Daylily: Just Cloning Around

The daylily, a standard plant in foraging for a century or more, has become too much of a good thing and now presents a significant seduction to the forager. Here is why: There are too many of them. While that would sound like a good thing, it isn’t because that has created uncertainty about edibility.

Original Daylily flower, Hemerocallis fulva

The daylily originated in Asia and has been used there for food for perhaps thousands of years. It was first mentioned in European writing in the 1500s. When the daylily was imported to North America in the 1600s there was only the unspotted orange kind, Hemerocallis fulva (hee-mer-o-KAL-is FUL-va) and it was edible, top to bottom. H. Fulva was the only daylily in North America for perhaps 200 years or more. By the 1930s breeders starting to create new daylilies. Now there are some 60,000 cultivars of daylilies. They have been bred for color, height, the number of petals, stature et cetera. The result is they are not all edible. In fact it is anyone’s guess as to whether the cultivars are edible or not. So while it is fairly easy to identify the original daylilly, and to identify a daylily cultivar, finding out if the latter is edible is a challenge. That of course, is why one needs to contact a local expert and or the owner of the daylily. While the original daylily is edible — with some qualifications I will get to — all others are to be suspect no matter what your guidebook says. If someone tells you their daylily is edible ask them to prove it. That’s what I call the “Dick Deuerling Method. Let me explain:

I spent a lot of time in the woods with a suspender-wearing, bearded forager named Dick Deuerling. He and a friend, Peggy Lantz, wrote a book called Florida’s Incredible Wild Edibles, which is still available. If someone said a plant Dick didn’t know was edible was edible, or if they

Edible yellow daylily

said a plant he thought wasn’t edible was edible, he’d say this to them: “Invite me over. Let me watch you harvest the plant. Let me watch you prepared the plant for cooking. Let me watch you cook the plant. Let me watch you eat the plant. Then I’ll come back the next day, if you aren’t sick or dead I might try it. “ With any daylily now, other than the original, that is what you have to do. Plants are chemical factories and within a genus there can be edible and toxic plants. The genetic selection that might produce a beautiful flower might also produce an inedible one.  So seek out the original, but for all others demand proof it is edible.

H. fulva is naturalized throughout most of North American except northwest Canada and desert southwest of the United States. Surprisingly, it is not naturalized in California. (I suspect it is, it just hasn’t been reported. I know it grows in the county I live in and one to the north but the state of Florida says it is not here.) The only other daylily that has become naturalized somewhat in North American is Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus (lil-ee-oh-as-foh-DEL-us) which is the yellow version, similar in appearance and wrongly called H. Flava. The Michigan State University Department of Horticulture says H. Iilioasphodelus is edible. Blame them not me if it is not. There is one report that H. Iilioasphodelus gives half the women who eat it a bad taste in the mouth akin to sweaty armpits. No reports that it bothers men the same way. Hemerocallis minor is also reported as edible. I do not personally know that.

The original, H. Fulva,  is a survivor. Actually it’s a clone. It will grow nearly anywhere there is sun and water. It often out lives the buildings it was put around. In many well-fed areas (read countries with obesity issues) it is considered an invasive weed. Since it is sterile it reproduces by underground rhizomes and thus spreads. Cultivated dayflowers stay in clumps and are not considered invasive. And as the name implies, daylilies are open for only a day.

