What part of a cattail is edible?

Reports Anne Nonny Mouse: “Subject: Try it, Euell like it.

“I went on a group hike last night, led by a naturalist, through the pond and prairie land and orchards of the local nature center.

“At the pond, we came upon some cattails, and our leader commented that they were edible. I had an immediate ’70s flashback. Remember those old Grape-Nuts commercials where Euell Gibbons declared he was cutting himself a cattail for dinner? Euell never filled us in about what part of a cattail one would eat. This is information you or I might I need to know; you never know when your survival will be dependent upon a cattail (and you wouldn’t want to be eating the wrong end). I had to ask.

“It turns out you eat the bottom end of the stalk after peeling away the outside — it looks like the white part of a scallion. Our leader asked if anyone wanted to try it, and most of us did — especially the three little boys on the hike, who loved the idea of eating a cattail. Cattail tastes like a bitter cucumber and leaves a little bit of aftertaste for a while.

“We rugged survivalists ate some wild berries, munched on a cattail and prepared ourselves for survival off the land, in the rugged terrain in the wilds of Mendota Heights — about a mile from home, where I had just baked a loaf of banana bread, which was fortuitous, in case this surviving-off-the-land thing doesn’t work for me.”

Not exactly what he had in mind (responsorial)

The Retired Pedagogue of Arden Hills: “In Wednesday’s Bulletin Board, W.i. Fly mentioned that his grandchildren were playing hide-and-seek with toys, and that the mailman ‘found two dolls in our box.’

“As I read that, I was reminded of the items that Scout and Jem found in the knothole of the tree near their house in Chapter 7 of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ What they discovered ranged from a ball of twine to a spelling medal, but the ones that were the most similar to what W.i. Fly‘s mailman found were ‘two small images carved in soap. One was the figure of a boy, the other wore a crude dress.’ The kids recognize that the figures are replicas of themselves, but don’t realize that Boo Radley had placed them in the tree.

“What a remarkable work of literature.”

Joy of Juxtaposition (& Unjuxtaposition)

Email from Donald: “Steve DiMeglio’s article about Rory McIlroy’s triumph in the British Open, accompanied by the perennial photo of the champ kissing the Claret Jug, begins on the front page of Sports in the Monday edition of USA Today. Page 2C carries the conclusion of the piece, along with a picture of McIlroy hugging his mother. DiMeglio writes: ‘This year, off-the-course issues again have challenged his psyche, especially breaking off his engagement with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki after wedding invitations were mailed out…. The week he broke it off with Wozniacki, he won the BMW PGA Championship….’

“Toward the bottom of the page on the left, the ‘IN BRIEF’ section features a picture of a woman tennis player smiling and holding a trophy aloft. The caption: ‘Caroline Wozniacki earned her first WTA Tour title of the year Sunday.’

“Breaking up may be hard to do, but it sure can improve your game.”

Then & Now

Keller G.C. Division

Marty from the Party of Maplewood: “My story goes back to 1957, when Ken Venturi came to Keller’s St. Paul Open — his first. In the pro shop, Herb Snow advised him to practice ‘with Marty here — he knows the course quite well.’ Having never seen the course before, Ken Venturi then went out and shot a 68 — four under par. What impressed me most, though, was: He had his wife, Valerie, and a young daughter with him. What an enjoyable day.

“He went on to win the St. Paul Open in his very first attempt.

:What a guy.”

Our birds, ourselves

Ask Al B Division

Kelli: “While taking a breather after some gardening at my daughter’s home in Vadnais Heights, we saw five ducks walking across the road toward her driveway. They ate something (gravel?) by the Class 5 driveway and then continued up toward us on the front steps. We noticed that two of them looked like they had chignon hairstyles, except it was made of feathers. They’re wild ducks and wouldn’t allow us to examine the unusual growth closely, but I’m wondering if this is just an anomaly that occurs sometimes, or if it might be the result of some local environmental issue. Does Uncle Al the Birdies’ Pal know the answer?”

BULLETIN BOARD SAYS: “Uncle Al the Birdies’ Pal” is, naturally enough, our Official Ornithologist, Al B of Hartland, whose reply follows:


“It sounds like a crested duck. This waterfowl with the interesting coiffure is like most of our domestic duck breeds in that they have descended from mallards. Mallards are known for hybridizing with other ducks. This could produce odd ducks. As an odd duck myself, I am happy for that. Thanks for noticing the ducks with the fancy featherdo.

“Al B of Hartland, a.k.a. Uncle Al the Birdies’ Pal”

Our theater of seasons

Mary S.: “At times, a doe and her two fawns will visit our back yard. The other day, we saw the doe licking her fawn on its back while the fawn licked its mother on the neck. They continued this for some moments. Then mama went to dine on our apple tree while the babies chased each other around and frolicked in the yard.

