Sherri has expertise in landscape design. Some of her hobbies include gardening and cooking.
An Important Disclaimer
The information presented here is to help you decide whether to incorporate daylilies (Hemerocallis) into your diet. There is much controversy on the subject. Resources are conflicting and difficult to navigate because of the misunderstanding of the Hemerocallis taxonomy and also because of the huge number of Hemerocallis hybrids which have been developed in recent years. This article seeks only to inform about the daylily, its reported culinary uses, and its suspected ill-effects on cats, bovines, and possibly, humans. I do not advise you to eat daylilies or to expose your animals to them without your doing the work of assessing your own risk.
The Safety of Eating Daylilies Is Controversial
Although people around the world have been eating daylilies for hundreds (perhaps thousands) of years, this nutritious food has never made it into the mainstay of Western cooking. Those of us in the West who know how to enjoy daylilies as food have learned to do so through family and community traditions, but most of us will never see a daylily stir-fry or a daylily breakfast hash on any restaurant menu or in any mainstream cookbook.
We've come to know the daylily, for the most part, only as an ornamental flower in the garden, or even as a roadside weed, and thus are unaware of its food value, but another hindrance to appreciating the daylily as a food source is that there is controversy over whether the daylily is safe to eat.
Let me define the reasons for controversy in order to help you sort out your own thinking about whether you should eat this flower.
Confusion Between “Daylily” vs. “Lily”
Much of the confusion of whether daylilies are safe to eat is caused by the semantic legacy surrounding the word “lily.” The common names “daylily” and “lily” have become, at some times and in some places in the world, interchangeable terms for describing plants belonging to two very different plant families.
Take the common term “tiger lily” for example. I know “tiger lily” as a name applied to two different plants, one a daylily (the family Xanthorrhoeaceae, subfamily Hemerocallidoideae) and one a lily (the family Liliaceae). The first is generally agreed to be safe to eat, while the second is well-documented as being toxic to animal forms including human.
I think you can see how one person might say, “I had such a wonderful tiger lily hash for breakfast this morning,” while his friend might respond, “You’ll be dead by nightfall. I'm calling 911!”
The Scientific Classification of Daylilies Changed in 2009
Prior to 2009, the scientific classification of daylilies put them into the family Liliaceae. Many Liliaceae species, including that toxic tiger lily just mentioned (along with the commonly named Easter and Asian lilies), have long been known to be harmful to forms of animal life including humans, and so some came to assume that daylilies shared the specific toxic properties of lilies. They do not.
In 2009, under the APG III system, daylilies were removed from the Liliaceae family and assigned to the Xanthorrhoeaceae family, subfamily Hemerocallidoideae.
The Old and New Classifications of Hemerocallis
|Old Classification||New Classification - APG III|
Subkingdom: Tracheobionta (Vascular plants)
Superdivision: Spermatophyta (Seed plants)
Division: Magnoliophyta (Flowering plants)
Class: Liliopsida (Monocotyledons)
Family: Liliaceae (Lily family)
Genus: Hemerocallis L. (Daylily)
Unfortunately, many sources on the web and elsewhere have not taken this change of scientific classification into account.
The most amazing example I found of this lack of updating was on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) website, where the old taxonomy continues to be published, whereas on another page on the very same website discusses a study done in 2004 that states, “All parts of the daylily (Hemerocallis sp.) are edible.” Technically (taxonomically) in the most narrow sense, these two USDA pages are not at odds with each other; however, they continue to confuse the understanding that a daylily is different from a lily, because neither the USDA taxonomy nor the reference to “Hemerocallis sp.” in the 2004 study reflects the 2009 change in classification, while the latter says that all parts of the daylily are edible. Confused yet? Wait…it will get worse when we talk about purported daylily toxicity related to felines, bovines, and humans later on in this article.
To the Untrained Eye, the Two Flowers Look Similar
You can tell the difference between a daylily and a lily such as the tiger, Easter, and Asian lilies mentioned earlier (lilies in the genus Lilium and the lilies most commonly confused with daylilies) by looking at them as they present above the ground and below. The two have structural differences in foliage, flower orientation, and root systems. The differences are easy to see once you know them.
The daylily foliage looks like a fan of long and strappy grass-like leaves emanating from the base of the plant. Lily leaves, on the other hand, are more lance- or arrow-shaped and grow from a prominent stalk.
Daylily flowers tend to point themselves up from their stems, while lily flowers usually, although not always (as in the above photo of the tiger lily from the Liliaceae family), have a more pendulous aspect, dipping down from their stems.
