How to harvest cattails?

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Cattails – the wetland supermarket


Cattails

Since before the “Age of Wal-Mart”, there has been a supermarket at the edge of nearly every marsh, pond and lake, but one that is seldom visited by the passerby. Now, that’s not to say that we don’t often see the majestic cattail. In fact, we grow up knowing how to identify it. The tall green stalk grows up to 9 feet tall and it’s brown cigar-shaped flower is known to grace wetland ecosystems around the world. What few people know are the numerous utilitarian qualities the cattail possesses.

From spring to summer, cattail shoots offer a nutritious treat. One must simply peel away the outer layers of the base of the cattail to reveal a white inner core that is slightly sweet and has a refreshing taste, similar to cucumber or zucchini. While they are good raw, they are also especially tasty when sautéed with wild carrots and ginger. The shoots are like a multivitamin, providing beta carotene, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, potassium, phosphorus and vitamin C.

It is best to try to harvest the cattail shoots after a short dry spell, so that you are not wading through as much muck and guck, even though this can make cattail harvesting more adventurous, especially for kids. Try to harvest your cattails in a large stand, rather than a small one, to lessen the impact you will have on the overall system. While you are collecting them you may notice a sticky gelatinous substance that comes off onto your hands. This is a type of starch and can be saved to use for thickening soups.


Cattails

The shoot is not the only part of the cattail that is beneficial. Once the flower heads ripen, towards the middle of summer, a sweet gold pollen can be harvested as well. Just shake the flowers into a bag and add the pollen to baking flour as a vitamin supplement for muffins, breads and pancakes. The pollen can also be sprinkled on top of cereal and yogurt for an extra morning boost.

The brown flower heads of the cattail will eventually turn white and fluffy. This fluff makes excellent tinder for starting a fire. It burns fairly slowly and gives off a natural insect repellent. The soft seeds can also be used as stuffing for pillows or toys, but beware, since they have been known to cause an allergic reaction in some people. The cattail’s intentions are to send these seeds flying out into the wind to form new cattail colonies. There are thousands of seeds per cattail flower, so harvesting this fluff is not detrimental to the plant population.

If you intend to harvest the shoot and the pollen, you may have some green leaves left over. Don’t throw them away! These can be used to create a number of different craft projects such as floating ducks and cattail dolls or even for weaving waterproof mats and baskets. Believe it or not, the cattail has much more to offer people and animals than has been mentioned here. I invite you to find your local wetland and explore the cattail supermarket, just be sure to know the plant collecting regulations where you are. Enjoy!

If you are interested in herbs, edible plants, butterfly gardens consider visiting one of our state park or reservoir interpretive centers. Several have interpretive gardens and all offer a wide variety of nature and history programs.

It may be a while before Jane Errington and her partner Marc Marrengo venture back to their local park for a springtime walk. On Sunday, police were called after their two daughters were seen picking daffodils; the constables informed Errington and Marrengo that they could be arrested for criminal damage. To prevent a repeat of such a potentially embarrassing situation, here’s a handy guide to which flowers you can and can’t pick, and where.

Cultivated flowers Flowers growing in council parks are legally off-limits, as Errington’s children discovered; the same goes for council-maintained displays on roundabouts or verges, any gardens planted by a particular organisation (ie community gardens), and nature reserves or protected land. And if you persistently snaffle daffodils from your neighbour’s front garden, you could face prosecution for theft, as well as the sharp end of their tongue.

Wild flowers According to Dominic Price of wild plant protection charity Plantlife, “it is not normally an offence to pick the ‘Four Fs’ – fruit, foliage, fungi or flowers – if the plants are growing wild and it is for your personal use and not for sale.” Dozens of rare or endangered plants – from the lady’s slipper orchid and adder’s tongue, to threadmoss and sandwort – are, however, protected under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act, so pick those and you could face arrest (though you’re unlikely to stumble across too many of them). Whatever you do, don’t drag up the whole plant to resettle it in your own garden – the law firmly forbids the uprooting of any wild plant.