“On these warm summer mornings, we like to take our coffee and newspaper out to the gazebo. As we listen to the birds singing, My Man will lean back and say: ‘I wonder what the rich folks are doing now.’ ”

Our theater of seasons

Plus: The Permanent Paternal Record

Wednesday email from LindaGrandmaSue from Burnsville: “Ah, the dewpoint dropped from 77 to 63, blessed relief — drinking my morning coffee, watching a bright yellow finch sip from the bird bath, listening to the wind chime on my front porch, reading BB.

‘Enjoyed the ‘Hay fever’ comments from the non-farm girl, Christy of Menomonie, Wis. It reminded me of my non-farm dad, who, upon seeing the round hay bales in the field, would always chuckle and remind us: ‘Those poor cows can’t get a square deal.’


Throw the cow over the fence some hay!

Calani in Isle: “I came across this sentence in a novel by Jim Harrison: ‘The friend was a very old stooped man with a vigorous handshake named Orville.’

“It was stunning in the context of perfect language usage otherwise.”

Band Name of the Day: The Grape Nuts

Website of the Day: Euell Gibbons stalks the wild cattail, at http://tinyurl.com/eat-a-tail

With a little knowledge it becomes clear that there are plenty of plants that you come across in the wilderness that can help keep you alive in a survival situation. You must be careful as not all plants are edible and some can kill however, today we are going to be looking at the edible cattails (Typha species.)

Cattails offer a wide range of benefits and have been eaten for thousands of years in Europe as all parts of the plant are edible.

Cattail is a good source of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Consuming 19 gram of cattail offers 0.144 mg of Manganese, 4.3 µg of Vitamin K, 12 mg of Magnesium, 0.9 g of Total dietary fibre, 0.17 mg of Iron, 0.023 mg of Vitamin B6 and 21 mg of Sodium. 28g of cattails gives:

  1. 7 calories
  2. 31mg sodium
  3. 1g total carbohydrates
  4. 0.02 calcium
  5. 1% iron

Health Benefits

Cattails have many health benefits, some of which include:

  • Prevent Cancer – there is ongoing research into its ability to prevent cancer. Early results are looking promising.
  • Prevent Anaemia – Extracts from the cattail have coagulant properties, meaning that they slow down the flow of blood and prevent anaemia. This can be effective if it is applied on wounds, but also if a person is suffering from heavy menstrual bleeding, it can lessen the severity.
  • Skin Care – The rich nutrients and organic compounds found in cattail contribute to its effect on the skin, particularly its ability to heal boils, sores, and reduce the appearance of scars.
  • Antiseptic Properties – The jelly-like substance that is found between young leaves can be used on wounds and other areas of the body where foreign agents, pathogens, or microbes might do damage in order to protect our system. This same jelly from the cattail plant is known as a powerful analgesic and can be ingested or applied topically to relieve pain and inflammation.
  • Steady Increase in Energy – Cattail consists of good amount of carbohydrate, which offers greater levels of energy and even replenish energy levels if deficient from time to time.
  • Controlling Diabetes – A regular intake of Cattail helps to control diabetes mellitus, which is non-insulin dependent. So it is fruitful to consume cattail on a regular basis to combat diabetes.
  • Improves Digestion – Cattail consists of a good amount of both soluble and insoluble fibre which is essential for improving the digestion process. Soluble fibres counter the absorption of cholesterol and insoluble fibres encourage the movement of waste out of the system. This leads to reduced chances of constipation or even haemorrhoids. So including cattail in a person’s diet helps to reduce various digestion related problems.

When foraging for cattails, be very careful about where you are gathering them from. Cattails are known to detoxify water so if the water around them is stagnant or polluted, these take those harmful compounds in which could be very dangerous if consumed.

Harvesting Cattails

Virtually all parts of the cattail plant are edible at some point of the year. The lower part of the stem is white and, if you eat it raw, you will notice that it tastes like cucumber. If you cook it, it tastes like corn.

While many parts of the plant can be useful year round, the wonderfully tender shoots are perfect for eating in mid to late spring.

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.

Cattail Wild-Rice Soup

  • Cook 1 cup of dried wild rice until tender.
  • In a heavy-bottomed soup pot sauté 1/2 cup chopped green onion and 2 cups sliced cattail shoots in 2 Tbsp sesame oil until tender and translucent.
  • Add the cooked wild rice, 2 tsp salt and 4 cups of chicken broth or other soup stock of choice.
  • Simmer together for 15-20 minutes and serve.

Cattail Soup

  • Cover 2 1/2 cups of almonds with 10 cups of water and soak overnight in the refrigerator.
  • Puree the soaked almonds with about 3 cups of the almond/water mixture at a time in a blender until all the almonds have been pureed.
  • Pour the puree into a colander lined with cheesecloth or thin nylon fabric over a bowl. Twist the top of the cloth and squeeze the remaining water.
  • Discard the pulp and mix 2 cups of thinly sliced cattail shoots, 1/4 cup mint leaves and the juice of half a lemon with the almond milk. Serve chilled.