What you can be sure of is this: If a lily-looking flower has a down-hanging aspect, with its petals curled upwards, then it’s not a daylily.
Daylily roots consist of tubers and fibrous roots. Tubers are small, bulbous, potato-looking structures. Lily roots are, for the most part, bulbs consisting of oblong or arrowhead-shaped scales.
For more information on identifying daylilies, take a look at this excellent photo guide on how to identify daylilies.
There Is Debate About Toxicity to Cats, Cows, and Humans
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) states definitively that daylilies are poisonous to cats and cows, although it cites no scientific sources and at the same time describes Hemerocallis as belonging to the Liliaceae family.
The American Hemerocallis Society takes no stand on whether daylilies are toxic to cats and cows. Instead, they publish a series of questions on the topic and present the answers they solicited from plant and veterinary experts. This “Q & A” page is a revealing look into the two opposing camps regarding daylily toxicity.
A post on The House on Red Hill blog brings this issue into focus from the point of view of a cat owner and long-time daylily gardener who learns for the first time, from a poster in the vet’s office, that daylilies are lethal to cats. The blog post is short. The more lengthy comments are worth reading, especially the comments from dynochic( Jan) which illuminate the confusion caused by continuing to include daylilies in the Liliaceae family and offer interesting although unconfirmed evidence that daylilies are not poisonous to cats.
How About Humans?
Botanist Dr. Peter A. Gail, an expert in daylily and other edible foraged foods, advises that humans approach the consumption of daylilies with caution. Why? Any newly introduced food may trigger an allergic reaction, or, any food eaten in excess may have an adverse effect on a specific individual; however, neither an allergic reaction nor an intolerance to a certain food indicates that the food is classified as poisonous.
Just to add to the confusion over whether we humans should eat our daylilies, MerriwetherForager, a Ph.D. research chemist and naturalist, advises that you stick to Hemerocallis fulva, the most well-known daylily species, and avoid the newer hybrids, some of which may be toxic.
So, Should You Eat Your Daylilies?
I look forward some day soon to writing an article about eating daylilies where I can affirm that not only are they good for you, they are completely safe to eat. As of now, too much controversy exists about the daylily being a safe food. Until that affirming day, use your judgment, informed by the information referenced in this article and by the advice of real-life daylily-eaters you know, before you introduce this nutritious and beautiful plant into your diet. As with all new and exciting adventures you approach, begin with moderation.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Jenny Yang on June 14, 2020:
Chinese have been eaten daylily buds for thousands of years. But never use them fresh. The fresh ones content a chemical “colchicine”, itself is not poisonous, but once it go into animal’s body it becomes toxic. The colchicine easy to resolve in water, you need steam the daylily buds and dry them before cook to eat. The buds do have medicinal properties, but be careful.
Jared Fisher on April 25, 2020:
Tiger Lily is edible as well not sure why you claim they are toxic
Randall on April 21, 2020:
I have eaten thousands; I’m still here. Great source of food in the woods and tasty.
Dr. F on April 08, 2020:
You can stuff the flowers with rice. This is how the are prepared in Greece!
S.C. on March 30, 2020:
Look up from an actually reputable source, don't take my word for it, or this page's Tiger lilies are not poisonous. . this misinformation is repeated all over the internet.
Maggie on July 16, 2018:
One of my favourite wild edibles! Lovely sauteed briefly with some garlic scapes and butter, or added to a vegetable stir-fry. Beautiful on top of a colourful salad! Looks fancy on a dessert plate
Toxic_ on May 21, 2018:
Thanks for the valuable Information.
Nguyen, MD on August 06, 2017:
This is a very helpful article.
I love this kind of edible flowers
Jo-Dee on August 02, 2017:
I found this very informative and interesting. Was looking for info as i had recently learned they were edible and i have a bunch growing so i tryed them and found them delicious! Thank you for the great info.
Sam Orr on July 07, 2017:
I ate a bunch of them about 35 years ago..Sauteed them in a little butter and they were fabulous. Picked them toward evening when the flowers were closed up. But for your post I might have confused them going forward with tiger lilies and accidentally killed myself. You did a very good job of how to distinguish one from the other and may have saved my life.
Rocky hughes on July 06, 2016:
I've been eating Chinese hot soup for years and daylillies are one ingredient.
