Strange edibles: Daylilies
Strange edibles: Day Lilies
Daylilies (or day lilies) are easy-to-grow ornamental plants that aren’t actually lilies. Belonging to the genus Hemerocallis, these plants are called day lilies because of their similarity in appearance to true lilies and because each of their blooms are at the best for only one day. The genus name Hemerocallis is a combination of Greek words that means “beautiful for a day.”
Daylilies are native to Asia, where they play an important part in traditional cooking. Certain Chinese, Korean, and Japanese recipes call for daylily flowers, called golden needles or gum jum, to be added as an ingredient. The roots and shoots are also added to recipes.
There are over 35,000 different daylily cultivars in existence today. There is a daylily cultivar that grows in virtually all USDA hardiness zones in the U.S. In the South and up the eastern coast of the U.S., the orange daylily Hemerocallis fulva is naturalized in some places. Many daylily cultivars are heat and drought resistant, and many are cold hardy. They have very few pests and come in a wide variety of colors.
Daylilies were introduced to American gardens in the late 1700’s from Europe, where they had been brought from Asia in the Middle Ages. They are easily hybridized by transferring pollen from one flower to the stamen of another flower, and growing out the resulting seeds. Thousands of varieties have been developed by this method.
Daylilies are not true lilies. True lilies – any plant from the genus Lilium – are toxic if consumed. Do not eat true lilies! Daylilies themselves, when eaten, can cause allergic reactions in some people. If a person knows they are allergic to daylily pollen, they should avoid eating any part of the daylily plant.
One other word of warning about eating daylilies: all modern daylily cultivars are bred for the beauty of their flowers, not their edibility. For this reason, care should be taken when consuming newer cultivars. The older, naturalized species of daylily, such as Hemerocallis fulva (including the double orange blossom variety “Kwanzo”) and Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus L., the naturalized yellow daylily, are both tried and tested edible species. Most other varieties are probably edible – just be sure to eat a small portion of these other varieties at first to ensure that they are safe.
Also by way of warning: consuming large quantities of daylilies can cause stomach upset in some individuals.
The daylily flowers, buds, and roots are all edible. Young shoots in spring are also edible and can be eaten raw or cooked in a skillet in butter. The flowers can be harvested, dried, and added to soups as a thickener. The flowers have a unique flavor and contain some protein and vitamins. Flowers can be fried in batter using the tempura style of cooking.
To test out the daylily as food, we did a little experiment. We took some flower buds from Hemerocallis fulva ‘Kwanzo” and cooked them in butter. Here are the results:
We took a few flower buds of various sizes and stirred them up with butter…
…until they were coated with butter (everything is better with butter!) and obviously cooking.
Once they were soft and slightly cooked, we removed them from heat and let them cool slightly.
Then we ate them!
The flavor was something similar to a combination of asparagus and green beans. It wasn’t bad at all, though some salt and pepper added to the buds before eating would have improved the flavor.
A few people tasted the (probably poorly cooked) daylily buds and only one person was entirely negative (“I could see myself eating that if I was about to die of starvation”). Most comments were generally positive.
When we do this again, we will add some other flavoring. And we plan to try out other parts of the plant soon.
Have you ever eaten daylily?