Daylilies are a forager’s delight, and early summer is a great time to enjoy these beautiful wild edibles in central Maryland.
Generally speaking, in this area tawny daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva) grow along roadsides whereas yellow daylilies (Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus) are more likely found in yards as part of landscaping. Daylilies can be harvested for different types of food at different times of the year. Right now, the focus is on flower buds and flowers.
Daylilies are not “true” lilies, which have leaves going all the way up the flower stalk; lilies are blooming right now too, so make sure you find and eat the correct plant!
Locally daylilies are considered invasive, but you still want to make sure you’re not encroaching on somebody’s property. Also be careful foraging along busy roads – the usual disclaimers apply about pollution, chemical run-off and cars driving too fast!
The early spring shoots can be harvested when they are just a few inches tall. I have not actually tried this myself yet because I have spent this year trying to make sure I knew where the stands of daylilies are, so I can return for the shoots next spring. I’ve seen plenty of photos, but still wasn’t 100% confident I was looking at daylilies rather than, say, irises like Yellow Flag.
Apparently the flower stalks are edible, but I haven’t tried that either for fear of preventing flower buds which are my favorite part of the daylily so far. Don’t pick all the buds though, because then there won’t be any flowers!
I enjoyed the flowers stuffed last year, but the buds are tasty too and so much less work to cook! I harvested the buds that still felt relatively firm when squeezed. If the bud seemed to separate into the three sepals (which look like petals once opened), I passed over them. Some authors say to harvest the buds when they are still green, but they much smaller at that point.
The immature flower buds are phenomenal sauteed in butter with light sprinkle of sea salt.
The buds which are closer to flowering are dried and used in Chinese cooking as “golden needles”. You can purchase golden needles in Asian grocery stores. They are used in dishes like mu shu pork and hot and sour soup. If you have an abundance of daylilies, you could try this as a way to preserve the bounty for later in the year.
If you are worried about harming the natural beauty of this plant, consider collecting the open flowers in the evening. They only open for one day (hence the name), so the flower is already spent anyway. In addition to stuffing, the flowers can be used as a colorful garnish on salads or cooked dishes.
Daylilies have underground tubers which are also edible. If you know of someone with a patch who plans on thinning it in the fall, this is a great opportunity to help them and gather some edible tubers at the same time. I have not tried the tubers yet, but hope to once the colder weather returns.
Some people experience digestive upset when eating daylilies. There doesn’t seem to be a clear pattern as to who has trouble or when. Some authors say you must habituate yourself to eating daylilies – a few small servings to get use to them before you have more. This practice is repeated yearly. On the other hand, one author says there is a genetic mutation, undetectable by looking at the plant, which makes certain plants more likely to cause gastric distress. As with all new foods, remember to try a small amount to see if you have any reactions before tucking into a giant helping!