Daylily is the common name of the species of the genus Hemerocallis. Hemerocallis comes from the Greek words hemera, meaning “day” and kalos, translating to “beautiful.” The flowers of most species open at sunrise and wither at sunset, often replaced by another on the same stem the next day. Some species are night-blooming.
Once considered part of the Lily family, daylily is more botanically correct placed into the Hemerocallidaceae family because they grow from tuberous, fleshy roots rather than bulbs. They are not true lilies, though they are related and have lily-like trumpet flowers. They are also known as “Eve’s thread,” “orange day lily,” and “tawny orange lily.”
The first written record of daylilies is from about 2697 B.C. when Emperor Huan Ti arranged for a Materia Medica to be written conveying herbal wisdom. Daylilies were being used for food and considered beneficial to the lungs, mind, and for strengthening willpower. Wild plants were transplanted to the garden for home use. Cultivation in the west began after a French botanist wrote of them in 1575, and were then brought to America by early settlers, who cherished it as food, and it’s ease of transport across the ocean. Legend indicates that it was brought to North America by sea captains, who presented the flowers to their wives after traveling the Orient. In the 20th century, cross-pollination began in North Carolina and an explosion of hybrids have ensued ever since.
Depending on the species, young shoots can be harvested from late winter and for much of the spring. The sprouting leaves that appear in the spring have a sweet, pleasant flavor and can be used as an excellent vegetable; though older shoots quickly become tough and fibrous. In spring, cut the 3- to 5-inch outer leaves from their grassy clump, taking care not to damage flowering stalks. Asians have long used the leaves as a painkiller, so consume only small amounts. The hearts of the shoots are especially delicious.