This article is a partial quoting of Dr Hu's article in the American Horticulture's Daylily Handbook 1968. Mostly the most pertinent parts of the article have been quoted. The text is transcribed verbatim.
The complete scan of the article Daylilies as Food
Use of Daylily as Food and in Medicine by Shiu-Ying Hu American Horticultural Society Magazine 1968
“The daylily is one of the most valuable herbaceous perennials introduced from China to American gardens for their attractive foliage, conspicuous and colorful flowers, exquisite and graceful form, superior ability to compete with weeds and to withstand drought, and for their complete cheerfulness in the face of neglect. In the use of dallies, the American people have only adopted and amplified one of the varied merits of the species discovered by the ancient Chinese, e.g. its ornamental merit. The economic and medicinal merits of the species known to the people of eastern Asia, from Korea to Vietnam, is practically unknown to the American public…
Fields of Daylilies grown for flower harvest in Taiwan
Cultivation and Preparation for Market
Although daylily flowers are used extensively as an article of food and the crown and root are used as medicine in China, daylilies are not as abundant in China as in the United States. The wild species in China are found in isolated clumps among grass and herbs on the slopes of mountainous areas in western, central and northern China where the land sparsely populated. Daylilies do not occur in large patches as one may see them along the highways in eastern United States (Fig. 1). Actually in China, daylilies are rarely found around ordinary houses. They are planted as a minor crop for ready cash and are placed along the edges of fields or vegetable gardens where the land is to steep or too dry for major crops. It is only in temple grounds, or the backyards of poets and artists, or around the castles of government officers, that daylilies are planted as ornamentals.
Preparation of flowers for market
Although the mature flower buds are delectable, the thrifty Chinese flowers wife seldom prepares a daylily dish for her own table. They are a cash crop and must be sold to augment the family income. Because of the highly perishable nature, the daylily flowers are carefully dried ion the farm. Fresh flowers are not seen in the market. The dried product appears brownish yellow, wrinkled and twisted and is frequently covered with whitish mould or bloom. It is amusing to note here that many city folk who use the dried flower buds have no idea the common daylily is the source of Chin-chen s’ai which they esteem so highly at the table. Among my non-botanical Chinese friends in America, I have not found one who does not respond in delightful surprise when told that the daylily flowers buds are the source of Chin-chen-ts’ai. Perhaps this is the reason for the large importation of dried flowers from Hong Kong to meet the particular demand of the Chinese Americans particularly the restauranteurs.
In preparing daylilies for the market the farmers pick mature flower-bud early in the morning, just at the time when the flowers begin to open. These buds are brought home and steamed immediately. Then they are spread one by one on a mat and dried in the sun. Experienced field botanists all know the principle of killing plant cells of fleshy specimens, flowers or fruits by application of sudden heat or chemical. Such treatment, hastens the drying process and keeps better color in the dried flowers.
Preparation of the roots for medicine.
The ancient Chinese observed the concentration of material and the hibernation of life in the underground portion of the daylilies, and in their battle with hunger and disease they not only learned the use of daylily flowers for food, but they also discovered the value of the crown and root for the conservation of health. To this end the crown and roots are trimmed off the plant in the Autumn or early Spring before the leaves appear. These are dried in the sun and used as medicine.
The marketing of dried daylily flower buds in China and in world trade is noteworthy. In rural China collectors may carry two willow or bamboo baskets at the ends of long poles on their shoulders and travel from village to village to collect small object of farm products…
Marketing the crown and root for medicinal purposes
Marketing of the daylily for medicinal uses is limited to inhabitants of cities, for in rural China the people live on the good earth. The underground part of the daylily, like any other medicinal plant is collected as the need arises and is used fresh…
Food and Medicinal Value
The use of the underground part of daylilies for medicine is not limited to the people of China. The practice has been adopted by all Asians who have assimilated the Chinese culture, from Korea to Vietnam. In my article ‘Medicinal Plants of Chengdu Herbshops’ published in 1945, I noted :
“ The spindle-shaped thickened fibrous root of the plant, about 8 cm long and 1.5 cm. Thick is boiled with port. The preparation is administered to promote the formation of blood cells, to give strength, to relieve a feverish condition and to cure toothache.”
Numerous ancient Chinese herbals, for example Li Shin-chen’s Pens-ts-ao-kang-mu (Chinese Materica Medica) published in 1590, recorded that daylily underground parts are used for the reduction of temperature (anti febrile), the easing of pain (anodyne), and a diuretic. It is prescribed for dysuria (urinary infection) ,lithiasis, dropsy, gonorrhea, jaundice, piles and tumor of the breast…
The dried daylily has been a delight to the Chinese gourmet. Modern science has proved this gustatory and nutritional choice completely sound. Chemical analysis of the dried flower buds shows that 11.42 percent of dried weight is protein, 3.3% minerals, 2.27 percent fats, and 8.48 % crude fibers. The content Vitamins A and B is also high. Evidently in daylilies one finds a high protein, non-fattening food rich in both minerals and vitamins. It is very likely that fresh material contains a higher vitamin value, but it seems that the dried form has better flavor…"
footnote: Dr George Darrow was good friends with Dr Hu and she named a daylily species she discovered after him H. darrowiana.