Foraging Daylilies and Other Wild Edibles

Reader Contribution by Jo Devries
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Bouquet gathered quickly from roadside

Listen to this post! Audio is available from the Jo of the Woods Podcast.

I am learning about foraging. Nobody in my family forages, although my mom once made cabbage rolls using wild grape leaves. I remember them being delicious. My dad offered to pay us kids to dig up the dandelions in the yard so that he wouldn’t have to. He hated them. So did we and so declined after digging up the first few. Their roots go deep. The neighbours had their lawn sprayed to kill off their unwanted plants. Who knew you could eat them?

Very few people I’ve spoken to are interested in adding weeds to their diet. Why? We are surrounded by an abundance of free food in our natural surroundings. This is an opportunity at hand, blessings bestowed upon us, the fruits of Mother Earth.

We have been taught food comes from stores. We have been distracted by misleading advice and a lack of proper education concerning the things that count. We have overlooked the treasure trove of edibles that pop up out of nowhere, and everywhere, on this wonderful planet.

The average North American diet consists of a lot of processed food — junk food. It satisfies our cravings but doesn’t meet our nutritional needs. There’s an excess of sugar, starch, salt, fat, chemicals, colours and fillers. The average medicine cabinet is full of pill bottles. Many people depend on diet supplements and meal replacers to receive their required nutrients. The food industry, health and pharmaceutical markets are booming. Meanwhile, North America is suffering from poor nutrition. We have many unhealthy people seeking medical attention for an easy solution they don’t want to hear.

Find Nutrition in Your Own Backyard

The solution: a better diet.  Better meaning more natural, affordable, and sustainable. That solution could be growing in your own backyard.

Abundant. If you don’t have a yard, take a walk down the street. Edible wild plants are usually pretty easy to find. There’s a cornucopia of edibles that we have taken for granted, because that is what we have learned. You probably walk by these plants every day. After you start looking, you’ll be amazed: Dandelion, plantain, pigweed, thistle, and many other edible plants grow wild by the roadside, in field edges, and ditches. These plants are chocked full of vitamins and fibre.

Nutritious. Foraging is gleaning the earth of these so-called invasive plants — turning those lemons into lemonade. Surprisingly, the vitamin content of many weeds is often higher than the pretty vegetables in the grocery stores.

Resilient. Another advantage of wild plants is that they’re resilient. They come back every year (unless you’re taking all the roots). Many wild weeds grow faster than cultivated vegetables. They are also less susceptible to predators, disease, drought, floods, and frost. Weeds are tough! They break through concrete foundations and burrow through asphalt.

Convenient. Our Creator has made sure our natural food supply will survive. An additional benefit of foraging is enjoying the fresh air and the exercise. And what about the times when going to the grocery store isn’t an option? I’ve decided to forage for the greens in my diet until the snow flies. My garden has been neglected for a few years (while I wrote a book) and now must wait for pigs in the spring to clear it, so discovering foraging is an absolute bonus!

I love gardening but it involves many hours of hard work. When foraging, you simply harvest.

Foraged Daylily Leaves

Curried daylily flower buds and rice

Finding daylilies. Lately I’ve been eating a lot of daylily leaves. I transplanted a good number of plants to my 6 ½ acres 20 years ago, and there’s enough here now to support a family. This type of foraging in my yard takes no time at all. I walk out with a pair of scissors and am back in with lily leaves, green onions, and fresh oregano in two minutes. As long as a few leaves remain on a plant, it will continue to grow. The back roads here are lined with daylilies. They seem to grow straight out of the gravel.

Uses. Daylilies are one of the few plants that can be eaten in its entirety: roots, leaves, stems (they would be chewy), flower buds and flowers (remove the stamens first). The leaves are easy to cut up with scissors into half-inch pieces and can be added to almost anything: an omelette, stir-fry, pizza, a rice dish — there are endless possibilities. The flower buds can be or sautéed, steamed or boiled, like yellow beans, but require only a couple minutes cooking time.

Daylily care. In the spring, the daylily is one of the first plants to poke its sword-shaped leaves through the ground. It grows to 1 metre tall. It has beautiful, bold, orange-striped flowers in midsummer and is easy to recognize for harvesting roots even after the plant has died down. It’s prolific, easy to transplant, and quickly fills in any empty garden areas. The daylily grows in any soil and needs no maintenance other than watering when first transplanting. While each flower lasts only one day, each stem has several flowers.

Cooking daylilies. The only problem with these wild plants is that most of them are bland, have an edge, or taste like grass. That can be easily remedied with the addition of herbs or spices. I always add onions and garlic for nutrition and taste. Curry makes anything taste great. I’ll eat grass — if it’s smothered in butter and parmesan cheese. It’s easy to sneak a lot of foraged greens into soups and stews without anyone noticing. I treat most weeds as I would spinach. Try different recipes and cooking techniques to find out which ones you prefer.

Roadside bounty of wild edibles

Using Foraged Plants

Educating oneself as to what exactly can be eaten from the wild, and what can’t, is crucial. Some plants are harmful if eaten raw or even touched (stinging nettle), but beneficial when cooked, dried or made into tea. Research as much as you can. There’s a lot of great information out there.

Many plants are better when they’re young but harder to identify at that stage. Remember where certain plants grow and return for them the next spring. It’s important to stay clear of areas that may have been sprayed with pesticides, or plants that are growing to close to the road.

I’m becoming pickier about what I’m spending my time, energy and money on. Although I’ve lived without electricity for 20 years, I’m interested in reducing my carbon footprint even further. I’m hardly self-sufficient. I’ve taken the time to smell the roses and consider the beauty of the lilies of the field. I’ve discovered these plants go beyond being beautiful, they were meant for food, beauty aids, teas, and healing.

There are secrets in the roots below the blue flowers of the chicory, in the young green pods of the milkweed, in the velvety red cones of the sumac. Our Creator has provided a feast for the eyes, leaves of healing, and a banquet of edibles.

Let’s become more independent. Let’s take the time to educate ourselves in the stuff we need to know. Let’s become more familiar with our planet and enjoy the health benefits of the natural bounty available to us, for free.

Jo deVries (Jo of the Woods) designed and helped build her off-grid Ontario home, where she and her son have enjoyed a pioneer-type life-style without electricity. She is the author of Does Your House Know Where South Is?and generously shares what she has learned during her on-going journey of turning a piece of bush land in to a self-sufficient homestead. Connect withJo of the Woodsand read all of Jo’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.

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