A Curious History of Vegetables: Aphrodisiacal and Healing Properties, Folk Tales, Garden Tips, and Recipes - Wolf D. Storl (2016)
Forgotten, Rare, and Less-Known Vegetables
Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva)
Family: Xanthorrhoeaceae: grass lily family; subfamily: Asphodeloideae
Other Names: ditch lily or fulvous daylily, outhouse lily, railroad daylily, roadside daylily, tawny daylily, tiger daylily, tiger lily, washhouse lily
Healing Properties: reduces inflammation, relaxes muscles, cleanses system, promotes urination (diuretic)
Symbolic Meaning: St. Josef, tenderness, purity; insouciance, nonchalance (Chinese)
Planetary Affiliation: moon, Jupiter
The daylily, with its funnel-shaped blossom, which can range in color from yellow/ocher to salmon, is a common garden flower that is easy to cultivate; once planted, the May-to-July bloomer is a reliable perennial. In the traditional folklore of Europe it was called “Saint-Joseph’s-lily” (giglio di San Giuseppe) whereas the white lily belonged to his wife, the pure Virgin Mary. Though the plant blossoms profusely, each individual flower blossoms for only one day, from sunrise to sunset. Because of this Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) gave the plant the name “Hemerocallis” (from the Greek hemera = day, kallos = beautiful). The daylily reproduces not via seeds but via rhizomes—which makes it even more surprising that it grows wild in so many places. The plant’s reproduction is ensured via the distribution of its root parts by rodents, voles, hamsters, and humans.
The daylily—which is in fact not even a lily but a member of the asphodel family—originated in eastern Asia. The plant was unknown in Europe before the Renaissance; this new kind of “lily” was first mentioned in the sixteenth century by French and Belgian botanists such as Rembert Dodoens, Carolus Clusius, and Matthias de l’Obel. An American botanist commented in 1812 that these flowers grew wild around Philadelphia. Nowadays daylilies can be found all over the midwestern states on roadsides and riverbanks and in wet meadows. Enthusiastic admirers have cultivated over thirty thousand different registered varieties.
In China, Japan, and Korea the daylily has been cultivated for thousands of years as a vegetable. The plants are mainly found growing in clusters on dykes between rice paddies. The young shoots are harvested in the spring and prepared like asparagus; they can also be added raw to salads. The buds are also very popular braised in a wok, deep-fried in batter, or added to soups. The blossoms (from the Chinese jin zhen cai), which are somewhat slimy and have a sweetish tangy taste, are good for garnishing a soup or as a decorative touch to a salad. In East Asia the dried blossoms—called “golden needles”—are used as seasoning. One may very well enjoy golden needle seasoning in a Chinese restaurant without knowing it. The short, fleshy storage root is also edible but it is fairly difficult to harvest and clean. The roots taste best in the spring when they are fresh and tender. They can be added to soups or boiled in salt water as a vegetable. They taste like a mixture between corn and oyster plant. The daylily is also nourishing: the roots contain protein and some oil; the blossoms contain beta-carotene and vitamin C.
Japanese aboriginals, the Ainu, who are known for their bear cult and full, bushy hair, gather the wild plant in great quantities. They dry the blossoms or pickle them in salt brine. The Chinese name for the daylily is “xuan-cao”—xuan means “forget worries”; cao means “herb.” Thus, it is considered a plant via which one can forget one’s worries. Eating a lot of the shoots is said to have an almost psychedelic effect—or in any case to be very relaxing. The effect must be very mild, though, as none of my drug-wise, old hippy friends knew about it, and as Christian Rätsch didn’t mention it in his Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants.
As the plant is described as “sweet” and “cool,” masters of herbal lore such as Nicholas Culpeper, had he known about it, could have confidently attributed the plant as under the influence of the moon and Jupiter.
In the ancient Chinese herbal book Shennong Bencaojing (third century BC), the daylily is mentioned as a healing plant. In Chinese folk medicine—which has more uses for the plant than official academic medicine does—it is known as a healing agent for jaundice and as a diuretic. The root is used for venereal and urinary diseases. It is added to pig meat dishes to strengthen those who have “feverish states of exhaustion”; for intestinal bleeding it is cooked in wine and drunk. Cooked mashed roots are applied hot as a poultice for inflamed breasts (mastitis). The blossoms are considered to be cleansing, calming, and relaxing; dried blossoms are used for hematuria. Tea made of the dried plant is considered relaxing, detoxifying, and pain relieving.
As eastern Asian folk medicine is not easy to follow, I have not included any specific recipes for the daylily. But there is no reason to not have this beautiful plant in one’s garden and to try it out as a vegetable: with one significant caveat. It is very important to be certain you have the right plant (Hemerocallis fulva); there are many similar-looking plants that are rather poisonous, such as various lilies, irises, or daffodils. Do grow them, but grow them well informed!
Daylilies with Onion Pie ✵ 4 SERVINGS
1½ cups (340 grams) shortcrust pastry dough ✵ 1½ cups (340 grams) onions, chopped ✵ 5 ounces (140 grams) daylily blossoms ✵ 1 tablespoon olive oil ✵ 7 ounces cream (200 milliliters) (18% fat) ✵ 7 ounces (200 milliliters) cottage cheese ✵ 2 tablespoons lentil flour ✵ 2 eggs ✵ 2 pinches ground nutmeg ✵ herbal salt
Preheat the oven to 300 °F (150 °C). Grease a pie pan. Roll out the dough to about ¼ inch thick and fit into the pie pan. In a medium sauté pan, sauté the onions and daylily blossoms in the olive oil for about 10 minutes or until the onions are glassy. Take off heat and let cool. Spread the onions and blossoms evenly in the pie pan. In a medium bowl mix the cream, cottage cheese, and eggs until smooth. Season with nutmeg and herbal salt to taste. Pour this mixture over the pie. Bake at 300 ˚F (150 ˚C) for 35 to 40 minutes. Serve warm.
TIP: This dish pairs nicely with a green salad.