The growing interest in edible plants has stimulated many people to take up gardening. And now, in front of every plant in the garden, in front of every plant in the nursery, a mass of hungry gardeners (including myself) are asking in chorus “Is this edible?”
Good news for those foodies, the two most popular perennials found in just about every garden in the world are edible plants! And I named hostas (Hosta spp.) and daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.).
It should be mentioned that hostas and daylilies were once part of a large botanical family, the Liliaceae. It is in this family that we find garlic, onions and chives (Allium spp.). This gives us a good clue about edibility, even if we shouldn’t generalize. Not all plants of the ancient Liliaceae family are edible. Nowadays, Alliums are now in the Amaryllidaceae family. Daylilies have swelled the ranks of Asphodelaceae and hostas have become close cousins of asparagus, being classified in the Asparagaceae family!
How to Pick Hostas and Daylilies Sprouts?
The edible parts of these two plants are the young spring shoots. It is therefore as soon as life resumes in the garden that we can switch to harvest mode. In hostas, the best shoots are those that are well pointed and that protrude 5 to 10 cm from the ground. The leaves should be tightly packed. Of course, the length of the shoots and their diameter depend on the hosta cultivar. With a sharp knife (a gardener’s knife is also a good tool for harvesting), the plant is cut slightly underground. The white part is the tastiest. Give them a good rinse to dislodge the soil and the shoots are ready for the kitchen.
It’s essentially the same process for daylilies, except that the leaves should be a bit longer. Choose young shoots of about 10 or 15 cm long, including the leaves. Harvest them in the same way as hostas, then rinse. I prefer to cut the leaves at the end to keep the “stem” portion only.
As with any crop of edible plants, picking should not be overdone. Each shoot that is cut is one less leaf for the plant. On a mature plant, about a quarter of the shoots can be harvested without causing too much damage. This picking can act as a mode of control for overly vigorous varieties.
It is also worth pointing out that all cultivars of hostas and daylilies are edible, but that in general the heirloom varieties or pure species have a better flavor. There is a slight difference in taste from one variety to another, but it is very subtle. For my part, I prefer the shoots of medium-sized hostas; I find the sprouts of my gigantic ‘Sum and Substance’ too big for my plate!
How to cook them?
Once rinsed and prepared, these sprouts are cooked like asparagus. They can be blanched, baked on an oiled baking sheet or sautéed in a frying pan. In the case of hostas, you can even slice them into rings and use them like leeks.
Either way, the taste is a happy mixture of sweet onion and asparagus, the daylilies leaning more towards the garlic flavor.
Eat the Flowers Too!
The beauty of hostas and daylilies is that their edibility doesn’t stop with the young shoots of spring. You can also eat hosta leaves in salads. And, the flowers of hostas and daylilies are also edible! And this time, we are entitled the taste of lightly scented lettuce!
Hosta and daylily sprouts can fill that little spring food void. When the vegetable garden is not even sown and planted yet, we can always count on sorrel, dandelion leaves, and now hostas and daylilies, to meet our needs for fresh greens. Have fun discovering these treats!