In honor of May being Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, we are highlighting a very loved edible plant of Asian descent, the daylily [Hemerocallis fulva]. It is a beautiful harbinger of summer, often starting in June/July and blooming continuously for nearly 2 months. This plant was most likely brought to America in the 1790s and is now naturalized in 42 states. These easy to care for perennials are a low maintenance, cold hardy for us here in Texas, drought tolerant, and entirely edible garden favorite of mine.
Daylilies also come in a wide range of colors except true blue. Growing calendula, daylilies, and sunflowers together can create a beautiful yellow and orange flower garden that is completely edible but not obviously so. As far as foraging goes, daylilies have a rather long harvest window. They also grow in clumps, which makes them great for erosion control, and they are easy to divide for propagation. The prime time to divide them is usually after 3-5 years, or when the clump starts to choke itself.
Eating Daylily Flowers
Most people only eat the flowers, which are the easiest to learn how to use. If you’re new to eating flowers, this is a great introductory flower next to squash blossoms. Daylily flowers have a unique taste with the base being slightly sweet, the petals having a very gentle crunch, and the stamen and pistil having a flavor reminiscent of garlic. (I am unique in that I eat the stamen and pistil. The recommendation is to remove these reproductive parts from all edible flowers.) Fresh, daylily flowers are great for stuffing with herbed cheese (like my vegan sunflower seed cheese), or adding as a pretty and tasty garnish to savory dishes. (They pair great with my vegan “nacho cheese” sauce!) After the pistil and stamen are removed, the flowers are often dried (called “golden needles”) and used for thickening soups, especially in Chinese cuisine.
The One Day Bloom
The most common reaction I get when I hand someone a flower to eat is, “It’s too pretty!” Daylilies are a good way around that guilt. Each flower only opens for a day before it fades (thus its common name: daylily). So you can enjoy the beautiful bloom during the day and then add it to your evening meal. They are also great to add to salads or sandwiches for a tasty and pretty pop of color.
Other Edible Parts
The buds are the second most common part of the daylily that is eaten, often in stir fries. They can be eaten raw, but please be careful when introducing wild foods into your diet. About 1 in 50 people have slight digestive issues that come from eating daylilies raw. This is easy to avoid by simply cooking them. (The flowers are the safest to try raw and usually do not cause gastric distress.)
The shoots and tubers are also edible, though I have yet to try either. The season for harvesting shoots is when I’m busy getting things planted in springtime. And the tuber season is for fall division, but I haven’t had a large enough clump yet to want to harvest for a meal.
Know Your Daylily Variety
Varieties ‘Rajah’ and ‘Stella D’oro’ have a history of edible use. Not all varieties do. Please research edibility of the variety you have. Two great books (pictured below) in our library on the subject are: The Edible Flower Garden by Rosalind Creasy and Edible Flowers From Garden to Palate by Cathy Wilkinson Barash.
Daylily Foraging Note:
If you’re foraging daylilies, please be 100% certain that’s what you have! There are 2 poisonous look-alikes when not in flower: iris and daffodils. However, their flowers are very different. Some flower look-alikes are lilies themselves. Daylilies are most often mistaken for tiger lilies [Lilium lancifolium or Lilium tigrinum], which are poisonous to pets, especially cats, but have some parts edible to humans. Tiger Lily flowers grow face down with their petals curved all the way back, while daylily flowers do not.