Mai Cheng on July 02, 2016:
Daylily is edible. In Taiwan, China, & most Eastern Asia, it is very common food that has been eaten for hundred years. Buds before opening up are collected & dried which are called "golden needles" sold as dried food in the same way as Oriental black dried mushrooms. Tiger lily is toxic and not edible, however, daylily is edible. I grow both of them in my flowers garden in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Three years ago, I visited my hometown in Taipei, Taiwan. My family had reunion dinner in a Taipei famous restaurant that serve this green daylily buds dish deliciously. It was stir fried. It has a very short period which can be harvested or served in the menu of a famous restaurant. I love & enjoy this real interesting hub, which provides important information how to identify edible daylily and other non edible lilies plants.
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on April 03, 2015:
Real interesting hub. I love tiger lilies and day lilies and never thought they could be edible. Voted up!
Loveofnight Anderson from Baltimore, Maryland on November 11, 2013:
wow.....thanks for all of the information, i found this article very interesting. i must admit that i would like to try them because i am open to new things. I believe that i am now going to be on the look-out for them. i may be able to find them in the eatable plant section of my grocers.
Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on November 11, 2013:
Hi Sherri - haven't read one of your hubs in some time. I love a bit of controversy! I've always wanted to try eating daylilies but now you have me thinking. The whole thing reminds me of people who gather wild mushrooms - you better know what you are doing!
Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on December 05, 2012:
Millionaire Tips, I must say I'm not crazy about the taste of daylilies unless they are batter-fried, where all the taste is in the breading. They are such a nice vehicle for a fried batter. However, I do go grazing in the garden and eat a fresh blossom now and again just to celebrate that a beautiful flower can be appreciated by more senses than just smell and vision. Sometimes those fresh blossoms have a bit of insect life in them, but I don't mind. I just pinch the blooms and enjoy the light texture and crunch.
I hope you give them a try next season. You might want to pick a bloom and then rinse well under cool water to get rid of the bugs. I'd love to know what you think. :)
Shasta Matova from USA on December 04, 2012:
This is really interesting - I had no idea that daylilies were edible, or that there was so much debate on the topic. They do grow in my garden. I might have to try to taste one next summer.
Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on October 04, 2012:
Come on over, Micky. I still have a couple of scapes that will have a blossom or two soon. :)
Micky Dee on October 04, 2012:
I wish I had a day-lily salad right now.
Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on October 04, 2012:
@AudreyHowitt, thank you so much for your lovely comment. :) Until I started researching daylily recipes, I didn't realize there was a conflict, either. But then, I'd always known the difference between a lily and a daylily and knew better not to eat the former. However, this controversy over newer daylily hybrids is absolutely new to me.
@Dardia, I did not know spiderwort was edible. What good information! Thank you for sharing your experiences and for the vote and share. :)
Darlene Yager from Michigan on October 03, 2012:
Daylilies have a slightly sweet aromatic flavor. Spiderwort which looks a lot like an Asian lily is another edible flower that tastes similar. Nice hub! Very informative! Voting up and clicking the facebook like button.
Audrey Howitt from California on October 03, 2012:
I did not even know that there was a conflict about this--I found your article so informative and so beautifully laid out--
Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on September 01, 2012:
Daylilies aren't for everyone, that's for sure! Glad you found this interesting, and thank you for the votes. :)
Phyllis Doyle Burns from High desert of Nevada. on August 31, 2012:
Great hub! I do not think I would ever eat day lilies, but your hub and the images, the info you gathered, is work well done. Voted up and interesting.
Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on August 21, 2012:
Thank you, ishwaryaa22, for your comment. It pleases me to know that others are open to the idea of learning not only the subtle differences between flowers but also are open to the idea of exploring new food sources. Roses and lotuses are not common foods here, and so you bring that good experience from your country to this discussion. And thanks so much for sharing and the good votes. :)
Ishwaryaa Dhandapani from Chennai, India on August 21, 2012:
An informative hub! I have heard that many ate different flowers for their unique tastes and flavors. In my country, they used roses and lotuses in some of their dishes. Now I learnt the difference between daylilies and lilies thanks to you. An engaging hub with all the reasons of this pretty flower being a strong topic of debate! Well-done!
Thanks for SHARING. Useful & Interesting. Voted up
Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on August 14, 2012:
LOL, Martie. There is doubt about eating these very nutritious (although not always tasty) plants. Most of the problem is making sure the right plant is identified. Then, there is the beauty aspect...why eat them when they are so beautiful as flowers? At the same time, they produce an enormous amount of edible material.
TY so much for your comment. :) I'm glad to hear daylilies have wonderful lives in South Africa. Wish I could see them there.