Making Tea from Wild Plants

Tags: cattails Edible Plants

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Learn how to find, identify, forage, process, and cook cattails. Also known as bulrushes or reed mace, cattails are one of the best survival foods.

It has been said that if a lost person finds cattails they have everything they need to survive – fuel, water, food, and shelter material.

Cattails, also known as bulrushes or greater reed mace in Europe, get their American name from their unique cylindrical flower spikes.

No other plant, in their mature stage, look like cattails and they are easy to identify.

However, younger plants look much like three different toxic plants so always look for last year’s brown flower tails to confirm that you really have found young cattails.

Better safe than sorry, always.

No green plant produces more edible starch per acre than cattails. They produce 6,475 pounds of flour per year on average on just one acre, beating potatoes and rice in this aspect.


Two species of cattails are common in North America, Typha latifolia and Typha angustifolia. T. latifolia likes shallower water, while T. angustifolia prefers deeper water. Don’t let that fool you though, it is not unusual to find them living side by side and even crossbreeding in the wild.

In the field it is difficult for the unexperienced to tell them apart but don’t fret, it doesn’t really matter because both are edible and just as usable.

Cattail are oval at the base and mature plants produce the classic brown cylindrical flower spikes. They are hard to miss.

Taste and smell
Cattails are very mild tasting and without much aroma. If you think you have found cattail but it is strongly flavored and/or aromatic you have the wrong plant and should not eat it.

Edible Uses

If you have a way to start a fire and a pond nearby you have a nutritious meal waiting to be had. Even without these you can still have a delicious snack.

To harvest, grab them near the base and pull diagonally, the shoot will separate from the main plant.

The young tips of the plant are edible as is the white bottom of the stalk. Spurs off the main roots and the spaghetti like rootlets are all edible, but the main root requires some processing.

The pollen can be used like flour, but if the plant has the classic brown head you’ve already missed the pollen.

Other Uses

Cattails are the Wal-Mart of the woods.

Their dried spikes make great torches and overall they are some of the best tinder you can find. Indians used them as insulation and padding for their mattresses, for hemp, stuffing, diapers, and even for menstruation.

Survival Pro-tip: If you have cattails then you have water. No matter where you are in North America, walk downstream to find help. Civilization is almost always downstream of a water source in the Americas.

Added Bonus

If you’re the lucky type your cattail bounty may have a surprise for you. Like most aquatic plants, cattails are home to a beetle grub that fish absolutely love.

Find a green cattail and look for an outer leaf that has turned brown at the base. If luck is with you, you will find a grub big enough for a small hook. Fish go crazy for them.

Also, the core of the roots can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute.

Processing The Roots

The roots have a fibrous part that must be removed. Don’t eat this fiber, it will give you a bad stomach ache.

Scrub the exterior of the roots and then throughly crush them into pulp in clean potable water. Pick out as much of the fibrous parts as possible, let the remainder sit while the starch (what you’re after) settles to the bottom, then pour off the water.

It usually takes a couple of drain and settle sessions to remove all of the fiber. Once you’re left with just the starch, spread it out and let it dry into a flour-like powder. Use your cattail flour like you would any other flour.

This is all pretty labor intensive, especially if you must purify the water every time.

Alternative methods
Peel the roots while they are wet (they are hard to peel when dry), chop them into small pieces, and dry them out throughly.

After they are dry, pound them out with a mallet, hammer, or your knife handle. You may need to wet them a little to make them pliable. Remove the long fibers and finish drying the fine powder into something akin to flour.

If you have no pots or pans nor time to waste, simply boil the roots like potatoes and chew on them like a piece of grass, spitting out the fibers.

You can also roast the root in a fire until the outside is completely black then chew the starch out of the fiber in the same manner.

Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Cattails grow up to 9 feet tall, 6-7ft are most common. The leaves are strap-like with a spongy inside. They join together at base and appear “flattened” and oval. The back of the leaves are rounded. The “blossom” is cigar shaped and very densely packed with tiny flowers. Once pollinated the flowers turn into the classic brown seed head. The roots grow horizontally from a main root.

WHERE: Cattails grow next to rivers, ponds, lakes, and even ditches. They line the shore and farther out into the water.

WHEN: You will see young spikes, pollen, and flowers in the spring. By the fall the classic seed head will have developed, and several may still be left from last seasons growth.

Video Identification

Check out this great video courtesy of David’s Passage for hands-on identification and more.

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The Pond Guy’s Blog

Q: Should we leave cattails in the pond for the animals?

Cynthia – Greenfield, OH

A: Cattails may be a nuisance in ponds and lakes, but they’re not all bad – particularly if you’re an animal. All kinds of critters, in fact, use the plant as a source of food, shelter and supplies.

