The canna lily is an almost unknown edible, at least here in the US. Instead, like morons, we use them solely as an ornamental.
Of course, as survival gardeners, we can use this ignorance to our advantage. Though someone’s likely to steal your tomatoes in a crash… they’re a lot less likely to steal your edible canna lilies.
Note: canna lilies are not a real lily. So quit worrying about that and relax.
There are two parts of the plant I’ve eaten – the blooms and the roots. The former are crisp and lettuce-like and make a colorful addition to salads. The latter are good too, though they contain a lot of fibers. I add them to stews and crockpot recipes. They’re filled with starch and taste good cooked – just be prepared to spit out the masticated threads.
They’re not too bad, but they’re there, so be warned.
Cannas are a relative of bananas and really don’t like frost, but that’s okay – they’ll come back if they freeze to the ground. And though some cultivars are better than others when it comes to root size, you don’t have to worry about any of them being toxic – the whole family is safe. Just don’t get them mixed up with “calla” lilies – those are NOT edible.
Cannas enjoy plenty of water and can grow in shade. I have a bunch on the north side of my house and they’ve thrived there with little care. They’re also great in a food forest.
To propagate, just chop into a clump and divide off what you want, then plant out elsewhere. The rhizotamaceous (yeah, I think I made that word up – sue me) roots will make a big mat over time. Harvest as you like and plant what you don’t eat.
If you want to start them from seeds, look for the weird tri-lobed spiky seed pods that appear after the flowers fade. As they dry, the sides will split and reveal black or brown seeds that are about the size of buckshot. These seeds are REALLY hard and can apparently remain viable for centuries. They’re supposed to be hard to start… but they’re not, provided you do it right. Take a pair of nail clippers or a little file and make nips in the sides of the seeds. They’re white inside – if you get to the white, you’re doing fine. Then soak those suckers in water for a day or two. They’ll swell up if you went deep enough with your nicking (which is a bit tough to do, since the seed coats are so darn hard.) The soaked seeds germinate about a week or two after planting. Growth is rapid and the baby plants can be planted out in a month or two. I’ve got them all over the place now, since a gal at the local ag extension dumped a bunch of seeds on me since they’re “too hard for people to start and we don’t think we can sell them on our seed rack.” Hee hee.
I imagine, if one was creative, they could make vodka from canna roots. The yield isn’t all that high, in my experience, but if you grew them for a few years, you could likely pull it off. If anyone tries it, share some with me. Please? I promise not to involve the Department Of Making Things Miserable For Home Distillers if you do.
That about wraps it up for cannas. I have a soft spot for this plant so I’m arbitrarily giving it about a half-spud more than it deserves. So there.
Name: Canna lily
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Exposure: Full sun/part shade/full shade
Part Used: Roots, blooms
Propagation: Seed, division
Method of preparation: Blossoms raw, roots roasted or boiled
Storability: Roots – just leave them in the ground. Flowers? Forget it.
Ease of growing: Easy
Recognizability: As a flower? Good. As food? Poor.