Daylilies: The hardy and edible summer bloom that's easy to find
Much like zucchini blossoms, these one-day wonders can be stuffed and served with tomato sauce
The common daylily’s blooms are somewhat coarse, its vintage 1970s hue isn’t the prettiest colour on the spectrum and perhaps it seems a tad overdone. But to me, this plant native to Asia feels antique, like hollyhocks and lily of the valley. That’s one of the reasons I, and others who like this species of daylily, really like it. Other reasons? It’s hardy and hard to kill, it’s tolerant of all sorts of environmental ups and downs, it blooms like a champ and almost all of its parts are edible.
The daylily is also known as the orange daylily, ditch lily, railroad lily, roadside daylily and — my personal favourite — the outhouse lily. Some mistakenly refer to it as a “tiger lily,” but that’s another plant altogether. Though the orange blooms can look similar, the foliage and stalks are completely different. Tiger lilies, like Asiatic and Easter lilies, are toxic to cats.
Before eating any lily, make sure they are true daylilies (certain species of lily are highly poisonous when consumed) and have not been sprayed with pesticides. Also, best to try a small amount first to ensure there’s no negative reaction.
In the garden
Needing little to no care, suffering few to no pests or diseases, tolerating dry to moist conditions and full sun to part shade (though they bloom best in full sun), the daylily is almost foolproof. So foolproof, in fact, that some consider it an invasive species.
In the kitchen
Daylilies are named for the fact that each of their many blooms fades and drops off after only a day, but that just means that every stalk (scape) is loaded with lilies in waiting. And those buds are delicious, tasting somewhere between green beans and asparagus. I like to fry them up over high heat for a minute or two with butter, salt, pepper and slivered almonds.
Freshly opened, the flowers are comparable in taste to sweet iceberg lettuce. Add them to salads, use them as garnishes or simply snack on them in the garden, but be sure to discard the pollen-dusted stamens first.
If your daylily patch is running amok — and it can — eat the tubers. Buried under the soil, the thickened roots can be enjoyed like Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes) from late fall until early spring, but not in summer. By then, the sugars and juices have been used up by the plant, leaving the roots skinny and dry.
Stuffed Daylilies with Fresh Tomato Sauce
You may have seen this technique done with zucchini or squash blossoms. The petals of daylilies are less grip-y and cooperative than the somewhat Velcro-like squash flowers, but I think daylily flowers, being crisp like lettuce, have a better texture.
For the prettiest results, pick the flowers when you’re ready to start cooking. If you have to pick them earlier, keep them cool — but not cold — in a covered container. Always pick newly opened blossoms, and harvest one or two more blossoms than the eight called for, since sometimes a petal breaks or tears. You can make the herbed ricotta filling up to a day in advance; keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to stuff your flowers.
- ½ cup ricotta, room temperature
- ¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tbsp 35% cream
- Pinch sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 tsp finely chopped monarda, mint or basil leaves
- 8 newly opened common daylily blossoms, stamens removed
- Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
- Edible flowers, for garnish (optional)
- ¼ cup dry or fresh white unseasoned or Italian-style bread crumbs
- ¼ cup verjus or lemon juice
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- ½ cup coarsely chopped fresh tomato
- ¼ tsp fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh basil
- 6-8 cherry tomatoes, for garnish
Harvest the blossoms and remove their stamens.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the ricotta, Parmesan, cream, salt, pepper and fresh herbs until smooth. Transfer to a piping bag or plastic sandwich bag and allow to chill in the fridge for about 10–15 minutes.
If using a piping bag, select a smallish tip (a 2 or a 3). If using a plastic sandwich bag, snip a tiny corner off. Hold each flower carefully in one hand and squeeze the filling in with the other, using about 1 to 2 tablespoons of filling per bloom. Fill all eight, set aside and keep chilled until ready to serve.
Add all sauce ingredients, except the basil and cherry tomatoes, to a blender. Set aside for about 5 minutes to allow the bread crumbs to soften, then blend until smooth. Add the fresh basil to the tomato mixture and pulse once or twice to incorporate.
Spoon the sauce onto one big family-style platter and place stuffed flowers on top, or divide between individual salad plates, placing 2 stuffed flowers onto each saucy plate. Garnish with edible flowers, cherry tomatoes and a final drizzle of olive oil.
Serve with crusty bread.
Yield: Makes 4 appetizer/side servings
Signe Langford is a restaurant chef-turned-writer from Hudson, Que., now living in Port Hope, Ont. She tells award-winning stories and creates delicious recipes for such publications as: Harrowsmith (where she’s the food editor), LCBO’s Food & Drink, Today’s Parent and Watershed. In 2015, she published her award-winning book, Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs: Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden with 100 Recipes. Follow her @sigster64.