As for edibility….. Young spring shoots and leaves under five inches taste similar to mild onions when fried in butter. They are also a mild pain killer and in large quantities are hallucinogenic.  The leaves quickly become fibrous so they can only be eaten young (but you can make cordage out of the older leaves.)  The flower buds, a rich source of iron, are distinguished from the plant’s non-edible fruits by their internal layering. The blossoms are edible as well, raw or cooked (as are seeds if you find any.) The dried flower contains about 9.3% protein, 25% fat, 60% carbohydrate, 0.9% ash. It is rich in vitamin A.  The closed flower buds and edible pods are good raw in salads or boiled, stir-fried or steamed with other vegetables. The blossoms add sweetness to soups and vegetable dishes and can be stuffed like squash blossoms. Half and fully opened blossoms can be dipped in a light batter and fried tempura style (which by the way was a Portuguese way of cooking introduced to Japan.) Dried daylily petals are an ingredient in many Chinese and Japanese recipes (they usually use H. graminea). Nearly any time of year the nutty, crisp roots can be harvested, but they are best in the fall. They can be eaten raw or cooked. You want to harvest new, white tubers. Older brown ones are inedible.

And now for the warnings to keep the lawyers happy: While daylilies are listed in virtually every foraging book as edible as I said earlier, don’t presume any daylily other than the original is edible. Many are, but don’t assume so. Have it proven.  Some people also have severe allergic reactions to them. In fact, some people can eat them for years with no problem then suddenly develop an allergy.  Also, don’t go overboard with any part of the plant or you’ll be creating a lot of personal fertilizer. They are nature’s laxative. Incidentally, they are toxic to cats, including the plant’s pollen.

The flowers don’t attract butterflies or hummingbirds, however, rabbits and white-tailed deer eat tender spring leaves. Among daylily growers the original is considered old fashion and a plant below their purview.  It is rarely offered by various daylily societies. The genus name, Hemerocallis, comes from two Greek words: ἡμέρα (i mera) which means “day” and καλός (kalos) “beautiful”.   Fulva is Latin for tawny yellow brown.  Liliosphodelus is a camelopard of Latin and Greek to mean “a lily with roots that look like they have been eaten away.”  Minor means small and graminea means “grassy”

Oh, one more thing: H. fulva in 2004 research showed strong antioxidant activity. Imagine that: An invasive weed with strong antioxidant properties…. Sometimes I think botanists haven’t a clue.

Day Lily Jelly

Day lily petals, pick as many as you can early in the morning if you possible.

Water to cover.

Bring the petals and water to a boil,remove from heat. Then cover and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Then pour into a jelly bag or double layers of cheesecloth in a stainer. Let drip into a large bowl, until all the liquid is in the bowl; overnight if necessary.

DO NOT SQUEEZE.

Measure:-

5 cups juice

4 cups sugar

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 package pectin

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: A rosette of basal leaves and flowering stalks three to six feet high. The leaves have parallel veins and are hairless. They taper gradually like a sword, tend to bend down from the middle and look droopy. Out of the center of the rosette are one or more flowering stalks, usually taller than the leaves. Stalks are hairless with a few green bracts. The UNSPOTTED flowers facing UPWARD are large, some three or more inches across, each with six orange tepals (three orange petals and three orange sepals similar in appearance making the flower appear to have six petals.)  The inner three are broader than the outer three. The flower throat is yellow with a red band around it, the rest of the flower is some shade of orange. It also has six stamens. Buds are up to three inches long. If seed capsules are produce, they are three celled and have rows of black seeds. The roots, tuberous and yellow, are fleshy rhizomes that grow fibrous.

TIME OF YEAR: Blooms occur in April or May in the South, June and July in northern climates. Blooming lasts about a month. Each flower lasts for just a day.

ENVIRONMENT: Sunny fields, roads, empty lots, old homesteads, escaped from flower gardens.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Flowers, buds, seed pods, and roots edible raw or cooked. Collect only young white roots. Older brown roots are not edible, poor taste, poor texture.

 

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Marie May 16, 2012 at 12:20

Great piece…

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2 Jeremy May 31, 2012 at 08:52

I love being able to live off the land. However, I wish people who put out some information should do so completely. It would help people feel safer. Just so you know, I love natural salads and medicines. However, some things make me think twice. You stated, “They are also a mild pain killer and in large quantities are hallucinogenic.” What amount would be comparable to an aspirin? Is this time/ season oriented or can the dried young leaves be saved for this purpose? Define “large quantities”. Would it be safe to serve at an all natural party if someone wanted to eat more than one bowl?

