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.



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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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Deb Naha June 24, 2017 at 17:26

Thanks Deane.
Once again, a very well-written piece.


Jeff March 23, 2016 at 08:28

Iv’e watched a lot of Green Deane’s YouTube videos and have read a good share of his information on this website. I have found his information very useful and pretty darn accurate. He is a great resource, but as a forager you have to take responsibility for what you consume. Part of that responsibility is to determine, through various resources including a local expert, as to the edibility of a plant and its parts. You have to weigh the positives of a plant with the negatives. One of the factors you have to consider is whether or not you are starving to death, destitute, or otherwise without options. Are you really in a position where it is worth taking the chance of being poisoned by risking using a plant that is controversial? If you have the original daylily that is absolutely known to be safe to consume the buds and flowers, have at it. If not, is it worth the chance? Foraging isn’t supposed to be a roulette game. It is supposed to be safe, fun, healthy and financially beneficial. Stick with plants that have no controversy. IF you absolutely have to eat a plant, and I doubt that is the case, there is a Universal Edibility Test that you can use to determine the edibility of a plant. Use this search and it will take you to it: universal edibility test us army. I teach that test to my students, but that is in my Survival Class, not my Foraging classes. There, I teach extreme caution and risk assessment. I encourage my students to ask if eating a plant is worth the risk. I think Mr. Deane is expressing that as well. Just the fact that other daylily cultivars have controversy is enough for me to move on to a different plant.


Simon August 19, 2015 at 12:56

First, thanks for all the amazing information. I really like to forage, and watch your videos on You Tube and visit your site it seems like almost daily. Love the ITEMize system!

I have a question concerning the article above. In the article itself, it says “…the plant’s non-edible fruits”, but in the ITEM list, I read, “Flowers, buds, seed pods, and roots edible raw or cooked”. What is the difference between the “non-edible fruits”, and the edible “seed pods”?

Thank you in advance for your response.


Green Deane August 31, 2015 at 15:44

Buds are young, fruits are layered.


Jason Uppercue October 3, 2015 at 12:34

Sir, I echo Simon in his enjoyment and appreciation for the information you provide, but find myself surprised at your response to his question…the answer does not match the question.

I think we all understand what buds are. What we are having difficulty with is understanding how “how edible seed pods” is not contradicted by “non edible fruits” when speaking of the same plant.

Should we infer that the inital fruiting after the flower dies is not edible, yet at some point when the seeds are fully developed it becomes edible again?


Jeff March 14, 2016 at 09:56

Dear Simon and Jason,
The fruit of the plant is developed from the ovary of the flower. If you were to locate the pistol; which is usually the tallest of the hairy or feathery protrusions from the center of the flower; usually surrounded by more than one stamen; follow the pistol down to the ovary. As the flower matures and is typically fertilized, the ovary swells and grows to some sort of fruit or seed pod. In the case of the daylily, it is a green, somewhat fleshy or fruity, seed pod with three chambers containing seeds. Yes, I think there is a bit of a contradiction in his post on edibility. I can not find evidence of people eating the seed pod or seeds of the daylily. I have not myself, nor will I test the idea. When it comes to eating plants, I stick to easily identifiable and what is really common knowledge plants and parts. Unless you are starving to death and this is the only thing you can find, I would not push the envelope and risk the experiment. Sometimes, and I think Mr. Deane is usually a great resource, mistakes or at least ambiguous information is provided, by everyone. I’ve found it in State, University and Naturalist web sites. It is always up to the reader to check, double check and proceed with caution when it comes to eating or using plants. Even if Mr. Deane was very clear on this, I would still cross reference the information with other resources.


Ingrid July 22, 2015 at 13:51

In my garden I have an orange vareity that suddenly sprung up as a single plant that pushed through the garden pavement. I planted it in a shady corner where nothing much would grow, and it has thrived there ever since. Only a small part of the plant can soon become a huge bunch if you leave it. So now I have it growing on many spots where I do not root out weeds. I sometimes eat the flowerpetals in a salad. It tastes just like green salad, but a bit sweeter.

Last week my neigbour asked me if the whole flower was edable. Only the flowerpetals, I thougt. But I never tried any other part. So I tried one whole flower. Later that day, I felt a sudden haedache and chestpain. The pain was gobe soon and I did not connect the flower eating to the pain.

Yesterday I used 1 whole flower in a salade. Unlike I usually did, I did not delect the petals ony. I later noticed the laxating properties, but not in a bad way. My neigbour told me this morning, he had to run to the toilet many times after eating a leg of duck. I did not eat from the duck, but he had eaten from my salad. So today I looked on the internet to find out more of the Hemerocallis.