Cattail Basics

Cattails are common aquatic plants that grow from 3 to 10 feet tall in dense colonies around the margins of ponds and lakes. In the spring, the green strap-like foliage grows from large, creeping, below-the-ground rhizomes. As the seasons progress, the cattail’s leaves and spikes—or the plant’s brown cylindrical flower—grow. And when the flowers open and let loose their fluffy seeds, the cattails spread and propagate new plants throughout the lake.

Cornucopia for Critters

A small, managed area of cattails can provide an ideal habitat for amphibians, insects, birds and fish. These aquatic critters use the plants for all sorts of things, including:

  • Nesting Spot: Red-winged blackbirds often use cattails for a perching and nesting spot. Water fowl, like mallards and Canadian geese, also use the tall, tightly bunched leaves and stalks for nesting. Turkeys—as well as deer, raccoon and other mammals—use cattails as cover from predators.
  • Hatchery/Nursery: Birds and mammals aren’t the only ones that find refuge in cattails. Insects and amphibians, like dragonflies, frogs and salamanders, will lay their eggs in the brush and water between the stalks. Below the surface, fish and other aquatic creatures will hide and nest in the growth.
  • Multi-Purpose Material: The cattail fluff that explodes from the plant’s spikes makes excellent nest-making material for birds –and that’s not all it’s good for. Native Americans used it to cushion moccasins and papoose boards. Pioneers used it to dress wounds, start camp fires, and stuff quilts, cushions, mattresses and dolls. And the military used the water-resistant, buoyant fluff to stuff life vests. Besides the fluff, the cattail’s leaves were used to make mats and webbing, and the stalks were used to make fiber and adhesive.
  • Grocery Store: An integral part of the pond ecosystem’s food chain, cattails’ leaves, shoots and roots make a tasty buffet for muskrat, geese and snails, while the plant’s underwater stalks feed fish, frogs and turtles. Humans can eat cattails, too. The rhizomes can be used like other root vegetables, and they can be dried and ground into flour. Young green shoots, which taste like cucumber, can be chopped into salads. Green flowering stalks can be boiled and eaten like sweetcorn.

Pond Owner Considerations

Allowing a cattail stand to grow in your pond for the animals’ benefit is a great idea—and those critters will appreciate what you leave for them—but there are some things you should keep in mind.

If you’re trying to deter troublesome predators, like raccoon and muskrats, keep the cattails cut back. This exposes their hiding and hunting spots, so they’ll be less likely to stop by for some sushi. Use pond weed cutters and a rake to remove dead debris and growing cattails, particularly around the pond’s perimeter. While you’re at it, add some MuckAway™ to the water to help break down muck and other decomposing materials.

Your best bet is to mark out an area where you’d like your cattail stand to grow, and then clean up what grows beyond the border. You’ll provide an ecosystem for the animals while preventing your pond from being overtaken.

Pond Talk: How do you manage cattails in your pond?

Grow the Cattail Plant in Your Farm Pond

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The cattail plant is ubiquitous in many parts of the United States. In Ohio, it grows in drainage ditches and along roadsides, ponds, and lakes. There are two main varieties of cattail plant that grow in the United States: Typha latifolia (wider leaf, likes shallower water) and Typha angustifolia (thinner leaf, prefers deeper water). The genus name Typha is Greek for “marsh,” which points to its preferred wet habitat.

Cattail Plant Ecology

Cattails are aquatic plants typically found in calm water, especially at the edges of ponds, lakes, marshes, and shorelines. The three to 10-foot tall cattail plant stem grows up from below the surface of the water, producing a sturdy upright stem and slender leaves. The “flower” is the well-known hot dog shaped part near the top of the stalk. Within the flower rests thousands of light, wind-spread seeds.

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YES! Please sign me up! Late spring cattails are tall and green.

In the spring, tender new shoots appear first, which then form the green flowers. By winter the flowers dry out, turning brown and breaking apart. The wind carries the seeds off to colonize new areas. The cattail plant is so good at spreading itself that it is often the first new growth in wet mud.

Why Grow the Cattail Plant in Your Pond

If you are digging a farm pond, you get the benefit of starting fresh. What kind of plants do you want to include in your farm pond design?

The cattail plant is often used at the edges of bodies of water to help stabilize the shoreline. If you plan to stock your pond, the cattail plant can provide concealment and protection for smaller fish. The cattail is also habitat for grubs that fish eat. Waterfowl and some songbirds also like to nest in the tall cattail stalks. Ours are always full of Red-Winged Blackbirds. Our ducks spend hot days in the cattails, diving for those fish that are trying to hide under them.

Maintenance and Control

Whether you introduce it to your pond or inherit it on your property, the cattail plant will require maintenance and control. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources considers the cattail a well-established invasive species. It can easily take over your pond and prevent other species from growing, but with some good farm pond maintenance you can keep it in check and reap the benefits for your pond habitat.