The conclusion? If in doubt, save yourself the trouble and head to your local florist.

​North Carolina is one of the most ecologically diverse states in the southeast. This diversity is exhibited by more than 4000 native plant species found from the sandy dunes of the coast to the tops of our tallest mountains.
The beauty of our state has brought an expanding population, with need for agricultural and urban development to support us. Our activities have meant that much of what once grew in abundance has been lost. Native plant habitat has also been lost to

  • Timbering
  • Wetland drainage
  • Fire suppression
  • Collection of plants for medicinal or ornamental purposes

The plants listed by the NCPCP are not only rare, but are imperiled by the loss of habitat and over-collection. Plants are collected because of their perceived economic value, medicinal properties, or as curiosities. Some poachers collect rare plants simply because they are rare.
Any collection of imperiled plant species from private property without permission from the property owner, for whatever the reason may be, further endangers the remaining plants — and is against the law, carrying the possibility of fines and/or jail time.
Imperiled: a native plant on the endangered or threatened list.
Endangered: any species or higher taxon of plant whose continued existence as a viable component of the State’s flora is determined to be in jeopardy by the NCPCP Board; also, any species of plant determined to be an “endangered species” pursuant to the Federal Endangered Species Act.
Threatened: any resident species of plant which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range, or one that is designated as threatened by the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service. (1979, c. 964, s. 1.)
Special Concern-Vulnerable (SC-V): means any species or higher taxon of plant which is likely to become a threatened species within the foreseeable future due to pressure from collecting, development or other threats.
Special Concern-Historical (SC-H): means any species or higher taxon of plant that occurred in North Carolina at one time, but for which all known populations are currently considered to be either historical or extirpated.
Protected plant: a species or higher taxon of plant adopted by the Board to protect, conserve, and/or enhance the plant species and includes those the Board has designated as endangered, threatened, or of special concern.

Cattail Harvesting: Tips On Harvesting Wild Cattails

Did you know wild cattails were edible? Yes, those distinctive plants growing alongside the water’s edge can easily be harvested, providing a source of vitamins and starch to your diet all year round. This common grass is very easily identified in nature and its benefits as a food and more are numerous to everyone from a day hiker to a wilderness survivor. Read on to learn more about what cattails are used for.

How to Harvest Cattails

Virtually all parts of the cattail plant are edible at some point of the year. Cattail harvesting can be as simple as picking one right off the plant in summer.

The lower part of the stem is white and, when eaten raw, tastes like cucumber. If you cook it, it tastes like corn. The pollen can be removed from the stalk simply by shaking into a paper bag and using it as a thickener to soups and stews. In late summer, the green flower heads can be eaten like corn on the cob. In autumn, the roots can be harvested by soaking in water until a gel forms. You can use the gel in bread making and soups.

What are Cattails Used for?

In addition to harvesting cattails for food, they have many other uses. Basically, cattail harvesting can provide water, food, shelter and fuel for fire, almost everything needed to survive in the wild.

  • The brown, tight heads can be used as a torch when dipped in oil or fat.
  • The gel found within the leaves can be used medicinally as a topical anesthetic.
  • The heads provide puffy wool-like material that can be used for insulation of clothing, mattresses and padding when sleeping out in the woods.
  • The leaves, when cut, dried and resoaked, can be used for mats, baskets, hats or ponchos.

Next time you pass some of those wild cattails blowing in the wind, remember all of the things cattails are used for and how easy harvesting wild cattails can be.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article is for educational and gardening purposes only. Before ingesting ANY herb or plant from the wild, please ensure you correctly identify it or consult a professional wild plant harvester for advice.

