Perhaps second only to the Dandelion in familiarity and ease of
recognition, Cattails (Typha spp.), are the closest thing you will
find to a wild grocery store. Cattail is one of the only wild plants that
is a good source of carbohydrates. This life giving starch was a staple of
Native American tribes. Due of its proliferation, cattail was never
cultivated. It quite simply grows everywhere. Unlike many wild edibles, a
stand of cattail remains a viable food source all year long. I am bothered
that there are numerous people in this country that go to bed hungry each
night, when growing right outside their door is a cornucopia of wild
Cat-o-nine-tail, Punks, Corn Dog Grass
This perennial aquatic plant is easily recognizable by the
distinctive cigar shaped flower spike that occurs at the top of a
long stalk extending upward through a cluster of pale green, tape
like leaves. It is important to note that the leaves wrap around
and tightly sheath the stalk toward its base, and often extend
below the water surface.
allow it to be easily distinguished from the poison Blue Flag, or
Wild Iris. Blue Flag only reaches 2ft in height. The leaves of the
Blue Flag do not sheath the flower stem, but rather start from the
3 - 12 feet high at maturity.
Long pale green tape-like lance shaped
leaves which wrap around and tightly sheath the stalk toward
its base, and often extend below the water surface.
Single erect terminating in a brown
cigar shaped flower spike.
Distinctive cigar shaped flower spike
that occurs at the top of a long stalk.
In autumn the flower spike ripens and
bursts forth with a mass of fluffy cotton like seeds.
Shallow waters of marshes and streams.
Margins of ponds and lakes. Some species in brackish water.
Stems - trail
nibble, salad, cooked vegetable. The young shoots and stems taste
Flower spikes -
Cooked Vegetable. Gather when green. Boil for a few minutes. They
taste reminiscent of corn on the cob
Pollen - Flour.
For a short time in late spring or early summer, before the flower
spikes turn brown, the green pollen can be gathered by carefully
bending the flower head into a bag, and shaking it gently. the
flour will fall into the bottom of the bag. be careful not to let
the wind get to it, as this is so light, a small wind will blow it
away. I have never been able to collect enough to make it a viable
food source, but it is still fun to try.
Rhizome - Flour
Corm - Flour, potato substitute
Tubers - Potato
Thatching, weaving mats.
Dried flower head
Wild Food Uses:
From early spring through early summer
the flower stalks have an excellent, refreshing, cucumber like
flavor. They are very good in soups, salads, and just peeled and
eaten raw. Select a plant, and start by peeling the first few
layers of leaves away to below the water level. Now grasp the
entire stem just above the water level, and pull gently upward.
The stem will release from the rhizome. Peel away the remaining
fibrous leaves until you end up with the tender inner stem. Rinse
in clean water to remove the slightly slimy coating. I have heard
this goop can also be saved to thicken soups, but it never seemed
worth the trouble to me, so I just rinse it off. Eat the stem bite
by bite from the white end. As you begin to reach the upper
fibrous parts, just peel away more leaves, and continue to enjoy.
You can also gather the rhizome, corms, and
tubers. All are starchy, and excellent sources of carbohydrates.
The rhizomes are quite fibrous, but they can be pounded, and the
fibers strained out, and the mixture placed in a bucket of water.
After the starch settles to the bottom, pour the water off the
top, and let the remaining water evaporate for a couple of days.
You will be left with highly nutritious flour. As the summer and
autumn progress, enlarged tubers begin to develop along the
fibrous roots. These starchy bulbs will send up next years plant.
They can be gathered by raking around in the muck with a rake,
your hands, or your bare feet. They are small 1" - 2" in diameter,
but are quite good. I enjoy them in stews and soups.
see, Cattails are an extremely useful plant to know. Their
abundance makes them a viable food source for anyone looking to
supplement their diet with a tasty, highly nutritious
carbohydrate. Cattails are a good source of beta carotene, niacin,
phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin, thiamin, and vitamin C. Enjoy
The following text is
meant for informational purposes only. It is not meant to diagnose or
treat any illness or injury. Always consult with a physician or other
qualified medical care provider concerning the diagnosis and treatment of
any illness or injury.
The leaves can be used to weave
baskets or mats, or to
make thatching to keep a shelter water proof. If you find yourself
in direct sunlight without a hat, a wonderful sunhat can be woven
from the leaves of this amazing plant. The dried pollen
fluff is a passable tinder for starting fires. It can also be used
as a punk to store embers for a future fire.
This is the flower head
in bloom. Each cattail flower contains both male and female
reproductive parts. The top male section fertilizes the bottom
female section via gravity. Once mating has taken place, the male
section withers and dies. As the flower head ripens it takes on the
familiar brown cigar shape we associate with cattails. (See photo
In the above picture I
have crushed the male section of the flowering cattail.
Notice the golden powder
in the creases between my fingers and palm. This pollen makes a
wonderful addition to regular AP flour, or rhizome flour. It
adds an interesting and very good flavor to any baked goods. This
flour can be harvested without damaging the plant. Simply bend the
stem to allow the flower head to be shaken into an awaiting bag. It
takes quite a bit of time to gather enough pollen to use, but your
efforts will be rewarded. Make sure to harvest on a day with scant
wind. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to gather a bag of
pollen only to have a gust of wind come along and scatter it from
your bag. More than once I have gone home upset, and covered in
golden pollen. Honest honey, it may look like stripper dist, but it
is cattail pollen.
When you pull the stem from the ground in late summer through
winter, you will find horn shaped corms are the terminus. These are
quite tasty, and high in carbohydrates.
This is the corm which grows on the rhizome at the base of the stem.
Once peeled the stem of the Cattail is quite tasty, and highly nutritious.
It is one of the only
wild food plants that provide high amounts of carbohydrates.
Food on the plate from top to bottom;
Bullhead fillets, cattail shoots, water snake, crawfish tails.
Poisonous Look Alikes
While they will probably not kill you, they may make you wish you were dead.
Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are indications you chose poorly.
Mature Blue Flag at 2ft tall, is much shorter than mature cattail.
The chance of mistaking this for cattail occurs in early spring when both first emerge.
The easiest way to identify cattail, is that the leaves sheath the stalk,
while those of blue flag do not, but rather are separate.
Some photos courtesy of
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