When we bought our farm, one side of our pond was full of cattails. As several years passed, they grew denser and began to spread out into the middle of the pond. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recommends controlling the cattail plant by trimming the stalks just under the surface of the water after the first frost or applying an herbicide to the leaves. This should be done every few years to keep the plant growth in check.

A healthy amount of cattails helps control erosion and stabilize the edges of our pond.

In Letters to a Young Farmer, Amigo Bob Cantisano advises young farmers to learn from the experience of elders in their communities. He writes, “Many of us have been farming for three or four decades, and we have learned much from trial and error, eventually creating success. There’s a lot to learn from us geezers; don’t be shy. We’re usually happy to help.” Taking this to heart, we consulted with our neighbors who built our pond and house before eventually moving across the street.

Their advice was actually fairly close to the department of natural resources recommendation. Wait until the pond freezes solid with at least four inches of ice. Then go out on it with a snow shovel and cut the stalks off where they meet the ice. Best case, the pond melts and refreezes, covering the remaining stubs with ice and cutting off the air supply to the root. This will provide control for a while longer. Even if it doesn’t freeze over, simply trimming the stalks back will help from keeping the cattail plant from taking over the pond. This is now one of our winter chores the first time the pond freezes. It’s been a fairly successful technique for us.

We started using the blade on our trimmer but quickly switched to a plain old snow shovel, which cuts the cattails off at the base, where they meet the ice. Then we hauled the foliage off to our compost pile.

Uses for the Cattail Plant

The cattail plant’s uses are prolific. A commonly cited Boy Scout motto is “You name it and we’ll make it from cattails.” Many websites detail how to survive if all you have are cattails. You probably won’t need to survive off cattails, but it is amazing how many uses there are for this plant. Maybe you’ll try out a few of these projects to support your efforts at self-reliant living or just for a little adventure.

Food – for Humans and Animals

Just about all of the cattail plant is edible from the rhizome at its base to the stalk and young shoots, to the flower and pollen. Though it is difficult to extract, the rhizome holds more edible starch than any other green plant. That’s right, even more than potatoes! The starch has to be separated from the fiber, which can upset the stomach if eaten. There’s a great how-to on several ways to extract the starch as well as some recipes for using the flour on a website called “Eat the Weeds: Cattails – A Survival Dinner.”

In early spring, the young shoots can be peeled and eaten raw or boiled. They taste a lot like asparagus. When the flower matures in mid-summer, collect the pollen and use it like flour.

Beef Magazine says young cattails can be given to cattle as an emergency feed and may have a near equivalent feed value to straw. Some farmers tell of cows eating the cattails right out of the pond. They seem to enjoy all parts of the plant in spring and early summer.

According to selfnutrition.com, one ounce of narrow cattail shoots contains eight percent of our necessary daily value of Vitamin K and 11 percent of our daily value of the mineral Manganese. It also contains Magnesium, Potassium, Calcium, Vitamin B6, and trace amounts of six other vitamins and minerals.

Caning Chairs

Dry the leaves of the cattail plant and use them to cane chairs. This seems to be a dying art, with few artisans remaining who are proficient in the process. You can find a detailed description of how to harvest and process cattail leaves for caning on TheWickerWoman.com.

Stuffing & Insulation

Use the fluff from the dried flowers to stuff pillows or make a rudimentary mattress. Or insulate coats or shoes with it, as a replacement for down. You can even insulate a simple house with cattail fluff. Native Americans used it for diapers and menstrual pads because it is also rather absorbent.

More Uses – the List Just Keeps Going!

From home and boat construction to biofuel, handmade papers, and fire starters – the more you research, the more possible uses for the cattail plant appear. The list just seems endless!

If you have the time to spend on maintaining this plant so it doesn’t take over your farm pond, it will reward you with many interesting pursuits on your homestead. Which will you try first?

(Katrina Smith/FreeImages.com)

If you have a water feature in your garden, such as a pond or bog, cattails (Typha latifolia and T. angustifolia) make an eye-catching addition. Their sword-like leaves and brown inflorescences, which actually resemble cat tails, offer a unique architectural element to the landscape. The “tails” of these plants also provide nutrient rich food for birds, bees and other animals, as well as nesting materials.

Featuring a dense root system, cattails can be used to prevent shore erosion on lakes and small ponds. These plants also do a good job of filtering toxins out of water, and they have nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their roots, which means they absorb this important nutrient and then redistribute it to surrounding soil.

Once established, cattails can spread quickly via rhizomes (spreading roots), as well as seed. While this may be something you want if you have a large pond, their tendency to readily propagate may not be a good thing if you have small water feature or bog. The good news is that you can contain cattails very easily by growing them in pots and cutting off the seed heads before they distribute themselves in the fall.

(Anna Lauk/FreeImages.com)

Follow these tips for growing cattails in your water garden.

Plant in partial to full sun. Cattails will thrive in a bright location. Avoid planting them in a shady area, as they won’t do well in such conditions.