Delicious Recipes Using Cattails – “The Supermarket of the Swamp”

Cattails (Typha latifolia) are one of the most versatile plants on Earth. It is called the “Supermarket of the Swamp” for good reason since it can be used throughout all four seasons. They even inspired the Boy Scouts’ motto: “You name it, and we’ll make it from cattails!”. The plants can be found virtually anywhere in the wilderness where there is a water source across the entire North American continent and almost everywhere in the Western hemisphere worldwide.

Alternative Practical Applications

It is said that if a person lost in the wilderness found cattails, they’d have four of the five things needed to ensure their survival: water, food, shelter, and fuel. The Native Americans used cattails for so many different reasons:

Crafts (using green or dried leaves or fluff):

  • Shelters’ covers
  • Making mats, blankets, and baskets
  • Making cordage used for hunting or fishing, as ropes, for belts and straps, for defense equipment, as arrow shafts, and so on
  • The fluff was used to insulate footwear and hats, for stuffing pillows, or for a baby’s cradleboard.

Medicine

  • The pollen is hemostatic and astringent. It was used for controlling external and internal bleeding, chest pains, and other forms of blood stagnation. The pollen is also mildly diuretic.
  • Roots were used to treat burns, insect bites, scrapes, and bruises. Fresh, ponded roots were used directly as a poultice for open blisters and infections but also as a toothpaste if mashed up.
  • The ash of burnt plants was used for its antiseptic properties and is good for treating wounds and abrasions.

Fuel and illumination

  • Boiled, filtered, and fermented cattail roots release ethanol, which is now used as a biofuel.
  • The fluff inside the cattail’s head makes for an excellent tinder for starting fires.
  • The brown flower heads could be used as torches or as an illumination source if dipped in wax. The smoke will also drive away any insects.

Related: What the Pioneers Stockpiled To Survive Winter

Eatable Parts of Cattail During Spring:

Cattail Shoots/Stalks

This part of the young plant can be eaten raw or cooked like corn on the cob or asparagus. They contain potassium, phosphorus, and vitamins A, B, and C, and they taste like a cross between a tender zucchini and a cucumber. In addition, the cattail shoot is one of the best natural resources of protein and unsaturated fat, and it provides nutrient-rich enzymes and minerals.

Late Spring:

Leaves

The cattail leaves are excellent for salads or sandwiches when they are young and tender.

Eatable Parts of Cattail During Summer:

Pollen

There is probably no other pollen on the planet as easy to harvest by the pound as cattail, and there are so many tasty things to do with this fine, flour-like staple. To collect it, you’ll need to place a bag over the end of the cattail plant and shake to capture the pollen. It can be eaten raw—sprinkle it in yogurt, fruit smoothies, oatmeal, or salads—or use it as a flour supplement or thickener for gravy and soups.

Eatable Parts of Cattail During Autumn and Winter:

Roots/Rhizomes

The underground lateral stems are called rhizomes—although most of us would simply call them roots—and the best period to harvest them is from late autumn to early spring. These parts are edible any time of the year.

Cattails contain ten times the starch of an equal weight of potatoes.

In order to harvest the starch, which is very sweet and tasty, you’ll need to thoroughly clean the roots and mince or crush them before you put them in clean water. Then you can either leave the pounded chunks in clean water and wait for the starch to settle to the bottom, you can filter it, or you can boil them down. The best time to collect the starch is in late fall and winter, when the starch is stored in the rhizome.

A single acre of cattails can produce approximately 6,474 pounds of flour during an average year.

First, you need to peel and chop the roots and then clean them very well. Next, you’ll have to remove the long fiber strings, pound them into a powder after they have been allowed to dry completely, and then use that as flour.

Recipes

1. Scalloped Cattails

  • 2 cups of chopped cattail tops
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup melted butter
  • ½ tsp. sugar
  • ½ tsp. nutmeg
  • ½ tsp. black pepper
  • 1 cup milk (scalded at 180°F)
  • Mix the cattail tops, eggs, butter, sugar, nutmeg, and black pepper in a bowl while slowly adding the scalded milk, and blend well.
  • Pour the mixture into a greased casserole dish, top with grated Swiss cheese (optional), and add a dab of butter. Bake at 275°F for 30 minutes.

