kry ek vars waterblommetjies in die oos rand of in die johannesburg omgewing, eenkeer wel die blikkies gesien maar kry ook nie. Blikkies sal ook reg wees.


Dr Vernon Liddiard July 1, 2014 at 4:46 pm

Looks like a very good waterblommetjie bredie recipe but, in my view, the addition of some lemon zest and juice (not to overdo it) will just lift it


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