"In wildness is the preservation of the world." -H.D. Thoreau

Why eat from the wild? The answer is obvious to anyone who has felt the emotional uplift from the weight of a basket brimming with morel mushrooms, the earthy-sweet scent of digging Sassafras roots, or the heavy pulsing of a fish testing the limits of your fly rod.
There are a million reasons to eat wild, to get dirty, to taste fresh food. It is here where we connect to the Earth, our Ancestral past, immediate present and hope for a healthy future...

"Nothing else can build such awareness as surely and powerfully as practicing the ancient ecological art of humankind - foraging. It is not observation of, but rather participation in the phenomena of Nature that brings us to our greatest understanding of our place in the mosaic of life."
-Samuel Thayer The Forager's Harvest

Foraging in the Tip of the Mitten!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Wildflowers of Summer: the Daylily

“Flowers... are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson, Gifts, 1844 
Everyone loves wildflowers. Constellations of the fields, ephemeral sparks in the forest understory, living jewels of the roadside - we invite them into our gardens and bring them home to enliven the windowsill or adorn a child's grapevine crown. I recall, in my early years, nearly any offense against my mother could be soothed by bringing her a bouquet of wildflowers. Her favorites were Queen Anne's Lace (aka Wild Carrot or Daucus carota) and Goldenrod (Salidago spp.), but any flowers we gathered would be placed in a jelly jar with water and made the centerpiece of our dining table. When flowers couldn't be found she delighted in the fruiting Chinese Bittersweet vines from which she made wreathes to decorate with and sell at antique shops.

Although I appreciate the beauty of all flowers, there are a few during this season of high summer that I actively seek because they are edible and delicious.The most well-known of these flowers is the Daylily.

"Daylily" is a name applied to a number of species in the genus Hemerocallus, but the one we are focusing on here is H. fulva aka Tawny or Orange Daylily. I grew up calling this plant "Tiger Lily" but  that name is mostly used for flowers in the Liliaceae family, or that of the true lilies, of which the Daylily was once considered part of, but botanists have since decided otherwise.

The Orange Daylily is native to Asia and has escaped cultivation here in the United States. They grow in dense mats with underground (and edible) tubers sprouting compressed stems from which alternatively outfold  flat lance-like leaves that get about 3 feet long. They are often seen along roadsides where seeds or tubers were dumped with lawn waste or near old homesteads in fields and forest edges. The buds begin to swell in early summer and open mid-summer and flower for only one day before closing up and wilting away, giving them their common name.

There are several edible parts of the Daylily: the tubers (spring and fall), the inner stalks (spring), the flower buds and the flowers themselves. The buds are often dried and sold in Asian markets as "golden needles" to be added to things like soups and stir fry. A great Taiwanese photo essay is available from photographer Dan Shih and emphasizes the abundance, beauty and culinary importance of this ubiquitous Asiatic flower:

Daylily buds and flowers have a very unique flavor and I have heard it described by people on my forays in every possible way. I find it both sweet and slightly savory, light and warming. One out of ten people I have fed it to has had a slight spicy and scratchy irritation in the back of the throat after swallowing, barely lasting more than a few minutes. Only once did I meet someone who disliked the sensation so much as to disregard the Daylily as edible. Most folks who experience the sensation aren't annoyed enough by it to stop eating Daylily. I have felt this sensation for ten years or more until, oddly enough, this very summer it just went away, thankfully.

Daylily buds can be steamed, sauteed, fried, pickled or eaten raw. Flowers are excellent in salads as a main ingredient or an edible garnish. The Resident Director's kids here at the farm love to put them in their ice tea glasses (for whatever reason) and discovered they can use the hollow stem as a straw.

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