It's amazing, from about 20 species of daylilies originating probably around Asia and China thousands of years ago, over 50,000 varieties of daylily hybrids have been developed. Most amazing is the fact that hybridizing only started fewer than 100 years ago when Dr. A.B. Stout began working with the old historic daylilies. This article is not about hybridizing, I just find that fact impressive. This article is about adding daylilies to your dinner table.
There are parts of daylilies that can be harvested and eaten at any time of the year. Right now in fall or winter, you can eat tubers. In spring, young shoots are tender and edible and in summer, we have buds and blooms. All parts of the daylily are edible, but I really don't like the stalks. They have little flavor, are a bit stringy, and are a lot like eating a tough scallion. I don't mind them at all when I find them in stir fry from my favorite Chinese take out, which probably means I don't know how to cook them.
I mentioned the daylily's nutrients earlier in an article about the old ditchlily. I'll mention them again in case you forgot:
* Protein 2g
* Fat 0.0g
* Calcium 87mg
* Phosphorus 176mg
* Iron 1.2mg
* Sodium 0.0mg
* Vitamin A 3,000 I.U.
* Thiamin .16mg
* Riboflavin .21mg
* Niacin .08mg
* Vitamin C 88mg
I hope you notice there are no fats and no sodium. The protein content is high as well, right up there with asparagus.
You need not worry that I'll nibble around on your most expensive daylily if I ever visit your garden. It's the old species that are edible, not the newer hybrids. It's the ditchlilies, the historic daylilies, the plain old Hemerocallis fulva that Gramma grew along the fence line, and those others that have the same classification. They are the source, the beginning of today's wonderful varieties and if not for them our own gardens would be less beautiful, devoid of today's cultivated beauties. Just be sure to eat them from your own yard, not those on the side of the road, so you'll know they'll be chemical free.
Ditchlilies are plants that have evolved over thousands of years; they'll be happy even if ignored and they'll grow just about anywhere. They contain adaptable properties that may not be present in some of the more modern cultivars. We also don't know how the hybridization might have affected the nutrient structure, if at all. So you truly don't have to worry about your priceless and very beautiful daylilies; nobody should ever be grazing among them.
Since we are bringing daylilies to our dinner table, let's start with tubers, the daylily part that's available to you right now. Tubers are just like long small potatoes, but you have to remove the little stringy roots that cling to them. They even taste much like a little potato that's slightly sweet.
* Scrub them with a tooth brush to get the tiny stringy roots off. Some tubers will be whitish and others will be brown, and it doesn't matter the color. If you boil them, they'll taste a little nutty but still much like any other boiled potato.
* Wrap in foil and roast with slices of pepper and onions, a bit of olive oil and a sprinkle of rosemary.
* Add a little butter to a fry pan, add a little salt, add the tubers and saute; then sprinkle them with just a tad of black pepper. Along with the other nutrients, tubers also contain oils.
* Raw, just chop young shoots up in a salad or use them in a dip. You can also cut into 1 inch strips and add to stir fry or to soups.
* Buds are good sources of beta carotene and vitamin C; the buds alone have the highest protein content of all the plant. The bud flavor reminds me of a cross between a raw green bean and a radish, hard to describe, but close to that, and sometimes carries a hint of sweetness.
* Choose small buds that are just beginning to open and cook them as your grandmother cooked green beans: boil and serve. You can add butter or spices, or you can chill them and add the tender-cooked buds to salads.
* Buds can be dipped in batter and fried, or used in stir fry without the batter.
* Here's my favorite, searing: Add a couple handfuls of still tight daylily buds to hot olive or canola oil; leave them in the hot oil for about 5 minutes or until the sides are well browned. Add seasonings if you want, but this is an excellent side dish that really needs nothing else to season it.
* Daylily buds will keep in the refrigerator for several days.
* Sometimes you can find dried daylily buds in an Asian market packaged to use for cooking. Drying seems to be the main method of preserving though I've never tried it.
* Start by cutting away the pistil and stamens, you will only use the petals.
* Flowers should be used on the same day they are picked since we can't be sure they retain nutrients beyond their bloom time. At the end of day when blooms are beginning to wane, they can still be added to soups.
* You can add the petals to egg dishes, soups and salads.
* Here's one of my favorite salad recipes using yellow daylilies; yellows have a buttery taste:
+ salad greens such as romaine lettuce, spinach, or a blend
+ a handful of yellow daylily petals, chopped
+ your choice of salad dressing (my favorite for this salad is Ranch)
+ add diced chicken, carrots, tomatoes, a cucumber or two.
* Another favorite is the daylily fritter and I'll let you read about it right here. The blooms, minus the pistil and stamens, are simply dipped in batter and deep fried in oil. You can do the same with buds. Wonderful! Much better than fried mushrooms, and I really love fried mushrooms.
There you have it, everything I know about daylilies as vegetables. Don't be afraid to try them. The Chinese have been cooking with them for thousands of years and if you like Chinese food, you've probably already eaten daylilies without knowing it.
* Identify what you are eating with absolute certainty. Most of us know a daylily by sight when it's in bloom, so be sure you do, too. If not in bloom, look at the tubers. They are long small oval shaped bulbs with lots of little stringy roots growing from them. Make sure it's Gramma's plain old Hemerocallis fulva, nothing else.
* Do not eat the buds of any cultivated ornamental daylilies. I know for sure that the old fashioned wild yellow or orange daylilies are fine to eat, and that includes Kwanso. We don't yet know what hybridization has done to the newer varieties, those developed after about 1940, though I'm not afraid to nibble around on my old Autumn Red because I've had it with me every step of the way since about 1950. It hasn't seen many changes and hasn't given me a bit of a problem in all these years, not healthwise nor otherwise. Its red petals are a bit spicier than those of the orange ditchlily.
The daylily is a wonderful plant, easy to grow and in your face beautiful! It can sustain us when we're hungry and it showers us with beauty for months at a time, year after year after year. It asks for very little in return, just a little place in the sun.
Enjoy your daylily dinner!