Wild daylilies


Take a drive down any road right now and you’ll see them. Daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva) are everywhere. Those wild orange ones spread into the ditches and are quite adept at holding the soil and curbing erosion. It’s a shame they only bloom for a few weeks and each individual bloom only lasts one day.

It’s no mystery why they are so plentiful. Daylilies can thrive in extremely wet to quite dry conditions. While they prefer sunny locations they are quite tolerant to long periods of shade. They are also very cold hardy and found in almost every state.

Daylilies can be invasive largely because they produce a thick network of tuberous roots much like small sweet potatoes. They form such a dense mat of subterranean tissue that no other plants can compete. As with many invasive species, daylilies are not native and originally came from Asia. They are an important medicinal herb in many Asian cultures.

Countless commercial varieties are planted as ornamentals. Some are tall like the wild ones and some are much shorter. All have six equal petals more properly called tepals. Flowers curve to face upwards. Leaves are distinctly folded and fan out opposite to each other.

In the past 30 years plant breeders have developed several continuous blooming cultivars. Colors range from cream to pink and even burgundy, but yellow and orange are most common. All need to be divided regularly so they don’t take over an area. You’ll have plenty to give to your friends.

What can we do if we don’t need all the extra plants? We can eat them. Daylily foliage is edible when young. Flowers can be eaten both raw and cooked. Flower buds make a great addition to any stir-fried dish. Both flowers and flower buds contain mucilage and can be added to soups to thicken the broth.

The tuberous roots look like miniature sweet potatoes and are also edible both raw and cooked. When raw they are crunchy like jicama, water chestnuts or turnip. When cooked they have the texture of sweet potatoes but are more bland. This means they add bulk without imparting a strong flavor that might clash with other ingredients. I don’t consider them a stand-alone dish. When stir-fried I think they are better if boiled first.

Daylily roots and flowers are rich in protein and vitamins A and C. Cooking usually denatures most vitamins, so uptake is better if you eat them raw. The problem is that raw daylilies, particularly the leaves, can make some people nauseous or cause diarrhea when eaten in large quantities. Cooking reduces these problems, but I still suggest consuming small quantities until you know how they agree with you. Too many give me gas.

When eating daylily leaves choose only young specimens. Once foliage matures it becomes bitter and many of the digestive problems are associated with the bitterness.

The nice thing about daylilies is threefold. First, unless you absolutely love eating them you’ll never put a dent in their population. Second, parts of the plant can be eaten all year. Finally, daylilies are distinctive and almost impossible to confuse with something else.

daylily clump

wild daylily flower

daylily root system showing tuberous roots

 

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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19 Responses to Wild daylilies

  1. thebeadden says:

    I ad no idea you could eat them! We just dug out hundreds of bulbs because they were spreading all over our property. This year they started spreading next door!

  2. Karen says:

    I love day lilies…from the sunny wild orange ones to the exotic pink ones.

  3. kimberlypaigeweaver says:

    i never knew that you could eat this. Its so pretty i love seeing them all over the place. I also didnt know that they were used for Asain medicine.

  4. awhitenhs12 says:

    I did not know these plants were edible. I also didnt know that they came in so many different colors. They are a very pretty plant and I see them blooming every year.

  5. its a very unique flower to me and it has so many different colors on it

  6. i love the color. I didnt know that it was used in asian medication, that is something that i didnt know it could do.

  7. sbright16 says:

    I would have never guessed you are able to eat day Lilly i always thought they were for looks.

  8. I never knew you could eat them ! That’s awesome !

  9. donnashawna says:

    I never knew you could eat wild daylilies that is nasty!!

  10. cjbvans says:

    Can’t believe the different colors these flowers can be. I think there beautiful when their flower blooms.

  11. amandawensel says:

    This flower is to pretty to be eaten, that’s interesting to know its edible though.

  12. i know most plants are edile even though you would Never expect it, this is one of them

  13. I never would have thought this plant was edible and used for cooking. But cooked in the right soup I bet they could be kinda good.

  14. Didnt realize they were edible doesnt sound very appretizing

  15. i never knew that you could eat this plant.

  16. I never knew you could eat this plant, but i think in hort. 1 you said you would put them in your salad sometimes.

  17. i had no idea you could eat these. i see these growing every year and no matter what the year is like, they just keep on coming back!

  18. i did not now that you could eat these

  19. It’s amazing to learn about all the plants you can eat! This plant is beautiful and I don’t think I’d wanna try to eat it but I’d love to have it as a plant!

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