2. Cattail Pollen Biscuits

  • 3 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/3 cup flour
  • ¼ cup cattail pollen
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 Tbsp. shortening
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • Preheat oven to 450°F.
  • Mix all ingredients.
  • Cut the dough into biscuit shapes, and bake them at 425 for 20 minutes.

3. Cattail Pollen Pancakes

  • ½ cup cattail
  • ½ cup flour
  • 2 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 Tbsp. salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 Tbsp. bacon drippings
  • Mix all ingredients.
  • Pour onto a hot skillet or griddle in four-inch pancake amounts.

4. Cattail Casserole

  • 2 cups scraped cattail spikes
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 egg (beaten)
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 diced onion
  • Salt and pepper (according to taste)
  • ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • Combine all ingredients in a casserole dish, and place in an oven set to 350°F for 25 minutes. Serve hot.

5. Cattail Acorn Bread

  • 1 cup acorn flour
  • 1 cup cattail flour (or another flour with gluten)
  • 2 Tbsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. sea salt
  • 3 Tbsp. honey, agave nectar, or pure maple syrup
  • 2 omega-three eggs (or regular), beaten
  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • 3 Tbsp. olive, grape seed, or coconut oil
  • Mix all of the ingredients together.
  • Pour into a greased loaf pan.
  • Bake at 400°F for 30 minutes.

6. Cattail Wild Rice Pilaf

This recipe can be made with brown rice, but the wild rice adds a special dimension to it.

  • 1 cup dry wild rice (4 cups cooked)
  • 2 Tbsp. sesame oil
  • ½ cup chopped green onion
  • 2 cups cattail shoots, sliced (about 30 cattails)
  • 2 Tbsp. salt
  • ½ cup slivered almonds
  • Cook the wild rice until tender.
  • Sauté the onion and cattail shoots in sesame oil until tender and translucent.
  • Mix the rice and the sautéed cattail shoots and onion together.
  • Add the salt and slivered almonds.
  • Serve hot.

7. Cattail Wild Rice Soup

  • 1 cup dry wild rice (4 cups cooked)
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • ½ cup chopped green onion
  • 2 cups cattail shoots, sliced (about 30 cattails)
  • 2 Tbsp. salt
  • Cook the wild rice until tender.
  • In a heavy-bottomed soup pot, sauté the onion and cattail shoots in sesame oil until tender and translucent.
  • Add the cooked wild rice, salt, and 4 cups of chicken broth or other soup stock of your choice.
  • Simmer together for 15–20 minutes, and serve.

8. Cat-on-the-Cob with Garlic Butter

  • 30–40 cattail flowerheads, peeled
  • Garlic butter:
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 12 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 cup freshly chopped wild greens (or parsley or other fresh garden herbs)

Make garlic butter in a food processor by whipping the butter, oil, salt, fresh garlic, and parsley together until smooth.

Note: If using salted butter, eliminate the salt from the recipe.

The olive oil makes the butter nice and creamy and spreadable, even after refrigerating. I like to make a batch of this to keep handy in the fridge. You can also make a larger batch ahead to freeze in small containers when the greens are in season.

  • Boil cattail flowerheads in water for 10 minutes.
  • Make garlic butter in a food processor by whipping the butter, salt, fresh garlic, and parsley together until smooth.
  • Drain the cattail flowerheads, and slather them generously with the garlic butter.
  • Eat them just like miniature corn on the cob.

9. Cattail Flower/Shoots Refrigerator Pickles

  • Enough cattail flowerheads/shoots to tightly fill a quart jar, about 30 or 40
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
  • 4 to 6 bay leaves
  • ¾ cup apple cider vinegar (use some of your herbal vinegar!)
  • 1½ cup olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp. salt
  • 1¼ cup water
  • Boil the cattails in water for 5 to 10 minutes, and drain thoroughly.
  • Stuff flowerheads/shoots, garlic, peppercorns, and bay leaves into a clean, sterile quart jar.
  • Combine vinegar, oil, water, and salt in a saucepan.
  • Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and pour over the cattail heads.
  • Add a little more oil, vinegar, and water if the liquid does not reach to the top of the jar.
  • Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator overnight.

