The Delectable Daylily

Daylily flower The daylily is not only a versatile wild edible, but a beautiful and easy-to-grow perennial garden flower. It is native to Asia and has escaped cultivation over most of eastern North America. Daylily is a familiar sight alongside streams, roadsides, and fences. Chances are you are already living close to a patch of this showy member of the Xanthorrhoeaceae family. Hemerocallis fulva, the scientific name of the daylily, translates from Greek to Kallos – beautiful and Hemera – Day. The common name is derived from the fact that daylily flowers only open for one day. During its flowering season, one can observe: the plump buds of tomorrows flowers, the yellow-orange open flowers of the day, and the wilted flowers from yesterday. Cultivated in Asia for millennia, the dried flower buds are sold as “golden needles” and are an important ingredient in many traditional soups. Having grown up in the suburbs where daylily is a common garden perennial, I was naturally drawn to its yummy flowers when I first began experimenting with wild foods.The flowers petals may be pulled apart and added to salads or as a gorgeous garnish to any dish. They can also be added to a stir –fry prior to serving, which will help to retain their color and soften their texture. The plump, almost-open, flower buds may be dried thoroughly and sealed in an air tight container for re-hydrating in soups or casseroles during the winter months. The dried flowers add a sunny dash of beta-carotene and Vitamin C to any dish. My favorite way of serving the fresh flowers is to stuff them – in the mouth. Please see the photo below of stuffed daylily flowers and the accompanying recipe below.

Daylily buds

In extolling their virtues,  I feel I should offer this caution. Some people are allergic to daylily and react to them with vomiting and diarrhea, especially when eaten raw. It is a small percentage of people who experience these unpleasant reactions – perhaps one out of fifty. It is prudent to start with a small amount of cooked flowers or shoots and slowly eat larger portions if no gastric upset is observed. Following this protocol, any serious allergic reactions should be avoided. Daylily shoots The yummy shoots are sprouting up in western North Carolina in early March. (See the above picture) They are edible raw or sautéed, steamed etc. I prefer them mixed with other greens if eaten raw, as the other greens can mask their funny after-taste. They are excellent sautéed in a little olive oil, tamari and garlic. Daylily greens may be picked until they start to become tough or fibrous, which often happens when they are about eight inches or so. I clip them with scissors at ground level and then cut off the tougher outer portion of the leaves and eat the tender inner growth. Cutting back the plants three or so times during the spring hasn’t slowed down my patches. The roots keep on sending up new shoots.

Daylily, calendula and heart’s ease salad

It is important to correctly identify daylily shoots as they resemble some very poisonous plants which grow in similar habitats. Until you know the plant well, familiarize yourself with some patches in summer when the plant is easily recognizable by its 6 yellow-orange “petals” (botanically these are actually tepals). Revisit these patches in the spring and you will begin to be able to identify the shoots. Make sure you are not confusing the shoots with Iris (much flatter leaves and rhizomes which grow laterally just under the soil surface). Please see the picture below of daylily’s root system, and note it does not have a bulb as found in daffodils and tulips, nor does it have the lateral rhizome of an Iris.  I have also seen daylily shoots interspersed with the new growth of daffodils and other bulbs. It goes without saying that you should know what it is you are eating. Consult an experienced forager or wild foods book if you are in doubt.

Daylily tubers – note how the tubers resemble miniature potatoes, and their is no bulb or lateral rhizome present.

Stuffed Daylily flowers

Stuffed Daylily blossoms

Stuffed DayLily Blossoms  Pick fresh open flowers and remove the inner reproductive parts. Sautee two cloves of garlic and one half of an onion in olive oil and add wild greens in season. Lambs quarters (Chenopodium album), Nettles (Urtica dioica) and Lady’s Thumb (Polygonum persicaria or Persicaria spp.) are all yummy choices. Crumble in one block of tofu or goat cheese and take off heat when greens are tender and still green. Make sure to cook the greens thoroughly if you have added nettles to remove the potential of their sting. Stuff the flowers and garnish with a spiderwort blossom (Tradescantia spp.) or any other edible flower growing near you. Serve warm or chilled and share the free-for-the-picking bounty of this glorious Earth!

27 thoughts on “The Delectable Daylily

  1. Hi, I enjoyed your article. Just wanted to clarify… The flower are suitable for raw eating? The stuffed flowers have not been parboiled first?…Beautiful dish! Thanks!