Some sources state all Hemerocallis is edible, while other state most Hemerocallis is poison. I do not actually know what kind of Hemerocallis I have. It is orange and has some flowers with the petals in a single row. Most flowers have the petals in a double row. The flower petals taste like a mildly sweet salad leaf. I have been eating it in small amounts for many years now, but now doubt and wonder what effect is known of the poisonous kinds.

Does any one have information on that?
Any suggestion for an information source?


Mike May 15, 2015 at 01:57

I made a ham sandwich with 5 or 6 plants worth of raw chopped stalks and leaves early in the spring. They’re so tasty. Problem was it was right before work and on the way I started feeling very sedate. So I looked it up online and of course theres all this stuff that says to be careful with the raw leaves. So I had to sit down for a while and go to work late! In Chinese medicine they use them for childbirth and to make you forget your worries. I think they are more sedative than psychedelic. Careful! Looking forward to trying the buds and flowers in a month.


Karen April 29, 2015 at 08:26

Mum once told me that you see the orange lily all over Ontario because it’s the official flower of the Orangemen and they naturalized it everywhere they went to mark their territory.
As pretty a flower that it is, my Irish Catholic Dad would NOT permit it on his property.

Luckily, I have no such restrictions.
I bought a new property in January. As Spring slowly awakens along the Rideau River, I see that my previous owner has planted massive beds of day lilies all over. There must be 1/4 acre, all told.
The fiddleheads aren’t quite ready for harvest but I’m heading out this morning to gather lily shoots to serve at dinner tonight.
Yum! :-9


P Gokey April 23, 2015 at 12:37

Hey, I’m 84 years old and I’ve been eating day lillies all my life, including all the cultivars I’ve come across. The chinese field crop variety has a yellow flower, but I don’t know it’s name. When you talk about edible lilies, I think it’s much more important to explain that the hemoracallis has long thin leaves springing from the ground. If the lily you come across has a long stalk with short leaves growing all the way up that stalk…don’t eat it! It can kill you!
Phil G


Janice Black June 17, 2014 at 18:59

My daughter ate small amounts of pretty much all the daylily cultivars that I grew in the yard when she was a child. I wish I remembered exactly which cultivars they were, but since I don’t, I’ll just tell you the name of her favorite (the one that she thought tasted the best): ‘Naomi Ruth.’ She ate it more often than the others, and never suffered any adverse effects.


Nicola Cataldo May 7, 2014 at 09:40

Boy was I I glad to come across this! Wise advice here. A good ten years ago, having read a book that said it was safe, I tried some daylily shoots from my own yard and although they were delicious, within an hour I got sicker than I was the time I got salmonella. After hours of vomiting, diarrhea and sweating like I never knew possible, I remember lying on the bathroom floor thinking that I was dehydrated enough to cause a heart attack but I still couldn’t move myself to get off the floor and dial 911.

And I’m not allergic or sensitive to anything. I had always eaten the flowers too without adverse effect but I haven’t been able to bring myself to even smell them ever since. It’s possible that there was something in the soil I didn’t know about, some old Diazinon or something.


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.


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.


Hilda April 27, 2014 at 14:47

Where I live in Canada (E. Ontario) they are so common that no nursery sells them. I have taken them to my gardening club’s plant sale, and there is little interest. I recommend asking around if anyone has some – most people who do want to get rid of as many as possible.


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.


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.


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!


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.


R M McWilliams July 21, 2012 at 18:28

Deane, Have you seen the info on daylilies on the Plants for a Future website? 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!


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…


RM McWilliams April 13, 2015 at 16:41

Certainly agree that the caution you always advise is a the way to go! Simply had wondered if you were familiar with that site, and aware that it indicates a wider range of cultivars and maybe hybrids could be edible.
It is my understanding that PFAF accepts corrections, by the way.
No one wants to be a ‘lab rat’ (though at this point, we all are…).
Now, if one of my chemist connections still had access to a good lab to test for the compounds in the hybridized cultivars…
Best regards-


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?


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.


Brian June 3, 2015 at 18:01

I appreciate Jeremy’s question as well but wonder about the presentation. Green Deane does a great job providing tons of amazing information on all types of edibles we don’t know about. How bout a little appreciation.


Green Deane June 4, 2015 at 09:15

Dosage questions are beyond my knowledge and it would be irresponsible for me to offer any. I specialize in edibility not herbal applications. I have also learned that virtually all discussion about mind-altering aspect of any plant online always devolves into juvenile rants. No one needs that.


Marie May 16, 2012 at 12:20

Great piece…


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