Eats Shoots and Leaves, Week Ending 3/22/2020

Or just shoots. And tubers.

OK, maybe not the tubers.

Here in the mid-Atlantic region, daylily shoots are in their prime. It is also early enough still to harvest the tubers, which hold the sugars and starches the plant needs to jump start its growth in the spring.

I will level with you now – although I describe harvesting the tubers in this blog, I probably won’t bother in the future. (Don’t you hate blogs that leave useful information like that till the end, when you’ve already stopped reading because they droned on and on and on and you were really only on the site for the photos anyway? Speaking of which, if you just want the recipe, click here.)

Since daylilies are often found along roadsides and the edges of fields, it’s particularly important to make sure the plant part you are harvesting is appropriate for the location. I would only harvest shoots and tubers from relatively “safe” locations, such as pesticide- and herbicide-free yards, since I would expect them to have the highest likelihood of retaining any toxins.

Avoid harvesting daylily shoots near agricultural fields or along roadsides
Avoid harvesting daylily shoots near agricultural fields or along roadsides

Purely speculation on my part, by the way, but it makes sense if the tubers store energy for the shoots, and the shoots take everything from the tubers as they start to grow in the spring, they would be most likely to retain / contain any toxins from the environment. No, this is not scientific in any way! By contrast the buds and flowers form once the plant is getting most of its energy from photosynthesis and thus – I suspect – be least likely to contain toxins. If I ever find out for sure, you all will be the first to know!

Harvesting daylily shoots depends on your goals for the plants. If they have invaded a spot where you need them gone, dig them up – roots and all – when the shoots are still relatively short, 3 – 6 inches or so. If you want the daylily patch to continue, and provide flowers and buds later in the year, only cut off some of the shoots with sharp shears near the ground. The plants in this photo were in a bad location in my yard (I have no idea how they got there), and had to go.

These daylilies were growing where they weren't wanted... as daylilies tend to do
These daylilies were growing where they weren’t wanted… as daylilies tend to do

Here is how the daylilies look with the full mass of the roots and tubers, after being dug up and washed thoroughly of the clay which permeates my yard. The tubers are the swollen bits among all the long, thin roots.

Spring daylilies with roots and tubers
Spring daylilies with roots and tubers

I separated the tubers from the roots using sharp gardening shears.

Daylily tubers, separated from the roots
Daylily tubers, separated from the roots

The tubers continue to be edible throughout the year, only they are soft and floppy once the shoots have consumed the stored sugars in the spring. By late fall they are plump again. I cooked and ate the tubers, but the flavor reminded me of weak potatoes. That were a lot of work to dig up. And clean thoroughly. I’d rather just eat potatoes. Or sunchokes, if it is late winter / early spring and they are still available. (As of a few days ago, sunchoke tubers were still available in my own edible landscaping.) I sauteed the daylily tubers over medium-low heat until they were slightly browned outside and fork-soft. They weren’t bad, mind you. Just … not really worth the effort to prepare. There was also a lingering aftertaste that wasn’t to my liking.

If you dig up the whole plant, you will also get more of the edible shoots. On the left is a daylily shoot I cut at “ground level”, and on the right, one I dug up.

Cutting daylilies gives less shoot then digging them up
Cutting daylilies gives less shoot then digging them up

If you cut the shoot at ground level though, the plant will live on. Reports are mixed whether the plants will continue sending up shoots, in the manner of domestic crops like asparagus. I suspect if they are only moderately harvested,then left alone, the tubers will have enough energy to at least try a second time to send up shoots. Your mileage may vary. 

To prepare the shoots for eating, trim and wash them thoroughly. Remove the tougher parts of the leaves. You may be able to go further up the greens than I did in this photo, depending on whether they seem tender or tough.

Trimmed daylily shoots, ready to cook
Trimmed daylily shoots, ready to cook

Daylily shoots are similar in appearance to leeks, although the flavor is milder and more delicate. Do not automatically assume any leek recipe is fair game for daylilies. That said, some treatments do translate nicely, such as braising. You will find that daylily shoots are smaller and flatter than leeks, so if a recipe calls for leeks to be halved or quartered you can probably leave the daylily shoots whole.

Braising daylily shoots
Braising daylily shoots

And of course, ANY vegetable tastes amazing with broiled Parmesan cheese on top!

Everything  tastes better with Parmesan cheese
Everything tastes better with Parmesan cheese
 

Braised Parmesan Daylily Shoots (Print PDF Recipe)

Ingredients

  • 16 or so trimmed daylily shoots – the exact amount will vary, depending on how much of the shoot you harvest – either further into the ground (because you dug up the whole plant) or further up the green part of the leaves
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup shredded parmigiano reggiano
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • chicken stock
  • salt

Instructions

Heat a broiler-proof pan over medium low heat. Turn broiler on low. Melt butter in pan. Add shoots, thyme, and enough stock to just cover the shoots. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Simmer until the stock has mostly evaporated, leaving yummy butter-coated shoots. Keep an eye on the pan so the butter does not brown. This may take 15 minutes or longer.Sprinkle the cheese over the shoots, then broil on low for 2 – 3 minutes until the cheese has melted and is beginning to brown. 

CAUTION:

Two notes specific to harvesting and eating daylilies.

  1. Make 100% sure of your identification; don’t harvest true lilies or irises by mistake. The photos on this blog are NOT sufficient for identification. Consult a foraging guide or additional books.
  2. Daylily is especially important to sample a small amount because it is known to cause GI distress. Again, reports vary as to whether some people are more sensitive, or some individual plants are more likely to contain compounds that cause this stomach upset. I did suffer some mild discomfort after eating the braised shoots, but it soon passed, and may have been unrelated.  

Some additional recipes for daylily shoots and tubers can be found in the following books:

Delightfully Delicious Daylily: Recipes and More by Peter A. Gail  
Forage, Harvest, Feast by Marie Viljoen

And if you try the tubers and love them, please leave a comment below and explain what I did wrong with mine!

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