If you are experienced at making pickles, you could experiment with some of your favorite pickle recipes and put them up as preserves.

10. Indian Cattail Spoon Bread

Preheat oven to 400°F.

  • ½ cup butter
  • 2 cups fresh flower buds or cattails on the cob
  • ½ cup diced onions
  • ½ cup diced green pepper
  • salt
  • 1 cup sharp cheese
  • pinch of chili powder
  • Melt butter in a skillet, and add cattail buds, onions, green pepper, and salt.
  • Sauté for 5 minutes or until tender.
  • Pour into greased baking dish.
  • Sprinkle with cheese and chili powder.
  • Bake until cheese melts.
  • Spoon onto plate while hot.

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The Lost Art of Scratch Cooking

Cattails can be use for food, when grown in clean water and soil.
Cattail Stir-fry
Gather your cattail leaves/shoots and pull off the tough/fibrous outer leaves until you reach the tender white inner core of the cattail heart. Wash them thoroughly and cut into roughly 4” pieces. Put a healthy amount of high-heat cooking oil in the bottom of your skillet. Put in your burdock root slices into the hot oil, which are cut diagonally about 1/8” thick, and cook for about 5 minutes. Then add chopped spring onion, carrots that have been cut into long strips (julienned), and the chopped burdock petioles. Cook about 3-5 minutes and then add cattail shoots, minced garlic, and minced ginger (you could use a small amount of wild ginger). Cook for about 3 minutes. Then add a few splashes of sesame seed oil, some black sesame seeds, chopped red cabbage, some finely chopped wild greens (we used sow thistle greens) and a lot of Bragg’s Liquid Aminos/soy sauce/tamari/shoyu. Cover and let cook for about a minute. Serve with Nettle/Sesame Powder sprinkled on top.
Source: http://wildfoodplants.com

Cattail-Wild Rice Pilaf

This recipe can be made with brown rice, but the wild rice adds a special dimension to it.

1 cup dry wild rice (4 cups cooked)
2 Tbsp sesame oil
½ cup chopped green onion
2 cups cattail shoots, sliced (about 30 cattails)
2 tsp salt
½ cup slivered almonds

1. Cook the wild rice until tender.
2. Sautee onion and cattail shoots in sesame oil until tender and translucent.
3. Mix the rice and the sautéd cattail shoots and onion together.
4. Add salt and slivered almonds.
5. Serve hot.