Provide moist conditions. While cattails can grow in a wide variety of soil conditions, they require perpetually moist soil and can grow in up to 12 inches of water. If you are planting them in a boggy area and you experience dry summer conditions, make sure to provide supplemental water.

Grow in containers. If you wish to contain cattails, choose a dwarf variety that grows 2 to 3 feet high. (Some native varieties can reach 6 feet tall.) Plant cattails in durable 1-gallon containers—one plant per pot—or use a water garden basket of a similar size. If the pot isn’t durable, the rhizomes may break through and root in surrounding soil.

(Michael Tschauder/FreeImages.com)

Plant in soil from the water garden or similar soil. Cattails do best in heavy clay-loam soil, rather than potting soil, which is too lightweight and tends to float out of the pot and into surrounding water. Once planted, submerge the pot up to the rim in the water garden.

Fertilize once in early spring. Use a well-balanced organic fertilizer designed for water gardens. The plants will remove the nutrients they need from the water garden for the rest of the season.

Divide occasionally. Once every two to three years, remove the cattails from the container and divide the rhizomes by cutting through them with a knife. Repot the new plant sections in their own containers.

Julie Bawden-Davis is a garden writer and master gardener, who since 1985 has written for publications such as Organic Gardening, Wildflower, Better Homes and Gardens and The Los Angeles Times. She is the author of seven books, including Reader’s Digest Flower Gardening, Fairy Gardening, The Strawberry Story, and Indoor Gardening the Organic Way, and is the founder of HealthyHouseplants.com.

Cooking With Wild, Edible Cattails

Late summer/early fall is the time of year when you’re apt to see stands of fuzzy brown cattails swaying in the breeze in wetlands all over the United States and Canada. In fact, anywhere there is a water source, you’ll likely find cattails growing. As a child, you may remember playing with these fluffy brown “tails” known as catkins. As common as cattails are, it’s surprising that we don’t put them to greater use. As it turns out, cattails (Typha latifolia) are one of the most versatile plants you’ll find and are one of the top 20 wild edible plants in North America.

Whether you’re a seasoned forager or just curious to see how to prepare a cattail for eating, read on!

Several parts of the plant are edible. In fact, cattails produce more starch per acre than crops like potatoes and yams. Yet unlike potatoes and yams, you can eat more than just the root. Different parts of the cattail plant produce something edible at different stages of development. (Note: Be sure you’re eating from a clean water and soil source, free of pesticides.)

  • Cattail Roots: The roots (called rhizomes) are harvestable throughout the year, but they’re best in the fall and winter. To prepare a cattail root, clean it and trim away the smaller branching roots, leaving the large rhizome. You can grill, bake or boil the root until it’s tender. Once cooked, eating a cattail root is similar to eating the leaves of an artichoke – strip the starch away from the fibers with your teeth. The buds attached to the rhizomes are also edible! To make flour: You can also use the roots to make flour, used as a thickening agent in cooking. Scrape and clean several cattail roots. Place roots on lightly greased cookie sheet in a 200º F oven to dry overnight. Skin roots and remove fibers. Pound roots until fine. Let stand overnight to dry. Sift, and it’s ready to use.
  • Cattail Corn on the Cob: If you pick the catkins in the spring, while they’re still green and hidden in the leaves, you can eat them just like corn on the cob. Boil the catkins until they’re heated through, and then serve with butter, salt, and pepper.
  • Baking with Cattail Pollen: Once the catkins mature – usually by the end of June – you can harvest pollen by bending the catkins into a bag and shaking the pollen off. Cattails produce a lot of pollen, so you’ll end up with several pounds in no time. The pollen makes an excellent high-protein substitute for flour in your favorite baked goods.
  • Shoots and Stalks: In the spring, you can harvest both the new shoots and the white parts of the cattail stalks near the roots. You can cook and serve the shoots and stalks like asparagus, or you can clean them, slather on some peanut butter and eat them fresh.

Try this recipe that uses the plant’s roots, best gathered in the fall, from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources:

Seshelt Chowder


4 large cattail roots, roasted and dried (using oven method, above)
5 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
1 ½ pounds roughly cut, fresh salmon
¼ teaspoon fresh pepper

Simmer the cattail roots in water for 40 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and simmer 10 minutes.

Fun survival facts: If you’ve located cattails, you just found a water source, a food source, and a fuel source!

From the look of them, no one would guess that cattails are so useful. However, they’re incredibly useful, especially in survival situations.

Cattails grow along rivers, lakes, streams and ponds, and can be used for food, for shelter, for medicine, for starting a fire, for cordage, for insulating clothing, and for making baskets.

Let me tell you how.

However, if you don’t have time to read about, then you can learn about it here: Survival Tips – Using Cattails To Survive.

Nom, Nom, Nom: Cattails Tastes Good

According to eattheweeds.com, every part of the cattail is edible during all seasons of the year. In the late fall and early winter, the roots can harvested to make flour. First the outer layer of the root is peeled off.

