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The daylily, Hemerocallis fulva

Blog | By Elisabeth Luard | May 13, 2024

Orange daylily, possibly a garden hybrid cultivar. Photographed by George Chernilevsky

The daylily, Hemerocallis fulva - also known as tiger lily for the speckled pattern on the petals, and as orange lily to distinguish it from other garden lilies, some of which are toxic - is an edible, oriental native, widespread in the gardens of Britain and naturalised along highways in the US.

The trumpet-like blooms unfold in succession from early summer to late autumn, developing in a single day from bud to blossom to a shrunken bundle of needle-like petals, the form in which they’re dried for use in Chinese cooking and sold in oriental supermarkets.

When fresh, the flowers have a delicate lily-of-the-valley fragrance, a mild, slightly sweet flavour of cucumber and a crisp, lettuce-like texture that softens to a mush as soon as heat is applied. To use in salads, shred, including the calyx for a little added firmness. The blossoms can be stuffed and frittered, as with courgette flowers, or shredded and stirred into a risotto or pillau at the end of cooking. The young leaf shoots that appear among last year’s debris can also be eaten, though it’s wise to take note of where they grow, to avoid confusion with any other lily.

The buds lack fragrance but stay firm if stir-fried briefly, when texture and taste is much like okra. To dry your own as golden needles, a flavouring ingredient in broths and soupy noodles, gather the withered blossoms at the end of a dry day, slice off the fleshy calyx and spread the bunched petals on newspaper, turning regularly till all the moisture has evaporated. To use, soak in warm water to soften, tie a knot in the middle so the flowers hold their shape, and allow a minute or two in hot broth.

ELISABETH LUARD, @elisabethluard.