You don’t often think of grandma’s hosta patch as the best place to harvest lunch, but perhaps it’s time to open your eyes to all the wonderful edibles lurking in your very own yard. Foraging doesn’t have to mean traveling to a wilderness area.
There are dozens of edibles lurking in the average suburban yard. Some of them are wild, like dandelions, and others are cultivated plants that happen to be tasty edibles.
Hostas happen to be both…they’re a plant that was once harvested as a tasty woodland edible, that became a cultivated plant in our backyards. Somewhere in the process, the edible part was lost in translation, but that doesn’t mean they’re not still delicious!
Long before hostas were planted in shady corners of suburban backyards, they were a wild plant in Japanese woodlands. In Japan, hostas are known as Urui, and they’re part of a class of vegetables known as “Sansai” or “mountain vegetables” which describes wild edibles that are commonly harvested and eaten.
Hostas are no different than any other wild-foraged spring edible, similar to fiddlehead ferns, wild ramps or morels. Those wild edibles are starting to be cultivated for markets in the US, and you can in fact plant and grow ramps right in your backyard. Though they’re beautiful, we’re not likely to forget they’re also tasty in the process.
Somehow though, when hostas made the transition from wild woodland plant to backyard ornamental, people forgot about eating them. Perhaps because they crossed an ocean to get here, but whatever the reason, it doesn’t mean they’re any less tasty.
In our yard, hostas are essentially a wild edible. They live completely untended at our woods edge and under our fruit trees, thriving in shady woodland conditions that aren’t too different from their native land.
Just like any plant, the taste will vary a bit from variety to variety. The hostas in my yard taste a bit like a cross between a scallion and asparagus. There’s a slight hint of onion, but the overwhelming flavor is the green goodness of asparagus.
They have a pleasant crunch, a bit like the juicy green mouthfeel of iceberg lettuce, but with a lot more flavor. The best time to harvest hostas is when they’re young shoots just emerging from the earth in spring. I’ve heard the flowers are also delicious later on in the summer, and you can eat those without cutting into your actual plant, which may be a better choice if you’re actually harvesting grandma’s patch.
Use a sharp knife to slice hosta shoots off at ground level. The size of the shoots will vary from plant to plant. Obviously larger hosta varieties mean larger shoots, and these in my yard are a giant blue hosta variety that gets really tall by the late spring.
The shoots are likewise pretty large, meaning there’s more to eat. Since this one’s in desperate need of being thinned, it’s no big deal to harvest a few shoots.
Take off a handful or two from each plant and there’ll be more space for the remaining stalks to thrive.
Giant hosta varieties will be a bit taller and have a lot more girth. Mini hosta varieties may be much smaller.
Regardless of the variety, choose shoots that are tightly coiled and haven’t opened their leaves. Mine made it to about 6 inches high before they started unfurling their leaves.
The inside of a hosta shoot looks a lot like a leek, and mine had a bit of leek or scallion flavor. Give them a quick bite raw, and that’ll give you an idea of how your hosta variety will taste cooked. Since mine tasted like asparagus and scallions, I decided to give them a quick pan fry in a little butter.
I’m thinking they’d also be lovely in a spring vegetable tart, or a quiche.
The outside of the hosta shoot carmelized like an onion, which shows you that they have a good bit of sweetness. The total cook time was only about 2 minutes in a hot pan, and if I had to do it again I’d give them even less time so they maintain more of a crunch.
The flavor was amazing, and though I do love asparagus, I’d have to give the win to hostas.
Beyond the shoots, which are a tasty spring vegetable, the blooms later in the summer are also edible. If you’re worried about harming your prize backyard hostas by harvesting the shoots, just be patient and wait until later in the summer when they bloom.
You can pluck off hosta blossoms without any cutting, which is a better option for young plants that are just getting established. Hosta blossoms taste sweet and floral, a bit like daylily blossoms (which are also a delicious perennial garden edible).
Hosta Nutrition Facts
So if hostas are edible, what nutrients are you getting when you eat them? For the most part, they’re green roughage like lettuce or asparagus with few calories. My Fitness Pal estimates that each leaf has about 2 calories, so they’re not exactly a survival food.
I did find one scientific study that analyzed the vitamin and mineral content of hostas as a vegetable. The study found that “The leaf K content of 12 hosta plant taxa ranged from 2.85 to 4.05%; the P content from 0.13 to 0.34%; Ca from 0.02 to 1.15%; Mg from 540.00 to 794.12 ppm; Mn 26.93 to 133.77 ppm; Zn 115.39 to 334.52 ppm; Cu 1.78 to 5.95 ppm and Fe 26.43 to 251.95 ppm.”
Where to Buy Hostas
While hostas are a pretty common backyard plant, especially in the Northeast, I’d never heard of them living out west. In New England, most local nurseries will carry them, but they’re often pricey at $15 to $20 for a small hosta in a nursery pot.
But where did the nursery buy that hosta in the first place? They bought them in bulk as bare roots for just a buck or two each. Pot them up and sell them for 10 to 20 times the price and it’s a pretty good rate of return. If you’re looking to plant hostas, buying your own bare roots will save you a bundle.
Generally, bare-root hostas sell for $2 to $8 each online. Here’s a bundle of 6 hostas for $2.50 each with free shipping, and another bundle of 6 with different varieties for about $6 each, still free shipping.
You can also grow hostas from seed, but that takes a bit more work. Hosta seeds are dirt cheap, literally pennies a piece if you’re willing to learn how to sprout them. If you do want to try it, watch this video on growing hostas from seed.
How to Grow Hostas
Once you have hosta bare roots or some successful hosta seed starts, how do you tend them?
In their native Japan, China and Korea hostas grow in woodlands and along stream banks. It makes sense that they’d grow best in conditions that mimic their natural environment.
That means shade and moist, rich soil with a lot of organic matter. Direct sun can harm hostas, causing the leaves to burn and bleach white.
Plant hostas in part to full shade, ensuring that they’re in shade during the heat of the day. They’re a perennial plant, so they’ll come back year after year in the same spot assuming they’re well-tended.
Protect them from deer and rabbits, which love the tender succulent leaves. Slugs can also be a problem.
In general, hostas are hardy from zone 3 to 8, but this can vary a bit by variety.
There are a lot of different hosta cultivars, each with different flowers, leaf color, and size. The most common flower colors are purple and white.
Mini hostas stay tiny, somewhere between 6 and 12 inches tall. Giant varieties can grow to 3 feet tall with huge leaves that cover a lot of ground. We have a lot of sprawling woodland space on our homestead, so we grow mostly giant hostas.
Choose varieties that best suit your planting location, saving smaller varieties for near narrow walkways and interplanting with other shade perennials. Be aware that hostas with green leaves (as opposed to variegated or striped varieties) are generally more dependable in the garden.
I prepared my hosta shoots rather simply, but if you’re looking for more creative inspiration, try any of these hosta recipes:
- Bacon Wrapped Hosta Shoots
- Hosta Shoots Salad with A Balsamic Reduction
- Pan Seared Hosta Shoots with Ramp Butter
- Hostas with Prosciutto and Pesto
- Midwestern Vignarola – With Hosta Shoots & Wild Spring Edibles
Looking for more fun backyard garden edibles? Check these out…
- How to Cook a Rose (and other ways to use them)
- How to Make Rose Cordial
- How to Eat a Pine Tree (Every part is edible)
- How to Eat Linden Trees (Every Part is Edible)
- 16 Medicinal Trees for Your Herbal Medicine Chest