Martie Coetser from South Africa on August 14, 2012:
Sally, this is a very interesting hub about Daylilies. I have many in my garden where they look absolutely awesome. I will rather not eat them.
Voted up, well-written and well-presented :)
Micky Dee on July 23, 2012:
I've served day-lilies in salads at the Bicycle Inn. Just the leaves. I've eaten them on the plant. They have a light taste or no taste. I'm sure they're better for us than iceberg lettuce.
Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on July 18, 2012:
Micky Dee, this is the kind of testimonial I want to see. Your anecdotal experience needs more attention.
There are awesome recipes on the web for daylily flowers, greens, and tubers. I'll bet you could add to that body of knowledge.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 18, 2012:
Interesting hub for sure! I have grown both daylilies as well as tiger lilies in the past. I think that I would rather have the beauty of them blooming in the yard rather than looking towards them as a food source. Will err on the side of safety for now. Voted up and interesting. Thanks!
Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on July 17, 2012:
moonlake, you are not alone! Not everyone wants to eat daylilies. I agree that they are beautiful and have an honored place in the garden as ornamentals, and more.
A friend of mine has planted them for erosion control...once these beauties establish themselves, it takes a tsunami to dislodge them.
Micky Dee on July 17, 2012:
I've eaten many day-lilies and will continue. I've also had cats living in day-lilies. They've lived longer than I - in cat years.
moonlake from America on July 16, 2012:
My yard is full of both daylilys and tigar lilies. I won't be eating any of them. This is a great hub with lots of information. I can tell the difference between my lilies but I sure don't know all their names. If their pretty I buy them and put them in the ground. Voted Up...
Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on July 16, 2012:
Interesting, Deb...the cooking class called them tiger lilies? I'm sure the instructor knew the difference between the true lily and the daylily, but this is a great example of how the term "tiger lily" perpetuates confusion. Thanks for your comment!
Deborah Neyens from Iowa on July 16, 2012:
Interesting hub. I once took a Chinese cooking class and one of the recipes called for tiger lilies, but that's the extent of my lily eating.
trish1048 on June 28, 2012:
Dandelions are as adventurous as I get :) Unless, of course, you want to count the times I've eaten mud, bugs, grass (and no, not the funny kind) and swallowed gallons of nasty ocean water. Those must be the reasons I don't feel daring, brave or adventurous :)
Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on June 28, 2012:
LOL, trish1048, where's your sense of adventure? I'll tell you what, you bring the dandelion wine for cocktail hour and I'll make the daylily poppers for an appetizer. :) Thank you, my friend, for reading and commenting.
trish1048 on June 27, 2012:
Ok, so now wasn't a good time to read this. The first two paragraphs made my head swim. I fully understand and appreciate now, why your brain was being taxed as well.
Lovely photos, excellent information (for those who understand this), however, that's not me.
I think I will stick to dandelion wine, thanks :)
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 27, 2012:
Oh, I know, they are all over around here...I just didn't know you could eat the damn things. LOL
Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on June 27, 2012:
LOL, billybuc, about the nasturtiums. I think it's hard to learn to eat things outside our early experiences. Flowers are for picking and putting into vases, not for eating, which is how most of us grew up. But there's a world of food goodness in flowers. One of my favorites is the chive flower (wrote a hub about that), spicy and dicey like the nasturtium, a perfect addition to a fresh green salad.
Thanks for reading and commenting... daylilies grow in your climate, you know. :) Take a look here: http://lilylanefarm.com/daylilies2.html
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 27, 2012:
Very interesting read filled with info I did not know; the illustrations are quite helpful....I had no idea people ate day lilies. I'm still training myself to eat nasturtiums. :) Great hub!
Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on June 23, 2012:
Thanks, Nell Rose, for your kind words. I'm so glad you found this article interesting and enjoyed the photos. :)
There are a surprising number of flowers which are edible. You may want to check out this list and its accompanying text from the Colorado State Extension Service.
Table 2 lists edible flowers by their Latin names, although it offers no pictures. It is interesting that the only Hemerocallis that appears on the list is fulva, to your point about cross-bred flowers...fulva seems to be universally regarded as "safe" to eat, although the same is not said for hybrid cultivars.
I'm sure there is extensive information from UK sources on the web as well.
