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What's for dinner? Canna Lily

Updated on August 20, 2014

Eating Canna Lily - Yes, it's Possible

Most people have seen Canna Lilies hundreds of times in their lives, but hardly anyone knows the tasty secret lying under the dirt. Canna Lily roots are absolutely delicious and well worth knowing how to prepare.

You can boil them, bake them, add them to soups and stews or grate the root into a cake (recipe for that coming soon!), and the rest of the plant is edible, too.

In tropical areas around the world, Canna Lily is a common food crop and is known as a fantastic starch source for humans as well as animals. But whether you live in the humid tropics as I do or in a temperate zone with harsh winters, this plant can become a much-loved member of your garden and a regular appearance on your dinner menu.

The Canna is not really a lily, although its stunning flowers are popular in ornamental gardens and as an addition to bouquets. The lush foliage and multicoloured flowers are lovely to look at, and they are one hardy group of plants.

Canna Lilies have that distinctive tropical look but they will grow well in cold climates as long as they get a few hours of regular sun through the summer and are well protected in winter. They even grow in marshlands and other areas with standing water. Which means, no excuses! No matter your climate, this is a really interesting plant to have around.

Canna Lily seeds are easily available in nurseries, hardware stores and over the internet. Chances are, at least a few of your neighbours have plants and therefore seeds to share.

Canna Lily uses

  • ornamental and decorative plant
  • livestock fodder
  • human starch source
  • seeds are used in musical instruments
  • fermented into alcohol
  • seeds are used in jewelry making
  • fibrous stem is used as a textile
  • paper can be made from the leaves
  • used in Vietnamese cellophane noodles

Who should try Canna?

It amazes me that Canna Lilies as a food source are not better known. After all, in today's modern world there are many groups of people that would benefit from having this as a dinner option.

Canna is a fabulous grain-free starch

Are you on a Paleo, Primal, or Perfect Health Diet? If so, you've heard about safe starches like sweet potatoes, taro, and yuca. These are all delicious, and make a regular appearance on my dinner table at home. However, very often these foods are imported from thousands of miles away, have been sitting in storage for a while or are simply too time-consuming to prepare (I'm looking at you, breadfruit!)

Canna Lily, on the other hand can be grown wherever you live. There have even been reports of some growing in Arctic regions. So if you're grain-free and also looking to reduce your consumption of imported products, Canna is for you. Plant it now, and benefit from a delicious, easy to prepare local starch for years to come.

Canna Lilies make a great gluten-free substitute

Those that avoid gluten can also benefit from eating Canna Lily roots. Of course, you can eat it simply boiled or baked as a starch. But where it really shines is in baking. Grated Canna root can be used to make cakes, tortillas and breads. I've even mashed some Canna root and mixed it with fresh herbs and canned tuna to make patties. Amazing.

Are you a Prepper? Canna Lily is for you

Are you trying to build up a stock of non-perishable foods and survival equipment for a possible future economic collapse? You need Canna in your garden, right this minute. It looks like any other ornamental flower, but no-one would even think of raiding your flower patch for food. In the case of a food emergency, you can simply dig up the rhizomes, boil them up or bury them in hot coals and have plenty of starch to keep your family going for a while. Canna Lily flowers are also extremely interesting because their seeds can be used for multiple things. The seeds, which are very hard and slightly oblong/rounded can be used to replace buckshot, make heat packs, jewelry, shirt buttons and even purple dye.For a couple of dollars now spent buying seeds, you can secure yours and your families' futures in a couple of square metres of garden space.

Canna is perfect for off-the-grid, self-reliant, homestead types

The Canna rhizome can be used exactly like a potato, in mashes, soups, stews, or simply boiled to eat plain or as a salad. And the shoots are tasty, too. If you're serious about growing your food and being self-reliant, Canna could be a great starting point for you. Even black-thumbs like me can grow them without too much trouble.


Petal to root eating

The whole Canna plant is edible, apart from the tooth-breaking hard seeds. Young shoots can be stir-fried or eaten raw as wraps, sautéed with garlic for a simple side dish, added to soups or blended into dips.