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3 Green Deane May 31, 2012 at 11:13

I avoid specifics in the medicinal realm because I am a forager not an herbalist. I have enough responsibility with edible/non-edible. I prefer to leave doses to those who know more than I.

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4 R M McWilliams July 21, 2012 at 18:28

Deane, Have you seen the info on daylilies on the Plants for a Future website? http://www.pfaf.com According to that site, the various species and cultivars all seem to be edible. Appreciate the caution as always appropriate, but wondered if you had seen the day lily on that site.

This UK based resource has an extensive listing of edible and otherwise useful plants. Like you, I don’t trust websites in general, but this one seems to be well researched and annotated.

Best regards!

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5 Green Deane July 22, 2012 at 16:19

I have two thoughts on that. First, I have found errors on that site. But more importantly no one knows if the various species and cultivars are edible. Who’s eating them? Who’s tested them? Plus there are several thousands of them. I’m not going to be a lab rat…

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6 CP August 31, 2012 at 18:20

I’ve eaten the flowers of many cultivars, raw. I had no adverse effects from any of them, though some tasted better than others. ;) Some of the hybrids tasted much better than the species. H. fulva tasted slightly bittersweet and H. flava tasted bitter.

The sweet tasting varieties were Decatur Piecrust, Delightsome, Fantasy Dancer, Hyperion, Ice Carnival, Lady Florence, Lady Jackie, Lady Lucille, Lady Rose, Lady Scarlet, Louise Manelis, Margaret Hardemos, Miss Amelia, Miss Mary Jane, Pandora’s Box, Space Wars, Stella D’oro.

The bland tasting varieties were Barbary Corsair, Chicago Apache, Double Charm, Grape Fun, Lady Eva, Peaches and Cream, Red Magic, Siloam Gumdrop, Snow Crane.

The bitter tasting varieties were Barbara Ditmer, Chicago Royal Robes, Crimson Wind, Eenie Weenie, Elegant Candy, Kwanso.

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7 Debora Casey March 21, 2013 at 08:02

Tried sauteed daylily with parmesan cheese yesterday and found out that they are indeed a very good laxative. That particular property was not mentioned in my guide book. They were absolutely scrumptious as cooked, but will eat less next time!

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8 Marge Billings April 16, 2013 at 20:26

42 years ago I was collecting weeds to feed my kids as money was tight. We ate purslane, pigweed, wild onion,clover plaintains… and many flowers. Being from a large city most was probably covered with nasty stuff, but I carefully washed and prepared them. I would walk down the alley and pick the day lily buds before they opened and my kids loved them. I read an article about the amatasco lily being poison(yellow lily) of course growing up I was told to never nibble the lilys of the valley as they were poison. I never picked a yellow lily because lilys can look so much alike, but the old fashioned day lily is quite easy to id.

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9 Kim Wilson June 30, 2013 at 10:56

We have hundreds of the original and all morning, I’ve been watching our resident hummingbird busily visiting each open blossom.

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10 Kate D March 25, 2014 at 16:33

I am looking to purchase these daylilies you have mentioned and I am having a difficult time finding them. Do you happen to know any Canadian websites that are selling these organically, or American website that do ship to Canada? I would greatly appreciate your help.

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11 Ginger D March 27, 2014 at 21:49

Kate, these grow wild in the U.S. and few indeed are the commercial sellers for them; common nickname I’ve heard is ‘orange ditch lily’. Most people consider them HIGHLY invasive (heaven knows they spread like crazy, and I know of no way to kill them except via one of the hellhound concoctions of Monsanto). I like them, and got them from a neighbor. However, I think Michigan Bulb used to sell them. Very unreliable company in many regards, but maybe they could help in this request. I have a couple of beds of the common daylily and would share, but don’t think a package of plant material would safely arrive.

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