Cattail Wild-Rice Soup

1 cup dry wild rice (4 cups cooked)
2 Tbsp sesame oil
½ cup chopped green onion
2 cups cattail shoots, sliced (about 30 cattails)
2 tsp salt
1. Cook the wild rice until tender.
2. In a heavy-bottomed soup pot sauté onion and cattail shoots in sesame oil until tender and translucent.
3. Add the cooked wild rice, salt and 4 cups of chicken broth or other soup stock of choice.
4. Simmer together for 15-20 minutes and serve.
Cat-on-the-Cob with Garlic Butter
30-40 cattail flowerheads, peeled
Garlic butter:
½ cup unsalted butter
½ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
12 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup freshly chopped wild greens (or parsley or other fresh garden herbs)
Make garlic butter in a food processor by whipping the butter, oil, salt, fresh garlic and parsley together until smooth.
Note: If using salted butter, eliminate the salt from the recipe.
The olive oil makes the butter nice and creamy and spreadable, even after refrigerating. I like to make a batch of this to keep handy in the fridge. You can also make a larger batch ahead to freeze in small containers when the greens are in season.
1. Boil cattail flowerheads in water for 10 minutes
2. Make garlic butter in a food processor by whipping the butter, salt, fresh garlic and parsley together until smooth.
3. Drain the cattail flowerheads and slather them generously with the garlic butter.
4. Eat them just like miniature corn on the cobs.
Cattail Casserole
3 cups cattail flowerbuds, scraped off the “cobs” (about 40 flowerheads)
1 egg
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
½ cup milk
1 cup soft breadcrumbs
1 cup grated cheese
1. Cook cattail flowerheads in boiling water for 5-10 minutes.
2. Scrape the flowerbuds off the cob to make 3 cups.
3. Beat egg together with spices, milk and breadcrumbs.
4. Combine cattail flowers with the egg mixture.
5. In a greased bread pan or small casserole dish, spread half of cattail mixture on the bottom.
6. Add half of the grated cheese, spread the rest of the cattail mixture over, and top with the rest of the grated cheese.
7. Bake at 350° until lightly browned, about 30 minutes.
Cattail Flower Refrigerator Pickles
This recipe is adapted from Wildman Steve Brill’s book “Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants, who got it from his friends Dean and Gabi.
Enough cattail flowerheads to tightly fill a quart jar, about 30 or 40
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
4 to 6 bay leaves
¾ cup apple cider vinegar (use some of your herbal vinegar!)
1½ cups olive oil
3 Tbsp salt
1¼ cups water
1. Boil the cattails in water for 5 to 10 minutes, and drain thoroughly.
2. Stuff flowerheads, garlic, peppercorns, and bay leaves into clean, sterile quart jar.
3. Combine vinegar, oil, water and salt in a saucepan.
4. Bring to a boil, remove from heat and pour over the cattail heads.
5. Add a little more oil, vinegar and water if the liquid does not reach to the top of the jar.
6. Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator overnight.
If you are experienced at making pickles, you could experiment with some of your favorite pickle recipes and put them up as preserves.
Cattail Pollen Pancakes
Cattail pollen pancakes are an experience you will never forget! They are absolutely delicious!
1 cup flour
1 cup cattail pollen
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
½ cup honey
¼ cup oil
2 cups milk
1. Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl.
2. Add eggs, honey, oil and milk and mix thoroughly.
3. If the batter seems to thick to pour, add more milk until it has a good pancake batter consistency.
4. Cook on a hot griddle until golden brown.
Cattail Pollen Biscuits
You’ll never be the same after eating these golden, melt-in-your-mouth biscuits, worth every minute of your time and effort in harvesting the cattail pollen. My secret for making light biscuits is to make the dough in a food processor.
1 cup white flour (wheat flour just doesn’t make ‘em light enough!)
1 cup cattail pollen
¼ cup butter
1 Tbsp honey or sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
¾ cup milk
1. Preheat oven to 450 °.
2. Put flour, cattail pollen, salt and baking powder, and butter in a food processor and run on high until you have a course mixture. (If no food processor, cut with a fork or pastry cutter until mixture resembles fine crumbs.)

3. Add honey or sugar plus the milk and whiz just until the dough forms a lump. Do not overmix!
4. Shape into biscuits and bake on ungreased cookie sheet 10-12 minutes until golden brown.
You can make drop biscuits by increasing the milk to 1 cup and dropping by large spoonfuls until a cookie sheet.
Buttermilk biscuits: For the ultimate biscuit, substitute buttermilk for the milk, decrease baking powder to 2 tsp, and add ¼ tsp baking soda
Source: http://www.prodigalgardens.info

Cattails – A Survival Dinner

Cattails have many edible parts, top to bottom. Photo by Green Deane

Cattails: Swamp Supermarket

The United States almost won WWII with cattails.

No green plant produces more edible starch per acre than the Cat O’ Nine Tails; not potatoes, rice, taros or yams. Plans were underway to feed American soldiers with that starch when WWII stopped. Lichen, not a green plant, might produce more carbs per acre. One acre of cattails can produce 6,475 pounds of flour per year on average (Harrington 1972).

