A proud clump of orange daylilies or tiger lillies (H. fulva) graces one corner of my garden, blocking out a poppy and a lavender bush and encroaching on my daffodils. Disdainful, I stopped in my murderous tracks a few years ago when I read one can eat most parts of the plant in a blog post by wildcrafter Hank Shaw.
I’ve since read more about them, including the history with some dubious tasting notes, and a chapter in Euell Gibbons’ classic, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, which seems to be a book that lights up the eyes of people who wish they were wholly foraging for food (while shopping at Whole Foods).
Being one of those people, mostly, I knew I had to take my dreams of a feral future and make them a reality, so I stalked the daylilies in my backyard.
What, you say you don’t know what a daylily is? This is a daylily:
Not a daylily (with an added bonus of an artichoke to symbolize the choking you will do when you eat a poisonous cultivar of true lily, below):
You can immediately tell them apart because the daylily grows in a big clump and has long, skinny leaves growing from the clump, but the true lily has many short opposing leaves growing up each stalk that culminates in a flower. Another things that differentiates them is that daylilies frequently repatriate to the wild, and they often resist the elements in parks, old lots, and meadows. More on identification here.
The buds, flowers, stalks, and root bulbs of the daylily are all edible, but being a lazy hunter-gatherer, I went for the easy stuff: the buds. Pick them when they are just about open, and don’t delay, since the ‘day’ part of daylily is not false advertising. They ripen, bloom, and are gone in 24 hours. You can see one bud just ready to be plucked to the left of the daylily in the image above the poison-choke-lilies.
Ever have Chinese hot and sour soup? The “golden needles” or lily buds are none other than the dried buds of the daylily. I dried a bunch and plan to use them in soups. Apparently, they let off a slightly gelatinous ooze when you cook them, so they thicken up nicely.
The rest of the buds I plucked to eat in the manner I love vegetables the most: quickly dry-fried and salted. You may have enjoyed padron or shishito peppers prepared this way, or perhaps Sichuan green beans. Daylily buds rank right up there with the pleasure, and their unusual origin and utterly free cost to you will make you the star of all the foragers in your neighborhood. OK, maybe not my neighborhood, since there are real foragers who live here, but if you live in a neighborhood without any, let me know and I’ll move there, since I could use a little stardom.
Anyway, the recipe in the first photo for dryfried daylily buds couldn’t be easier. You’ll love the taste (but be careful, as apparently some folks are allergic or react poorly to the very mild and delicious greenbeany taste, likening it to armpit sweat). Try just a couple at first to see if you are one of those unfortunate souls.
Heat up a heavy pan, cast iron if you have it, on high until it smokes. Toss your daylily buds in a tiny bit of oil just before you toss them into the hot pan. Smoke will ensue, so take the pan outside, flipping the buds with a spoon for just a few minutes until they are charred in spots and softened. Salt with a coarse-grained finishing salt and serve immediately.