The older, tougher leaves make beautiful plate covers much as banana leaves are used throughout tropical regions of the world. They can also be wrapped around fillings and steamed (tamale style), or stapled into natural bowls and used to serve party foods.

The flowers make a beautiful addition to salads, on top of quiches or pizza, much as you would use nasturtium flowers.

Of course, be sure to use your best judgement and only ever eat plants that come from your own organic garden or from a trusted friends' that doesn't use pesticides or other toxic garden products.

5 stars from 1 rating of Canna Lily Salad

Canna Lily Salad

Prep time: 5 min
Cook time: 30 min
Ready in: 35 min
Yields: serves 4 people as a side dish

Canna Lily Mock-Potato Salad

  • 1 rhizome (root) of a Canna Lily, scrubbed of dirt
  • 1 Tbsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 Tbsp wholegrain mustard
  • 3 Tbsp walnut oil
  • 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  1. Bring a large pot of water to the boil and add the 1Tbsp sea salt
  2. Place the Canna Lily root in the water, breaking it into pieces if it doesn't fit
  3. After 30 minutes, poke with a sharp knife to check tenderness. If the knife enters easily, turn off the heat.
  4. Drain and let cool to the touch.
  5. Peel the skin completely off the root
  6. Chop into large pieces, as if making a potato salad
  7. Whisk the honey and mustard together, then pour in the oil in a gentle stream while whisking. Add the vinegar, and whisk until the vinaigrette is smooth.
  8. Toss the chopped Canna Lily with the vinaigrette and serve immediately or within the next 2-3 days.

Preparing Canna Lily root step-by-step with pictures

Harvest a Canna Lily root, and break it into 3 or 3 pieces to fit into a large pot
Harvest a Canna Lily root, and break it into 3 or 3 pieces to fit into a large pot
Boil in salted water for around 30 minutes, until a sharp knife can easily go through the root
Boil in salted water for around 30 minutes, until a sharp knife can easily go through the root
Drain and let cool 10 minutes
Drain and let cool 10 minutes
Peel off the skin (it comes off very easily)
Peel off the skin (it comes off very easily)
Chop up into large chunks
Chop up into large chunks
Mix with a vinaigrette (see recipe), or simply toss with a knob of butter, salt and pepper
Mix with a vinaigrette (see recipe), or simply toss with a knob of butter, salt and pepper
Serve as the carbohydrate portion of your normal meal
Serve as the carbohydrate portion of your normal meal

What does Canna Lily taste like?

This question can't be answered completely, because there are hundreds of varieties of Canna and each has a unique flavour and texture.

Some rhizomes are more fibrous, while others are smooth. Some are described as having the taste of a water chestnut, others say it's indistuingishable from a potato.

In my personal experience, Canna root tastes very similar to artichoke heart (which I happen to love). It has a slightly grassy taste but is also very filling and dense like a cross between a baked potato and taro root. It's absolutely delicious simply boiled in salted water and eaten as is. But for a change, I like to toss it in a vinaigrette and add some fresh herbs, or dice it up tiny and add it to an omelette.

What do you think about eating Canna Lily? Comments and questions welcome!

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    • Rosetta Slone profile imageAUTHOR

      Rosetta Slone 

      4 years ago from Under a coconut tree

      Pawpawwrites, they make such beautiful garden plants. The fact that they're tasty is the icing on the cake :)

    • Pawpawwrites profile image


      4 years ago from Kansas

      I've grown them, but didn't know you could eat them.

    • Rosetta Slone profile imageAUTHOR

      Rosetta Slone 

      4 years ago from Under a coconut tree

      FlourishAnyway, I'm so glad you found this info useful and really appreciate you taking the time to let me know you like it. I do hope you'll try my recipe if you can get your hands on a Canna plant!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      4 years ago from USA

      Who would have ever imagined? I learned so much reading this it makes my head spin. Thank you for the education!


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