Cattail pollen

Two species of cattails are common in North America today. One is Typha latifolia (TYE-fuh lat-ih-FOH-lee-uh) the other Typha angustifolia (an-gus-tee-FOH-lee-uh.) Typha is from Greek and means “marsh” — now you how “typhoid” got its name and Typhoid Mary. Latifolia mean wide leaf, angustifolia means skinny leaf. Besides that difference, the T. latifolia likes shallower water, the T. angustifolia deeper water, but it is not unusual to find them living side by side and also crossbreeding — L’angustifolia perhaps. Cattails get their name from their mature brown cylindrical flower spikes. When I was a kid we used to used the dried spikes as torches while skating in the winter time. The end of season fluffy “tails” make excellent tinder and the Indians used them insulation, mattresses and absorption.

There is so much to know about cattails that a book could be written just about them. First, no other plants in their mature stage look like the cattail, so it is difficult to misidentify. Younger plants can be misidentified with three toxic ones so always look for last year’s classic growth to confirm you have found cattails. Cattail are oval at the base, not flatish. They are also very mild tasting and without much aroma meaning if what you think you’ve got is a cattail and it is strongly flavored and or aromatic — not counting the smell of mud — you’ve got the wrong plant.

Flower spikes when green

It is said that if a lost person has found cattails, they have four of the five things they need to survive: Water, food, shelter and a source of fuel for heat—the dry old stalks. The one item missing is companionship. Of course, the other thing to point out is that no matter where the water flows, down stream is civilization in North, Central and South America. Remember that when you are lost in the Americas. This does not hold true in Africa or Siberia. Many rivers in Africa are largest near their source then dry up as the water is used or evaporates. In Siberia rivers flow north towards the uninhabited arctic.

One Boy Scout motto is “You name it and we’ll make it from cattails!” Cattails are the supermarket of the wilds. The young cob-like tips of the plant are edible as is the white bottom of the stalk, spurs off the main roots and spaghetti like rootlets off the main roots. They have vitamins A, B,

Cattail lower stalks

and C, potassium and phosphorus. The pollen can be used like flour. I like their convenience as a trail nibble, or canoe nibble as it were. Just pull on one and where it pulls from the stalk there’s usually a tasty bite or two. I think the best part, though, are the new shoots off the main root. They’re start out looking like an alligator’s tooth then a pointed hook three or four inches long. The roots themselves need some processing and I’ll get to them in a moment.

The “Listronotus” grub grows larger

Cattails have a surprising function and history. The spread of cattails in a body of water is an important part of the process of open water being converted to marsh then dry land. They are native to both North America and Europe. In Europe cattails are called bulrushes or greater reed mace. They’re first mentioned — meaning mentioned in writing — in the United States in the 1830s and at that time were only found along the Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico excluding Texas. They weren’t even reported in places like Wisconsin until after World War I. They weren’t a significant plant in the Dakotas until the 1960s. The native cattail, Typha gracilis, seems to have all but disappeared, hybridizing with the European version to form the two species mentioned here. Eastern Indians used cattails extensively, not only for food, but for hemp and stuffing. In fact, one Indian word for cattails means “fruit for papoose’s bed.” The fluff was used in diapers and for menstruation.

Like most aquatic plants in the area the cattail is also home to a beetle grub that fish like. On a green cattail look for aon outer leaf that is go brown at the bottom of the leaf and main stalk. You will find a grub, actually the larval form of an Arrowhead Beetle, of the Listronotus genus. The size will vary but they do grow big enough for a small hook and fish love them. As a weevil the grub is also probably edible by humans but I haven’t got around to trying one. You can find the same grub in the tops of bulrushes and wapato.

