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Edible Lily Bulbs: Which ones can you eat and how?

It seems unlikely that such a beautiful plant would be used for any other purpose than to accent our gardens. But the truth of the matter is, Lilies are edible. In fact, they are delicious. If you've ever wondered about this interesting bit about these gorgeous garden favorites, look no further. Here's all you need to know about the edible lily.

Which Lilies Are Edible?

It is difficult to distinguish what people mean when they say "lily," as many common garden plants bear that name: Calla lily, Lily of the valley, Toad lily, Peruvian lily, Daylily, the list goes on and on. When we say "edible lilies," we are talking about true lilies, members of the genus Lilium. (Daylilies, Hemerocallis, are also edible, and in fact are rather tasty. Check below for some recommended recipes if you wish to nibble them!) Many plants in the Liliaceae family are edible. Think onions, garlic, chives, shallots. Delicious plants, all members of this large family. Interestingly, the Liliaceae family is also home to some of the most toxic plants in the world. But right now, we will focus on the plants that won't kill us.


All plants in the Lilium genus are edible, and all parts of the plant can be eaten. The young shoots, the leaves, and the flowers. But what is most nourishing is the bulb of this beautiful plant. Some lily species have been harvested for their bulbs for thousands of years. Native Americans revered their native lilies for their culinary and medicinal uses, and would ensure the success of these species by performing prescribed burns in areas in which they grew. Wild species in North America that were favored for their edible qualities are L. paradalinum, L. columbianum, and L. canadense.  The tiger lily, L. lancifolium, originally from Asia and used for thousands of years in cuisine, is now naturalized to many parts of North America and is popular among gardeners wishing to experiment with this other side of lilies. 


Many people believe that Lilies are toxic. That is a common myth because they are very poisonous to cats. Hemerocallis, or Daylilies, are also highly toxic to cats. They both cause acute kidney failure, even in very small amounts. But cats will very likely never eat these plants, they are somehow aware of their toxicity. 

Other Uses

Who knew Lilies could serve any other purposes, but another interesting thing about them is they are also quite medicinal. They were traditionally used in Native American cultures for coughs and sore throats, and as an expectorant. They are also known for their cardiac benefits. 

How to Eat Lily Bulbs 

Most edible lily bulbs which can be purchased in a market are mostly imported from mainland China. Many Asian cultures use the lily bulb, especially Lilium lancifolium, in traditional cuisine to this day. Thus the recipes are often Oriental in nature. Cooked Lily bulbs resemble turnips in flavor, crunchy, sweet, and starchy in texture, often used as a substitute for potatoes. Some say that the taste of the bulb also takes on a mild chestnut flavor, with a slightly bitter aftertaste. They are often used in stir fries, boiled in soups and stews, and even baked.

Try these recipes for cooking your lily bulbs: