Monday, August 13, 2012

Daylily Identified

Identifying and eating daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) has been on our plants-to-eat list for a long time. It is a plant with several useful parts and is available through two seasons, so it would take us awhile to observe, experiment, photograph, and learn. It seemed that by the time we should be searching for shoots in the spring, we were always too late to taste and photograph them, and had to put this plant off until next year. Finally, 2012 is our daylily year. While there are many varieties of cultivated and hybridized daylilies, we are only eating the wild orange daylily. Daylilies are common and widespread throughout North America, from Canada through Florida and to the Pacific Northwest. Originally from Asia and Europe, they are considered naturalized in most areas, and invasive in some. They spread readily through underground rhizomes and can often take over areas they grow in. They can tolerate just about any soil and light conditions, making them a successful garden plant, roadside colonizer, and an opportunistic plant of disturbed areas. Some people have digestive problems eating daylilies, so this is a good plant to go slow with, eating small quantities at first.

Mid-March was when we took a very early-spring tour with Wildman Steve Brill, and he showed us the shoots of the daylily. The light green shoots are one of the first wild vegetables you can gather that early in the season, and they can be gathered in abundance to use raw in salads, boiled in soups, or cooked in a vegetable sir fry. The shoots appear like stacked, curved swords growing from the basal rosette, and each emerging leaf has parallel veins. They are best picked when they are smaller than 6" or so, otherwise they are too fibrous and tough. The texture is crunchy and succulent, and the flavor is mildly onion-y. I personally did not like the taste, and the shoots left an acrid taste in my mouth, but Robert and Gillian both enjoyed the shoots.

Tubers still attached to the shoots

Digging up the small shoots in the early spring also yields a clump of edible tubers. The tuber clumps are best gathered in the early spring or late fall when the tubers are very firm. In the summertime, the tubers will get spongy and are not very good to eat. While cleaning a bunch of dirty tubers is time consuming, peeling them is even more so. We scrub them very well with a stiff vegetable brush to remove the dirt and don't bother with the peel, as it is not tough. Snipped from the clump, the tubers can be boiled like new potatoes, and they have a slightly sweet and nutty taste. We also lightly boiled some and pickled them with malt vinegar. Our favorite use was to shred a bunch of scrubbed tubers in the food processor, and use them in a cake like carrots, where they took on a toasted coconut-like flavor. We also fried up the shredded tubers as hash browns for breakfast.

Flowerbuds ready to be steamed

In the early summer, flower stalks will emerge from the center of each clump of long leaves, growing up to 3 feet tall. Daylilies get their common name from the fact that each flower will open in the morning and wilt at the end of the day, hence only blooming for one day. Often on each flower stalk, only one or two flowers will be open at a time, while some buds get ready to open and other wilted flowers remain on the stalk. This way, a large stand of daylilies appears to bloom for weeks on end. On each leafless stalk will be 6-15 short-stemmed flower buds.  The unopened buds are green, blushing orange the day before they open. The unopened buds can be eaten cooked as a vegetable, tasting like green beans. We gathered a bunch of them and steamed them about 5 minutes before adding them to other recipes like casseroles and baked pasta dishes. Unfortunately, I did not follow the common advice about eating small quantities of a new food, and we gorged ourselves on the unopened buds because they were so delicious. Robert did not experience any problems, but I was terribly ill with gastric problems for about 12 hours. Next time I'll have to take it slower!

The orange flower of the daylily is edible raw in salads, or nice battered and fried. The flavor is slightly sweet. Even the day-old wilted flowers are edible, and we had been buying them for years at the Asian grocery in packages to add to hot and sour soup. When adding the flowers fresh or dried to soups, I remove the bottom green part, as it can be tough and bitter. The dried flowers add a nice texture and slightly thicken soups. The flowers and flower buds are a good source of beta-carotene and iron, and have several medicinal uses in traditional Asian medicine. Overall, the daylily is an abundant and useful plant to know.

1 comment:

Lisa at lil fish studios said...

One of my favorites! We grow them as a food source. It's just a bonus that they're pretty.