Nell Rose from England on June 22, 2012:
I know there are various flowers that can be eaten and I think that really is the point as you mentioned, there are so many cross bred flowers not many of us know which ones are safe to eat or not, this was really interesting, and I love the photos too, cheers nell
Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on June 22, 2012:
Stephanie Henkel, thanks for sharing this great story. Bottom line, the daylilies didn't kill you after all. Apparently, from the literature, not all can tolerate them, like some can't tolerate lactose.
About Euell Gibbons, there was a rumor, I don't know if it was ever confirmed, that he died eating foraged foods. That's a sad testament to his life.
As for making dinner of the daylilies growing in your flower garden, well, how about a tiny appetizer?
Thanks so much for your awesome comment.
As for the Latin terms, I was graced by Juliet from Castanea (you can find her blog by following the link under the pic of daylily roots) to help me sort out the taxonomy.
Stephanie Henkel from USA on June 22, 2012:
Loved your hub, though I may still be a little confused by all the Latin names you've incorporated into your article! :)
Back in the '60's when I was in my "back to Nature" phase, I read Euell Gibbon's books on foraging for wild food and decided to try fried tiger lily blossoms. There were hundreds of them growing along the roadside, so I just went out and picked a bunch, dipped them in batter and fried 'em up. They actually tasted pretty good, though something had a little peppery flavor. Unfortunately, some part of the blossom did not agree with me. While I didn't have to call 911, I did spend most of the rest of the day and night within running distance of the bathroom...
According to your photographs, I'm pretty sure that these flowers were the edible daylilies, but I doubt I'll try them again!
Thanks for an interesting article! I now have several kinds of daylilies growing in my flower garden...hmmm...dinner?
Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on June 22, 2012:
Thanks for reading and commenting, Debbie. So glad you found this interesting!
Deborah Brooks Langford from Brownsville,TX on June 22, 2012:
I had no idea you can eat day lilies very interesting...
great hub..good information
Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on June 22, 2012:
b. Malin, thanks so much for your awesome comment. I'm delighted when I write something and readers tell me it's important and it shows them something new. :)
I'm so sorry to hear about Boo. There's so much trouble for a house cat to get into when it escapes. A house kitty just doesn't have the experience to avoid trouble, and its nine lives run out quickly.
b. Malin on June 22, 2012:
What a Wonderful and most Informative Hub, Sally. The differences in the term "Daylilies is Amazing...and I too, didn't know any of them could be Edible. My Son's cat died recently, and it was believed it had gotten out of the house, and ate something from the garden. "Boo" was a house cat. I too have some Large Potted Daylilies...which are Beautiful, but I can't picture myself eating any. Thanks for sharing this important Hub.
I now look forward to Following your Hubs.
Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on June 21, 2012:
drbj and robie2, I love that both of you would prefer to devour daylilies with your eyes rather than with your mouths! Truth be told, daylilies can be interesting to eat, and there are lots of good recipes on the web, but I like to just go munch the flowers raw right off the scape. They are crunchy and mildly "green" flavored (maybe like grass or fresh hay)...I can see why cats would like them.
Thank you both for your good words. :)
Roberta Kyle from Central New Jersey on June 20, 2012:
Gosh-- I never knew there was so much to know about lilies vs. daylilies etc. What a vast store of knowledge you have on the subject ST-- amazing. My tiger lilies are in bloom right now and I do enjoy looking at them, but I don't think I want to eat them so I'll pass on that-- but I voted this fabulous hub up and useful, interesting and awesome.
drbj and sherry from south Florida on June 20, 2012:
Gee, Sally, I never knew you could eat them in the first place. Think I'll continue to just admire rather than ingest them. Fascinating research, m'dear. Voted up, y'know..
Sherri (author) from Southeastern Pennsylvania on June 20, 2012:
Thank you all for your good words and votes. If y'all haven't tried daylilies for food, I hope this hub gives you the information you need to make a decision.
@Pamela-anne, I know what you mean about enjoying them in the garden but not necessarily in the garden salad. :) If you ever decide to introduce daylilies to your salad, I hope this hub gives you the information you need to make the right choice for you.
Kaili Bisson from Canada on June 19, 2012:
Fascinating Hub with great research. Thank you for sharing.
William E Krill Jr from Hollidaysburg, PA on June 19, 2012:
Wow. I love to learn stuff like this! Cool Hub!
Pamela-anne from Miller Lake on June 19, 2012:
Awesome hub really enjoyed this info something I never knew people ate but for now I will just enjoy their beauty in the garden not in my garden salad loved the pics too! take care pam.
mecheshier on June 19, 2012:
What an amazing Hub! You definitely did your research. Love the pics and amazing info. Thank you. Voted up for awesome.