Many people can easily cite the location of a large stand of daylilies close to home. Native to Asian countries, it has naturalized country-wide, decking roadsides, sunny fields and creeksides to beautiful effect. The daylily is easily propagated by separating clumps of corms into individual plants, spacing well as lilies will quickly fill up the available area. Most of us are quite familiar with the beautiful plant and it’s showy orange, yellow or red blooms. However, not many in this country are aware of the long history of using daylily as a food and medicine, particularly in Asia.
Every part of the daylily plant is edible, from the rootlets to the stalks and flowers. It provides a nutritious and delicious source of food nearly year-round. In early spring, the young, tender shoots can be quickly steamed or sauteed to render an asparagus-like vegetable. The white parts of the young shoots are particularly well suited to eating raw or lightly cooked.
As spring fades into summer, the young green flower buds can be used similarly to sugar snap peas, eaten raw or cooked gently. Moving further into summer, the open flowers provide a lettuce-like vegetable – please remove the pistil and stamens as the pollen can aggravate allergies – and a surprise pop of color for your seasonal salads. As the name suggests, the flowers are open for only one day, so don’t be afraid to pick all you want: tomorrow there will be a new crop, ready for picking. Withered flowers, too, are useful. Freeze or dry them and chop into soups or stews to lend thickening and body, similar to what is achieved using okra.
Once summer passes into fall it is time to take advantage of the rootlets that have been growing and storing energy all year. They can be eaten raw or cooked, and you will be amazed at their similarity in scent and taste to the freshest sweet corn. Harvest them late into the fall, until they begin to show signs of softening up, energy spent.
The wonderful thing about daylilies is that not only are they an incredibly generous food plant, but as they are non-native species and incredibly prolific, they can be harvested without concerns about diminishing this abundant plant. Use them as trail food while hiking or start a patch on your own land for future food use. In no time at all the daylily will begin providing you with it’s generous gifts.
Melanie Teegarden lives in Northeast Tennessee with her husband and son. She has been studying the food uses of common North American plants for over 20 years. She sells artisan soap online at http://www.althaeasoap.com.