We Westerners usually grow hostas as ornamental plants, but did you know that they are also edible?
In Japan, some species, such as Hosta montana and H. sieboldiana, are grown as vegetables and people also harvest them from the wild to put on the table. You’ll easily find spring shoots in supermarkets under the name urui and Japanese farmers also raise hostas in greenhouses to hasten the season and offer them as early as January.
All hostas are edible: there are no exceptions. The taste is difficult to describe, but it makes me think of asparagus or maybe peas with a touch of endive. They are eaten lightly cooked or raw.
When to Harvest
Hostas are usually harvested in spring because shoots and young leaves are more tender and less bitter than mature leaves.
The flowers are also eaten, later in the season of course. The so-called August lily or plantain hosta, Hosta plantaginea, with its large fragrant white flowers, is said to have the most delicious flower of any hosta. It blooms very late, in August in many areas, but in September where I live.
In China, fields of H. plantaginea, which honey bees adore, are also grown for honey production.
Toxic to Pets
Curiously, while humans – and also slugs and deer! – can gobble down hostas to their heart’s content, they are toxic to dogs, cats, horses and fish because of the saponins they contain. Fortunately, pets rarely seem to show any interest in them (I’ve raised both cats and dogs near hostas and have never seen them so much as nibble a leaf.)
In your home garden, where hosta leaves are see as highly ornamental, sacrificing them may seem exaggerated, but hosta flowers are usually seen as less attractive and indeed some gardeners simply cut them off whenever they see them. Well, if you’re cutting them off anyway, you might as well put them to good use: this summer, therefore, add a few hosta flowers to your salad and you’ll see how good delicious they can be!