Then the root is chopped and mashed like potatoes. Next, the pieces are soaked in water in a container to release the starch. During soaking stage, the starch should settle at the bottom of your container and begin to look like wet flour.

Finally, the water is drained and the ‘flour’ left to dry out. You can add some cattail pollen to this starch to make bread or add some more water to make some soup. In the spring, the corms or young shoots of the plant can be cooked or eaten raw.

However, if you allow the corms to mature a bit, then they can be peeled, cooked and eaten like any old stalk of asparagus. In early summer, the stems above the soil line and the roots can be pulled and peeled to be boiled or eaten raw.

At this time, the flower heads can also be removed and roasted or boiled like corn. In the mid to late summer, cattails grow yellow pollen on their heads that can be shaken off and used like flour to make soups, pancakes, bread or even thicken a good sauce or gravy.

Cattails Can Shelter You from the Pouring Rain

Believe it or not, the green leaves of a cattail can be used to make shelter. All you have to do is cut them and weave them together into shingle squares, like you’d find on any roof.

Roofs made of these leaves are so strong that they can protect you from rain, wind or snow without losing any of their strength. You can find more information about this at Survival School.

Cattail leaves also make good sleeping mats. You can weave the leaves together just like you did for the roof to make a mat. However if you make two mats and add some stuffing made out of pine boughs and the fluff from the cattail’s head, then you’ll be able to make something that is similar to a mattress.

You just make two long mats then connect them on one side. Next, fill one side with your stuffing, fold the empty side of the mat over, then tie it off. After you are done using it, you should be able to fold it like a sleeping bag.

Cattails Can Heal You

This plant is so versatile that it has medicinal uses. You can cut open its root, bruise the area of the plant that is exposed with a knife, and make a poultice for any type of wound. You can learn more about making a poultice here.

This poultice can be used for insect bites (spiders!), stings, scrapes, burns and more. Burns can also be treated with the fluff from the flowers, which are good for preventing diaper rash as well. Plus, the young flowers can treat diarrhea.

Besides bruising them to make a poultice, cattails can also be burned to treat abrasions and wounds. According the the 7Ps blog, ash from burnt cattails has antiseptic properties. Antiseptic properties can also be found in the amber-colored liquid that drips from the stem of the plant, which can be used to relieve toothaches.

Cattail is on Fire

After the head of a cattail turns brown, the fluff inside of it can be used as tinder for a fire. You can use it right along with the dried leaves and stalks from old plant growth to start your fire.

Not only that, the plant itself can be made into a torch. All you have to do is cut off the stalk with the head still attached, cover it in pine resin and light it up. There’s a demonstration and details on how to start a fire using cattails at Sword of Survival.

Cordage Anyone?

According to Tom Brown Jr. at wildwood survival, cordage is a rope that is indispensable in survival situations. To make cordage from cattail leaves, all you have to do is peel strips from them, let them dry, then braid three of the strips together.

To create a strong rope, you’ll have to wrap and splice the cordage as well. These ropes can be used as fishing line, bowstrings, lashings, trap triggers, snares and more.

It Can be Used in Clothing Too

You can make a fashion statement by using the dried leaves of the cattail plant to weave a hat. Plus, you can use the fluff from the head of the plant to insulate jackets, coats, shoes, pants and other clothing.

The fluff can also be used to insulate bedding or make pillows if you like.

Basket Weaving 101

Basket weaving can come in handy in a survival situation. Baskets can be made for carrying food and other items. To make a basket you’ll first need to weave the leaves together to make a base, then fold the sides of the base up, then weave around the sides.

Once the sides are finished, straps for carrying the basket can weaved into them. Better still, the basket will only get stronger as the woven leaves dry.

Let’s All Eat Some Cattail!

We never know when we might be in a survival situation, so we need to know about plants like cattails. They are more versatile than they look, and may even be defined as one of survivalists’ greatest secrets.

The cattail can be used for food, for medicine, to make shelter, to make fires, for cordage, to weave baskets and even more. You may not use the cattail for all of those things, but it’s good information to have in case you need it for some of those things.

Cattails: The Survival Food That’s Great Anytime

Image source: nrca-railroad.com

Cattails grown in a multitude of places around the United States, and if eaten correctly, can be a superb source of energy-bearing nutrients. Knowing what you can and can’t eat safely when in either a short or long-term survival situation may mean the difference between life and death.

One of the most important minerals contained in cattails is manganese. According to the Eat The Weeds website, the “weed” generates more edible starch per acre than potatoes, Cat o’ nine tails, rice, yams and taros. A single acre of cattails can produce approximately 6,474 pounds of flour during an average year. Cattails were reportedly set to be fed to World War II soldiers, but the fighting ended first.

