“A weed is simply a plant whose virtues have not been discovered” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Wild Daylily Plants Provide Four Edible Parts
~ Note the many young flower buds ~
The Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) is not related to the lilies that are common in florists’ shops, nor to what is commonly called Easter lilies, which can make you pretty sick. Those species are not edible. But the young shoots, flower buds, flower petals and root tubers of daylilies, Hemerocallis fulva, are an absolutely delectable treat to eat! No other plant really looks very similar to these unique orange blooms.
We used to call them tiger lilies because of the yellow stripe on each petal but even that is not correct. A real tiger lily is a hybrid lily that comes in many colors, has leopard- like spots and can be purchased through a nursery.
Even in spring you should have no problems with identification of the wild day lily if you will simply use a shovel to dig up a small clump of the plant and examine the root system.
If you find a lot of small tubers up to an inch or two in length scattered among the root system, you have found the mother lode. If there are no tubers or you find just a single bulb, try again, this isn’t a daylily. Most people can recognize the prolific roadside or ditch dwelling day lilies pictured above.
Daylily, as the name implies has a single flower that blooms each day and then closes and dies. Only one open lily flower is on the stem at a time. Once an individual daylily has enjoyed its day in the sun, its petals close and never reopen.
On the stem above you can see the many young buds, each at a stage that is one day apart from blooming.
Besides being one of the most delicious wild plants available the day lily goes a step further and helps in detoxifying the entire body! What more could anyone want from a wild free food source?
Let’s take a quick look at the edible parts of the day lily.
Beginning in early to mid- spring, its harvest time for daylily shoots. As they begin to emerge from the earth they are very tender. Harvest when about 7” to 8” high. Cut them off at ground level and don’t worry about killing the plant; you are leaving the roots so the lily is still able to regenerate.
There are so many of these sweet things all over the U.S. that some people try to eradicate them from their property. Oh if they only knew what a delicious food source they had close at hand.
Don’t confuse them with Iris shoots. If the shoot is tight with a flat fan shape and has a greenish blue hue it is an Iris plant. Don’t eat it. The Daylily shoots are sometimes described as looking like hands clapping. The leaves are facing each other and are curved inwards slightly similar to a roof gutter in shape.
These shoots can be used exactly as the milkweed shoots: Sautéed, stir fried, pasta dishes, quiches and soups. But for my dime they are best raw in salads or very lightly sautéed in butter but still have a slight crunch. They have a mild celery-like flavor and are “spring green” in color. Exquisite and plentiful.
A NOTE OF CAUTION: A few people are sensitive and may develop a slight stomach ache. A caution might be to try a nibble and wait an hour to make sure all is well. I’ve been eating day lilies raw for years without a problem and I personally don’t know of anyone who has had a problem.
However, I have read that about 1 in 50 people can have mild gastric upset. This is usually only true of the tubers and shoots, and more so if they are eaten raw. A few people experience some diarrhea, sometimes with vomiting.
Take a bite or two the first time you try daylilies, and increase your portions by small increments over the following two or three days. The leaves can be hallucinogenic but you must eat a huge amount for that to happen. I don’t know anyone who eats the leaves anyway.
DOGS: According to the ASPCA Daylilies are not toxic to dogs, but another, similar plant is. True lilies (Lilium spp.), which are similar in appearance to daylilies, are extremely toxic to dogs and can cause kidney failure in less than two days. These Lilium spp come mostly in yellow or pink hues and have small black dots near the stamen area on the petals.
CATS: Day lilies are toxic to cats and cause vomiting, lethargy, kidney failure and death.
Animals tend to stay away from these plants.
True lilies (Lilium spp.)
These True lilies are extremely toxic to dogs but it is easy to distinguish them from the day lily plant. As you can see from the photos the true lily is much more yellow ( also comes in pink) than the bright orange prolific day lily that blooms everywhere in the spring.
2. Flower Buds
In late spring and early summer, daylily plants develop flower buds. Harvested while they are still greenish and turning orange and are firm, these can be steamed, boiled, or stir-fried. The greener ones also make great pickles which keep them available during a prolong season and through the winter months.
Daylilies are so prolific in Maryland and Pennsylvania that I can easily harvest enough to make a batch of pickles every year. These common daylilies are wildly abundant in 42 states and are present in every US state to a lesser degree, so don’t be too concerned about over foraging.