As mentioned earlier, cattails are the champion of starch production. The way you get the starch is to clean the exterior of the roots and then crush them in clean water and let them sit. The starch settles to the bottom then one pours off the water. It may take several drain and settle sessions get rid of the fiber. I sampled the starch raw once and got a bit of a stomach ache. Once you have just the starch it is excellent for cooking as you would any flour. Getting starch that way is quite labor intensive. Here are three other ways to get to the root starch:

Clean cattail roots

Dry the peeled roots (peel roots while they are wet–they are difficult to peel when dry). Chop roots into small pieces, and then pound them wtih a little water. When the long fibers are removed, the resultant goup powder can be dried and used as flour. The roots also can be boiled like potatoes then the starch chewed out (spitting away the fibers) or you can also roast the root in a fire until the outer spongy core is completely black. Then chew the starch off of the fiber. Don’t eat the fiber. It will give you a stomach ache. I know from personal experience. The advantage of the latter method is no pots or pans are needed. If you have fire and a pond you have a nutritious meal. You can also put the roots on the barbecue.

Lastly, cattails, Typha latifolia, is suspeced in the fatal poisoning of several horses in Indiana, one case over 80 years ago. Symptoms included stiffness, disinclination to move, profuse perspiration, and muscular trembling.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Cattails grow to 9 feet; leaves are strap-like, stiff, spongy inside, rounded on back, sheathed together at base to appear “flattened” but oval; the cigar-looking “blossom” is very densely packed with tiny flowers, male flowers in top cluster, female flowers in bottom cluster. Roots grow horizontally. If there is a gap between the male and female parts of the plant it is T. angustifolia, or the narrow leaf cattail. If the male and female parts of the plant meet, it is T. latifolia, the common cattail.

TIME OF YEAR: Spikes, pollen and flowers in the spring, bottoms of stalks and root year best in fall and spring.

ENVIRONMENT: Grows where it is wet, rivers, ponds, ditches, lakes, close to shore or farther out.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Numerous, boiled immature and mature flowers, pollen in bread, stalks as a trail nibble, root starch for sustenance, root stems shoots as vegetables. The roots can be boiled and the starch stripped or sucked off the fibers. They can be dried, the starch grated off the fibers and the starch used as flour. You can crush the roots in water, let the starch settle, pour off the water, then use the starch. Or you can but the roots on embers and roast until black, then peel the black layer off and chew or such the starch off the fibers. Also the core of the roots can be roasted until dry and used as a coffee substitute.

Scalloped Cattails

Take two cups of chooped cattail tops and put them into a bowl with two beaten eggs, one-half cup melted butter, one-half teaspoon each sugar and nutmeg and black pepper. Blend well and add slowly one cup of scalded milk to the cattail mixture and blended. Pour the mixture into a greased casserole and top with grated Swiss cheese —optional — and add a dab of butter. Bake 275 degrees for 30 minutes.

Cattail Pollen Biscuits

The green bloom spikes turn a bright yellow as they become covered with pollen. Put a large plastic bag over the head (or tail) and shake. The pollen is very fine, resembling a curry-colored talc powder. Pancakes, muffins and cookies are excellent by substituting pollen for the wheat flour in any recipe. Cattail Pollen Biscuits: Mix a quarter cup of cattail pollen, one and three-quarters cup of flour, three teaspoons baking powder, one teaspoon salt, four tablespoons shortening, and three quarters a cup of milk. Bake, after cutting out biscuits, in 425-degree oven for 20 minutes. For an even more golden tone, you may add an additional quarter cup of pollen.

Cattail Pollen Pancakes

Mix one-half cup pollen, one-half cup flour, two tablespoons baking powder, one teaspoon salt, one egg, one cup of milk, three tablespoon bacon drippings. Pour into a hot skillet or griddle in dollar, four-inch pancake amounts.

Cattail Casserole

Two cups scrapped spikes, one cup bread crumbs, one egg, beaten, one-half cup milk, salt and pepper, one onion diced, one-half cup shredded cheddar cheese. Combine all ingredients in a casseroles dish and place in an oven set to 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Serve when hot.

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