In North America two species of cattails are common – Typha latifolia and Typha angustifolia. Typha, a Greek word, means “marsh.” The disease known as typhoid and the phrase Typhoid Mary both stem from the ancient word. Latifolia and angustifolia reference lead size, the former indicating wide and the latter referencing slimness. Typha latifolia prefers to grow in shallow water and angustifolia thrives in deeper water, but the two species are also found side-by-side and crossbreed on occasion.

The brown flower spikes can be dried in the sun and used as tinder or even a temporary torch. Native Americans once used cattails in mattresses and for other insulation and absorption needs. Due to cattails’ unique look, it is very difficult to misidentify mature plants, which could be very helpful when foraging for food.

New Natural Fertilizer Doubles Garden Production!

The smaller and younger plants do have three toxic look-a-likes, so print a photo of both stages of the plant’s growth and have handy for quick reference. If the plant, whether young or old, plucked from the mud has either a strong flavor or aroma, you have likely chosen the wrong plant for dinner. Other than the smell of moist dirt or mud, cattails have virtually no odor.

Cattails have long been referred to as the “supermarket of the wilds.” An old Boy Scout motto says, “You name it and we’ll make it from cattails.” The young tips on the plant, as well as main root spurs, bottom white stalk, and spaghetti-looking “rootlets” protruding away from the main roots, are all edible. Cattails are also a good source of vitamins A, B, C phosphorous, and potassium. Pollen from cattails can be used in lieu of flour.

If you want to fish the waterway to extend your survival food source options, look at the outer leaf of the cattail plant near the bottom by the amin stalk for grubs and Arrowhead Beetles to use as bait.

Image source: nwrcwebapps.cr.usgs.gov

To harvest starch from a cattail plant, clean the exterior roots and then mince or crush them, before putting them in clean water. After the small bits of root sit in the water for at least five minutes, the starch will settle to the bottom. Carefully and slowly pour off the water. This step may need repeated several times in a bowl of clean water each time in order to remove all of the extra fiber. Although it is not dangerous to eat a cattail stalk raw, many folks who have done so report getting a stomach ache due to the high levels of starch. Once the excess is removed, there is still plentiful root starch to garner nutrients from.

Peeling the roots may be a less labor intensive way to clean and remove excess starch from a cattail plant. Peeling while the stalk is wet is far easier than to do so when the plant has been allowed to dry thoroughly. Once peeled, chop the roots into smaller pieces, as you would do with carrots, and then pour, pound or place the roots in some water to cleanse. You can also remove the long fiber strings, pound them into a powder and use them like flour once they have been allowed to dry thoroughly.

Cattail roots can also be boiled in the same manner as potatoes. Additionally, the plant root can be roasted over an open flame until it is completely black and has a “spongy” consistency on the outside. When boiling or roasting cattail roots, make sure to spit out the fiber stands so you do not ingest too much at once and get a stomach ache. Roasting cattail roots on a standard BBQ grill is also an option, whether you are in a survival situation or just want to dine on a more natural entree.

How To Spot A Cattail

Cattail plants typically grow around nine-feet-tall. The leaves of the wild plant are stiff and “strap-like” on the outside and spongy on the inside. The leaves are commonly rounded on the back and sheath together at the base of the plant, appearing to flatten near the bottom, but never truly lose their oval or cigar-like shape. The cattail blossom is packed densely with small flowers. The roots of the edible plant grow horizontally. There is also a “T” shaped gap between the female and the male parts of a cattail, unless the plant is of the latifolia variety, the most commonly found type of the species.

The cattail plant grows spikes, flowers, and pollen in the spring. During this time of the year the blooming green spikes begin to turn a bright yellow as this part of the plant is covered in pollen. The roots and the bottom portion of the stalks are considered to be prime eating during both the fall and spring. The plant thrives in rivers, lakes, ponds and ditches.

Cattail Recipes

Pollen Biscuits: Place a plastic bag over the end of the cattail plant and shake to capture the pollen. The fine particles resemble a “curry” colored talcum powder. You can use the pollen instead of flour, at the same measurements, for cookie, muffin and pancake recipes.

Image source: fnal.gov

To make the biscuits, mix together three cups of baking powder, a one and three-quarters cup of flour, quarter cup of cattail pollen, one teaspoon of salt, three-quarters of a cup of milk, and four tablespoons of shortening. After kneading and cutting the dough into typical biscuit shapes, bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes.

Cattail Casserole: Mix together one cup of bread crumbs, one beaten egg, a half cup of milk, shredded cheese, pepper, and salt, two cups of scraped cattail spikes, and a diced onion. Put in a casserole dish and bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees.

Scalloped Cattails: Combine a half cup of melted butter, a half teaspoon of black pepper, nutmeg, sugar, two beaten eggs, and two cps of cattail tops – chopped. Blend the ingredients together well and slowly pour in one cup of scalded milk. Pour the ingredients into a greased casserole dish and garnish with a little bit of shredded cheese and butter. Bake for 30 minutes at 275 degrees.

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