A few years ago, I made the mistake of making Nadia taste a daylily flower that was past its prime. Since that experience, she has refused to try anything daylily. Finally, last week, I was able to convince her to give them another chance by cooking up some of the tasty spring tubers, which are reminiscent of fingerling potatoes.
We harvested daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) tubers along with the shoots for a side dish to accompany our meal. Daylilies are a potentially delicious and abundant food source throughout the year. Each part of the plant is edible at some point during its growing stages. Once you get to know this plant you will notice them everywhere - from gardens to roadside ditches.
Hemerocallis fulva along with its many cultivars and relatives are not related to the lily family (Lilium species, many of which are very poisonous), but have a similar flower appearance. Daylilies get their common name from the fact that each individual blossom lasts for only one day.
A note to novice foragers is to be wary of confusing daylily shoots for that of the poisonous iris. I can always tell a daylily apart by its rich light green colour (Nadia refers to it as “spring green”) and the shape of its long leaves which are folded along the midrib, as opposed to the flat sword-like leaves of the iris. Someone once described them to me as looking like two hands facing each other, about to clap. Daylilies have a cluster of tuber roots with hairy rhizomes (see photos) unlike the knobbly bulbs of irises.
The roots become mushy after the plant produces flowers. The best time to harvest daylily tubers is between late fall and early spring when the plant is putting all its energy into the roots. The young shoots in early spring are a pleasant crunchy snack - great for nibbling while you're gathering, or for adding to a salad or stir fry. Generally, daylilies propagate quite easily. I find that there are always a few renegades that try to sneak out of my garden borders which are perfect for picking.
Think of getting to know a plant in all its seasons and in a variety of settings before harvesting, and make sure you know it well - you wouldn’t trust your life in the hands of someone you just met! But if you are certain of its identification, then harvest away.
It is also a good practice to eat only a small amount when trying a new food for the first time. Daylilies have a laxative quality and have been known to give a small percent of the population an upset stomach, so sample a small portion first before making them into a main dish for your meal.
We cleaned the tubers thoroughly, removing the rope-like bits, and boiled them in water until tender but still firm. We fried up some wild leeks (see wild leek post) in butter in a skillet and added the daylily tubers, frying them for another few minutes. The fried tubers made a great starchy accompaniment to our meal and had a similar taste and texture to potatoes. Nadia promptly reformed her opinion of daylilies. The next challenge will be to get her to try the flowers!
- daylily tubers
- wild leeks, shallots, onions or garlic (your choice)
- butter or oil
- place daylily tubers in a pot of boiling water and cook until tender but still firm
- fry wild leeks, shallots, onions or garlic in skillet with oil or butter
- add the tubers to the skillet and fry for approximately five minutes
- salt and pepper to taste