My sister-in-law in Minnesota was telling me she wanted to add a nostalgic daylily to her new garden bed. Thinking about all of the new recent hybrids, I asked her to find a picture of the flower she remembered from her childhood. She happily pointed to the original of all daylilies, what we in Missouri call "ditch lilies."
The orange daylily now found along roadsides and too often pitched as a weed, has a noble, and delicious, history.
Originally from Asia, several historians said the plant made its way from China along the Silk Road to Europe and became a staple in European gardens.
When European settlers made it to North America in the 1600s, they brought their honeybees and daylilies as staples - bees for inexpensive sweetener, candle wax and caulk; orange and yellow daylilies as a reliable food source.
I fell in love with orange daylilies shortly after moving to Missouri.
As a gardener with more ambition than my pocketbook allowed, I quickly discovered the benefits of planting orange daylilies, especially since I seemed to end up gardening on hillsides. The plants quickly spread and their root structure made them great soil retainers.
They also will grow in almost anything, including clay and rocks.
Actually not sure they even need soil.
I had several clumps of daylilies waiting to be planted for several months on a back porch. Even though the green tops had died back, they settled in quite nicely once I decided where I wanted them in the garden.
Once they are planted, they are hard to remove so it's best to decide on a permanent spot!
Also referred to as the "perfect perennial," daylilies can be planted in all USDA hardiness zones and almost any time of year. They need only about 4 weeks in the ground to settle before frost.
I didn't appreciate the culinary aspect until I was working on a special magazine edition of life in Japan for the Navy a few years ago. Doing a very bad job of trying to speak Japanese with a local restaurant owner who was kind enough to share his daily meal leftovers with me, I was thrilled to recognize an orange daylily bud in a soup. Daylilies add a gelatinous texture to soups and stews, much like okra or chu-chu.
According to "Food Culture in Taiwan," orange daylilies are rich in vitamins, iron and protein. Indigenous Taiwanese often use sun-dried daylilies to make simple but delicious pork slice or pork sparerib soup.
Orange daylilies are also referred to in mainland China as "forget-stress grass" or "mother's flower." In ancient times, men preparing to go on a long journey would plant orange daylilies in the family garden for their mothers. The gesture was meant to ease mothers' yearning for their sons' return, and hence, the "forget-stress flower."
Page 2 of 2 - Jan Phillips in her book "Wild Edibles of Missouri" calls orange daylilies "another one of mother nature's grocery stores." Phillips says the whole plant is edible, from the young flower stalks in spring that taste like asparagus to the tiny, white root bulbs reminiscent of radishes.
Euell Gibbons in "Stalking the Wild Asparagus" describes how dried wilted flower buds may be even more flavorful than the fresh ones.
To dry, place on an old clean window screen or paper towel-lined baskets until dry. Store in jars or bags separately for later use. You can dry both flower buds or wilted flowers, although they will have a slightly different flavor and texture.
Over the years, I have used orange and yellow daylilies for salads and stuffed fare. Salmon or tuna salad inside the washed flowers is a lovely presentation, and the entire dish is edible.
I also like the flower buds fresh and eat them as a side vegetable. If I want to make it fancy, I steam them for a few minutes, which seems to bring out the green bean-like flavor with asparagus texture.
Haven't tried the dried wilted flowers yet. Have you?
Charlotte Ekker Wiggins is a certified gardener sharing gardening tips in a changing climate at http://www.gardeningcharlotte.com. Contact Charlotte at firstname.lastname@example.org.