The Day Lily as an Edible Plant or Vegetable
There are those who use the Day Lily (Hemerocallis species) for the flower garden. Consider another use for your Day Lily…all parts of the plant, the sprouting leaves that appear in the spring, the summer buds and blossoms, the leaves and even the rhizomes — are edible! After all, their blossoms last exactly as long as their name implies, both in English and in Greek (hemera means day and kallos means beauty). Think of the daylily as a charming, perennial vegetable, and immediately find a sunny spot for it to not only enjoy it’s beauty, but it’s tasty flavor as well!
Considered as a delicacy by wild food gatherers and knowledgeable chefs, the Day Lily has a long history in Chinese medicine and cuisine. It was originally brought to America by early settlers, who revered it not only for its ease of transport across the seas and its success in alien soil but also for its nourishing food as well. It can be dined on for months.
The first harvest takes place in early spring, when the tasty and tender young foliage appears. At this time, you can cut the 3- to 5-inch outer leaves from their grassy clump, taking care not to damage the flowering stalks. Similar in taste to creamed onions when simmered or stir-fried in oil or butter, the leaves may also have a mild uplifting effect. Indeed, the Chinese used them as a painkiller.
The second harvest is during the summer when the Day Lily flower buds and blossoms appear. These are the sweetest, most delectable parts of the plant. They can be eaten at all stages of their growth, raw or cooked. The tightly closed flower buds and the edible pods add interest to salads but also can be boiled, stir-fried or steamed with other vegetables. The blossoms, with their flowery taste and slightly mucilaginous texture, add sweetness to soups and vegetable dishes. Half opened, fully opened and even day-old Day Lily blossoms may be dipped in a light batter of flour and water and fried in a wok, tempura style. Dried Day Lily petals, called “golden needles” by the Chinese, are an ingredient in many Chinese recipes, including hot-and-sour soup.
At almost any time of growth you can harvest the thick, fleshy, tuber- like roots. You will find them quite crisp, with a nutty flavor. They can be eaten raw on the spot, or added to salads and all kinds of soups and stews. You can also boil, stir-fry or cream them, serving them as a side dish in place of potatoes. They are at their best in late fall or winter after they have stored nutrients from summer growth. This is also the best time to rejuvenate any overgrown clumps. Just dig the plant up carefully, divide the sausage-shaped roots, select a number of firm, white ones for your table, and replant — or share — the rest. The roots are sometimes used in China for their mild diuretic and laxative properties.
Day Lily leaves, flowers and tubers are listed in virtually every book as edible. However, some people have allergic reactions to unusual compounds in plants. It’s important to be cautious. The first time you sample any part of a Day Lily, taste only a small piece and have a friend with you. Wait at least an hour before trying more, and then take small amounts, tasting before swallowing. If it tastes bitter, too spicy, weird or unpalatable, don’t swallow it. Spit it out.