  2. Hello! I’m wondering if the huge patch in one of my gardens of what we in this area call “road lilies” are the same thing. The tubers look the same, the shoots are the same, the flowers are the same, but ours grow a stem to roughly 5′ tall. These ‘road lilies’ grow wild in this region and abundantly. It would be awesome to have this well established edible plant! I have enjoyed reading your articles and learning so much from them!!! Thank you!!!

    • Thanks for the kind words! Daylilies do grow in the ditches alongside roads, but without seeing the plant you have, we can’t say if you indeed have daylily (Hemerocallis fulva). It’s important to rely on identifying characteristics and not common names!

  3. I ate one flower the other day to test it. I thought it tasted nice and I had no problems with it the tiny test flower I consumed. So for dinner tonight I ate some buds cooked with butter and salt & pepper and I’m not feeling so great. I just took some digestive medicine a few minutes ago and I’ll try some benedryl in a bit too if my digestive issues don’t clear up. I’m breathing fine, no hives, etc

    Is it possible the buds were maybe just too green? Or do you think I just shouldn’t eat them anymore altogether? Anyone come across this?

    • Hi Amy,

      For some reason I haven’t been seeing comments on the blog so I only now came across this! How are you feeling now? People who react to daylily tend to have nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. Not systemic inflammatory responses or hives. The buds should be fine, no matter how small, if you don’t have a daylily sensitivity.
      Best of luck and hope you are feeling better!
      Juliet

      • I did not have hives or anything. But I had all three of the digestive symptoms you mentioned. I’m fine now. It just had to run its course. But thanks. It’s a shame, I liked the taste but I obviously am unable to eat them. 🙁

  4. Thank you for a wonderfully informative post. As a daylily “imbiber” for many years, I am really inspired by your culinary suggestions. My only issue is the continual competition with the White-tailed Deer who also know of the daylily’s deliciousness! As for proper ID, I’ve put together some guidelines for wild foraging that your readership may find useful (see below). Best wishes!

    http://oakmossed.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/the-six-knows-wild-plants/

    • Sissy,
      Some people call Daylily “Tigerlily” but there are also many species in the Lilium genus, which are called tiger lilies. The Lilium species typically have whorled leaves and the petals curl back more than daylily. Do a simple google search for tigerlily images and you will see the difference.

  5. Please do!
    An electric stove at 175 degrees works also, but it does take electricity. How about putting the flowers single layer on a cookie sheet in the freezer and then throw the frozen blooms into a bag in the freezer till soup time?

  6. Iris, I have little success drying anything, because of the humidity here, and I don’t have a dehydrator or a gas stove. Can I come to your house for winter stew? 🙂

  7. Sherri, do you save and dry some of those flowers you are dead-heading. it’s so easy to toss the dried flowers in a paper bag or a glass jar and then use them in winter stews.

  8. I love Iris’s words, “… I spend a bit of meditative time at the sink scrubbing briefly with a vegetable brush.” Daylilies do require a bit of meditative time, whether I’m preparing them for food or maintaining them as ornamentals in the garden. When I get into the rhythm of deadheading 200 or more spent blooms at once, there’s plenty of time for reflection. And also time for munching on full buds yet to bloom, a delightful snappy crunch experience.

    Do you know of any daylily varieties that are as peppery as chive or nasturtium flowers? I’d like to think that breeders would be working on this. 🙂

  9. Actually, one of the great things about daylily tubers is that you can eat them anytime you can dig them (so, not during the January freeze, say). Just be sure to only use the tubers and not the attached roots.

  10. Oh my goodness, Juliet, I think getting the tubers is really easy when you have a clump of daylilies. It’s also a good way to get them thinned out a bit. They are a bit labor-intensive, I guess. I may soak them a bit just to loosen the dirt, and then I spend a bit of meditative time at the sink scrubbing briefly with a vegetable brush. I just slice quickly and throw them in with other veggies in a stir fry, for mashed root veg, or soups and stews. I don’t use them by themselves–not a lot of flavor, and a lot of work for a large number. But to have some to add in here and there, adds joy in the gathering and doing and more variety in whatever they’re in.

  11. OOOh, lovely pictures, delightful daylilies! I never thought of stuffing them with sauted greens, and maybe a couple other flowers. I will have to do that this summer.

    Have you ever used the tubers? They are in some ways my favorite part of the daylily to eat, because they are available most of the year. I slice and include in soups and stirfries.

    • Iris, I have tried the tubers several times and always thought they were small for the effort and not especially tasty. How do you prepare them? I will have the revisit the tubers, I think the greens and petals have spoiled me 🙂

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