Day Lilies were one of the first “wild” plants I gathered and ate. The common day lily that you see growing in fields and in roadside clumps is a naturalized plant. It isn’t really wild but is just another domestic “garden escape” (like purslane, dandelion, and asparagus) that is really good at self-propagation. According to Euell Gibbons, it is a plant commonly eaten in China and Japan. In the United States, it is mostly grown as an ornamental.
I became interested in foraging and gathering wild foods when I was a teen living in west central Wisconsin. We had moved there from the Chicago suburbs in 1973 during the Back To The Land movement. I was a devotee of Euell Gibbons at that time and still recommend his classic book Stalking the Wild Asparagus to anyone interested in foraging. He also wrote two other books on gathering wild foods that might be of interest, Stalking the Blue Eyed Scallop and Stalking the Healthful Herbs.
When I first learned that almost every part of the day lily is edible, I though “Alright, I know were a bunch of that is growing by the side of the road!” So I grabbed a plastic bag, jumped on my bike, motored down the road a mile or so and picked and brought home some day lily flower buds (the next spring I tried some 1 to 2-inch shoots, which I steamed. They were very tasty as well.). I fried them without breading in a little butter, and they were delicately flavored.
We had a wonderful spring for any blooming or fruiting plant. There were masses of daylilies blooming in the ditches and right of ways. So my daughter and I stopped one day to pick enough for a meal. It was a beautiful day and a wonderful experience to share with my teenage daughter.
I added the day lily buds we harvested to some stir fry I was making for supper that night. We picked buds no more than two inches long and many much smaller. To stir fry these little gems, you just rinse them and add them near the end of cooking. Stir fry for a minute or two and they are ready to eat.
The buds can be picked older and bigger, but then I like to fry them in butter or olive oil. I have dipped them in an egg wash and rolled them in flour with salt and pepper added to taste. They are done cooking when the buds pop open slightly. It doesn’t take long, so don’t walk away while they are cooking!
I had already decided to plant some of the common day lily in my yard just for the purpose of harvesting greens in the spring and buds in the early summer. Later in the season, I was allowed to dig some day lilies out of a woman’s yard because they had volunteered in an awkward location. They were free for the digging!
Next year, I am going to try drying some spent flowers, as well as some buds, to add to soups and stews during the winter. After rereading Euell Gibbon’s day lily entry in Stalking the Wild Asparagus, I’d also like to try digging some tubers! Begonia