Delicious Flowers: Lilies

Delicious flowers growing in your back yard are just waiting to be collected served up as part of a memorable summer meal.

| July/August 1980

  • 064 delicious flowers - field of lilies
    Trout lilies—one of several delicious flowers in the lily family—spread across a field in the Rocky Mountains. INSET: It's best to dig up the bulbs of this flower in late spring.
  • 064 delicious flowers - two panels
    LEFT: The familiar day lily (Hemerocallis fulva) provides tasty shoots, buds, and blossoms. RIGHT: Camassia scilloides often covers meadows with a luxurious carpet of blooms in the first days of summer.
  • 064 delicious flowers - eastern camass
    The eastern camass (also know as wild hyacinth) has an edible corm root and delicate lavender flowers.

  • 064 delicious flowers - field of lilies
  • 064 delicious flowers - two panels
  • 064 delicious flowers - eastern camass

Although you've no doubt noticed the riotous display of color that can often be found in pastures, woods, and fields at this time of year, you may not know that there's another way to enjoy summer's wildflowers ... in tasty dinner dishes! The alert forager can find an abundance of edible and delicious flowers, particularly in many members of the lily family—several of which bloom in late summer.

The classification Liliaceae—an enormous and diverse family—provides an especially rich variety of wild food ... in addition to such domesticated delicacies as leeks, onions, garlic, chives, and shallots. The group includes the so-called "true lilies" (members of the genus Lilium ) and many other genera as well. (Even though some of the 20 Lilium species native to North America are being threatened by the expansion of agricultural land or by excessive harvesting for ornamental purposes, not all lilies are in danger of extinction ... and the abundant varieties can tempt foragers with tasty bulbs, shoots, leaves, and blossoms.)   

A Lily a Day

The familiar day lily (one decidedly unendangered species) will make a delicious contribution to any meal of wild foods. Chances are there's a bumper crop of the flowers within a short walk from your home ... so why not use the surplus plants to enliven your family's dinner menu? Such thinning won't hurt the flower stand at all, since the hardy plants reseed and spread quite readily. 

Hemerocallis fulva is a perennial herb—native to an area stretching from New Brunswick to Ontario, then southward across much of the United States—which bears long, sword-like leaves and trumpet-shaped orange blooms. Day lilies are a "double-barreled" food source, too ... since they have edible portions that can be harvested during both warm and cold seasons.

The early spring shoots are delicious when eaten raw in salads ... and, some months later, you can gather the nearly full-sized unopened buds, cook them in boiling water, add butter and seasoning, and serve them like green beans. Furthermore, the fully opened blossoms—which, because they last only one day, give the flower its name—make delicious fritters when dipped in a rich egg batter and quick-fried to a deep golden brown. You can also add the flavorful buds and blooms (or even the withered flowers) to soups and stews.

Many wild food enthusiasts claim that lilies actually taste better after they've been dried ... and it's quite easy to dehydrate the buds and blossoms in your own attic (or in any warm, arid room). Simply spread the freshly gathered flower parts on sheets of newspaper for about one week ... or string them on heavy thread and hang them up. After they've completely dried, you can store the buds and flowers in separate airtight containers. Then—when you're ready to use them in recipes—regenerate the dehydrated blooms by soaking them in warm water (to cover) until they're soft and pliable again.

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