They are also known as ditch lilies. They are extremely invasive and hard to kill once established so harvest what you need as long as you have the permission of the property owner and you are not on government park land. The Department of Natural Resources will prosecute people who take plants from their sites.
If you haven’t tried daylily buds, you owe it to yourself to just take the leap and try them. Lightly stir fried in butter they have a little pop to them as you bite down and then the sweet buttery flavor just makes you want to sigh with happiness. That may sound over the top but I am merely speaking my truth!
LUNCH IS READY
Note the batter fried daylilies on the left side of the plate. Crunchy on the outside and with almost a squash flower flavor on the inside.
When I am eating daylilies, or really any foraged vegetable I sometimes reflect on how quickly it moved from fresh picked onto our table. The nutrients have not had time to degenerate. The plant didn’t have to travel via refrigerated semi-truck or cargo ship from across the continent or the world. There was no time spent on the grocery market shelf or in the cooler.
The goodness has not been leeched out by time and conditions. The wholesome goodness sustains my family and anyone who wants to forage for them. It’s a great “first foraged” plant for any beginner because it is easy to identify, it has a fairly long blooming season and most of all because it is delicious.
3. Flower Petals and Sepals
In the heat of the summer the beautiful flowers are offered up as a delicious treat. The lily’s sepals and petals are the same color, shape and size, producing what appears to be a flower with six petals. Technically, lilies have only three true petals.
Whether petals or sepals (when spoken of together they are called tepals) they taste wonderful. What a flavorful raw snack while hiking. Pick the entire opened flower and peel off petals and enjoy. To me their taste is mild, faintly sweet, and a bit carrot-like.
They have a slight crunch. I’ve introduced these to many first time foragers. They put them in their mouths with trepidation but after eating the first petal they always get a surprised look and say with feeling, “These are actually good!”
In the broth, they appear a little translucent and add to the taste and interest. I always cut the petals into smaller pieces before adding to broth. If you dry them completely, then blend them into a powder they can be added to soup, gravy, broth or homemade pudding as a natural thickener.
It’s fun to make a daylily flower & hibiscus infusion jelly. The color is a beautiful pink shade that comes from the dried hibiscus flowers and it tastes pretty awesome too. There are plenty of recipes on the internet so I won’t include my recipe here. This is one I have adapted using daylily and hibiscus flowers.
When you dig up a daylily you’ll find stringy roots with attached tubers that look similar to small fingerling potatoes.
This is a Cassava root tuber but it looks similar to the Daylily tuber
By the time the plants send up flower stalks, those tubers will have become depleted of nutrients and will become mushy. Only dig them up from late autumn through early spring to make sure they are nutrient dense.
As the days shorten in the fall of the year and the flowers and buds begin to fade, the nutrients return to the roots. Then the roots become firm and nutrient rich again. Don’t bother to peel the tubers: just scrub and cook as you would potatoes, remembering that they won’t take quite as long to cook.
Digging up the tubers means you killed the plant, right? Fortunately, no. When you dig up a clump of daylily roots, snip off most but not all of the tubers. Replant the mass of tangled roots with the remaining tubers. They will easily regrow into new plants.
Wild daylilies spread underground and don’t set seed. They are easily transplanted so if you don’t have any on your property I am sure that you can ask someone who has giant fields of them and they might freely grant permission to move a few clumps of daylilies.
Being prepared in every needful thing is an important goal for each of us. Knowing the wild foods available in our area and their life cycles may be just the knowledge we need to help us survive at some future date.
But the greatest thing about foraging is that this is usually not a food you put on the shelf storage or have the need to rotate. It can be enjoyed fresh or in some form in every season of the year. It gets us out into nature, increases our health and confidence and is a wonderful family or singular activity.
If it becomes necessary to forage in order to sustain ourselves we will already have that knowledge under our belt so we can move forward with more self-assurance.
There is a wonderful book that I’d recommend called, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. It is about the German occupation of the Channel Islands during the Second World War. The characters are fiction but the occupation by the enemy for 4 years was not.
There was limited food on the island and the activity there may give us new thoughts and insights into preparedness that we seldom think about. The narrative is sometimes light hearted while still allowing us to glimpse into ways people coped with adversity and shortages that lasted longer than was anticipated.
Knowing how to forage can actually be a life saving skill for us all and needs to be seriously considered as part of an overall preparedness plan.
As always, share your comments and thoughts about your own experiences and concerns, or about this article. I’d love to hear from you.
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