You know summer is in full swing when you see drifts of day lilies gently waving to you from roadsides and front yards everywhere. Their short-lived blossoms (each flower lives only for a day, hence the name, tho each stalk has several buds waiting for their turn to shine) serve as a reminder for me to enjoy each long summer day as much as possible.
Did you know that you aren’t limited to enjoying the dancing orange beauties with only sight and smell? The petals taste delicious as well! You can pull them off and toss them in salads whole or sliced. Or you can stuff them with whatever you think is tasty — flavored rice/quinoa/millet, chopped fruit or a slaw-ish salad. The greener end where the flower is attached to the stem is bitter, so you’ll want to leave it on your plate, but YUM! We ate most of the salad (a kale-cabbage-carrot slaw with a lemon tahini dressing) stuffed into all of the lilies in the picture as dinner one night.
Since borage and heartsease were also blooming in the garden, the kids picked them and tossed them into for good floral measure. I think there were some sliced rose petals in there as well. As you can see, the salad bordered on the garish, it was so colorful! Currently, our gorgeously crimson bee balm is flowering — you can pull the petals off those and toss them into salads for some beautiful color and taste, and our nasturtiums, started from seed a little late, have also started to flower. Both leaves and flowers add a peppery bite to a green salad that needs no other adornment. When I started researching what flowers could be safely consumed a couple of years ago, I was astonished at how many I already had in my yard! I have bookmarked this list of edible flowers and use it to double check plants I’m not sure about.
Back to day lilies. One afternoon Dante announced that he had something special planned for dessert. Since raspberries and wild black raspberries were also in season, he and Lucia collected a basket of berries and some day lily blossoms and disappeared into the kitchen, forbidding me to follow. He chopped up some sorrel and berries, mashing this all together a bit with some finely diced apples and the juice of half a lemon. He stuffed this mixture into the blossoms, and lay them on a plate. He put the rest of the chopped fruit mixture into the Vita-Mix to make a sauce, which he drizzled over the blossoms. We devoured this treat and wished we had more.
One caution — eating too many day lily flowers in one sitting can cause digestive upset in some people. Proceed with care until you know how many you can handle, or plan to stay close to a bathroom the next day!
If you are lucky to have a thick patch of these nearby, you can also harvest and eat the shoots raw or cooked in the early spring. Once leaves are 8-12 inches high, they will become too fibrous to enjoy. Unopened buds can be prepared much as you would green beans, and spent flowers that bloomed the previous day can be added to soups, stews, or stir-fry. The tubers at the tips of the rhizomes are also edible all year long, but the general consensus in our wild edibles books seems to be that unless you are in a survival situation, they are simply not worth the work.
Be sure to identify stands of them this summer. Otherwise, if you find a likely patch in the spring, dig up a clump and look at the root system. The underground stems (rhizomes) that end in tubers distinguish them from poisonous lilies. As with all wild edibles, you must be sure that they are free from contamination — roadsides and farms or yards that use chemical pesticides and herbicides can taint nearby wild edibles with toxins.