I’d be sore pressed to have to pick just one FAVORITE wild edible plant….but Cattail would definitely be up there in my estimation. Because of it’s profusion of edible offerings it has been called, The Supermarket of the Swamp. I’ve written about often about my Cattail adventures because shopping at the Cattail swamp is one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon looking for ‘deals’. Here are my Cattail posts and at the bottom of this plant bio I’ve included yet a few more Cattail capers.
Botanical Name: Typha latifolia
Common Names: Supermarket of the Swamp,
Cattails are a reed type plant that grows in dense stands along the banks of ponds and streams; they grow to 6-8 feet tall. In this species there is no break between the male and female portions of the stem. After the pollen has been shed, the male flowers drop off the stalk. It is hardy to zone 3. It is in flower from June to July. The flowers are monoecious and are pollinated by Wind. Much wildlife finds refuge and sustenance among these marvelous stands of Cattail.
Leaf: The leaves are long flat and narrow rising parallel to the stem
Flower: Stalks at the tip have the green cob (flowers) the female part, and above that to the tip is the male pollen which is golden yellow in color.
Root: Long tap root with horizontal rhizomes
Root: Starchy roots can be dug up year round (good luck)
Leaf: The leaves are not edible, but they are useful for crafts. Harvest when
Stem: Early shoots when the white part is solid enough and less fibrous, and before the ‘cobs’ or flowers develop
Flower: Early green heads after the harvest for the shoots. They flower from June to July
Pollen: Collected when it is golden and loose.The pollen can be harvested by placing the flowering stem over a wide but shallow container and then gently tapping the stem and brushing the pollen off with a fine brush.
Seeds: In early Fall, the brown flower head pops open, letting it’s fluffy seeds emerge. These seeds are carried by the wind or water to new places.
Cattail can be found in bogs, swamps, wet areas. Best to harvest where the water is running keeping things fresh. Never harvest near a road or below a Christmas tree farm or other pollutants.
Roots: dug from winter to early Spring they grow horizontal. Boil and eat like potatoes or dried and ground to powder as a thickener. Peel off outer rind while wet, pound and place in mason jar of water the starch will settle at the bottom
Corms (part of the roots): In eary spring, dig up the roots to locate the small pointed shoots called corms. These can be removed, peeled and eaten.
Shoots: early shoots eaten raw (taste like cucumber) use in stir fries or pickle for long term use
Flowers: green heads (raw or cut and cooked as an ear of corn)
Pollen: used as a protein rich nutrient additive (shake into a paper bag) Golden rush, mix with honey and eat as a sweet
Pith: of mature stem, pickled or stir fried
Cattail Roots per 1/2 cup: Protin 1.6 g Carbos 17.5 g Potassium 399 mg Beta Carotene 568 ug Calcium 32 mg
Cattail Shoots per 1/2 cup: Protein 1.8 g Carbos 15 g Fiber 6.2 g Potassium 639 mg Beta carotene 2200 ug Niacin 800 ug
Anticoagulant (prevents clotting of blood), Diuretic (increases urination and helps with blood pressure) , Emmenagogue (encourages menstruation flow), Hemostatic (topical treatment of bleeding), Lithotripic (removes kidney and bladder stones)
1. Stems and leaves weave a good thatch, make paper, mats, chairs, hats
2. Good source of biomass, excellent addition to compost heap
3. Great source of fuel (pollen flammable and used in making fireworks)
4. Stuff pillows with fluff (good insulation and buoyancy)
5. Female flowers make good tinder
6. Extensive root system makes it very good for stabilizing wet banks of rivers, lakes..
7. The slimy goo between the layers of leaves is so healing. Similar to Aloe Vera in it’s uses for wound healing and sunburn relief.
8. Pollen used to stop internal or external bleeding,may be mixed with honey and applied to wounds and sores
9. Internally used to treat kidney stones, internal hemorrhaging (menstruation., post partum pains, abcesses and cancer of the lymph system)
10. Used in treatment of tape worms
11. The stems and the leaves make a good thatch for mats, chairs, hats, basket weaving.
12.The early fluff from mature Cattail heads are said to make excellent insulation. Stuff pillows with fluff for good inslation and buoyancy
13. Many species of birds use Cattail fluff to line their nests
14. An adhesive glue can be made from the stems
Do not use Cattail as a medicine for pregnant women
Cattails absorb toxins from their environment so it is important to harvest from a clean source, preferably with fresh running water through the stand. Definitely harvest away from roads and pesticide areas.
Here are some wonderful links to learn more about this amazing plant
Cattail Pollen Cakes
1 cup sifted Cattail pollen
1 cup fine white cornmeal or Cattail flour
3 tsp finely chopped dried Spicebush leaves
1 tbsp honey
2 eggs, beaten lightly
1 1⁄2 cups water or broth
2 Tbsp sunflower seed oil
Thoroughly blend all ingredients together into a smooth batter. On a very hot greased griddle, ladle the batter out into 4 large cakes. Cook for 3-5 minutes, until bubbles form on the surface, then flip and finish cooking. Serve hot with nut butter and maple syrup. (Native Harvests)
Mid-Spring Wild Blossom Salad
1⁄2 cup wild garlic leaves or bulbs
1⁄2 cup red or white clover flowers
1⁄4 cup spearmint leaves
2 cups cattail shoots
2 cups violet leaves and flowers
1 cup black locust or wisteria blossoms
Chop the onions, clover, and spearmint finely. Slice the cattails. Chop the violet leaves and mix everything together.
(Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places)
More of Holly’s Cattail Adventures
August 27th My Cattail Discovery
Today was a red letter foraging day. I finally found my cattail stash. It has been my goal to forage for them since I read Linda Runyon’s book, The Essential Wild Food Survival Guide!
Having been to my previous Cattail pond 7 times seeking permission from the owner to forage. Each time God made sure they were not home to grant permission. Perhaps the Lord was protecting me from a contaminated pond, being so close to the main road. So, my patience was rewarded.
My new found Cattail haven is perhaps a football field in size with a clear running stream through it’s belly located a mile off of the main road and not a house in sight!
I waded through the stream with my knee high polka dot boots, the cattails towered over my head in a maze of wonderment. As far as the eye could see these majestic plants were outline by the blue skies above. 80 degree weather, soft breezes stirring the reeds, butterflies and birds dancing about…. it felt surreal.
A friend had told me the general location of these cattails so I Google Earthed the spot and then went exploring. The satellite images are spectacular! When my son Brian was in Lauterbraun, Switzerland I could type that into Google Earth and zoom into the Alps and right to the exact cliff that my first born would fly off of. I could follow the rock faces and even check out the foliage. What an amazing tool for foraging! I think I’ll use it to deeply examine my locality from space and see what I can find. I’ll keep you informed as to it’s effectiveness in locating plants that I’m seeking.
I also foraged at a local farm and found a mother load of purslane, perhaps 5 pounds worth, it is all chopped and frozen already for future dinners, I plan to pickle some. I also came home with self heal for salve, plantain for tea, milkweed pods for ‘cheese’, lambsquarter, tons of amaranth, red clover for my neighbors cancer fighting daily tea, a gallon of blueberries, a quart of blackberries, and of course some seeded Cattail for show (I missed the pollen and the green female cob stage!!!)
It was a great day to be alive! I feel RICH!
May 7 Foraging w/ Hannah at the Cattail Swamp
Another picture perfect day in God’s creation.
Hannah, one of my foraging friends came over for a Nettle and egg breakfast and then we hopped in the truck (with Skipper in the back) and headed for the Cattail haven.
We harvested about 100 young shoots each. As we filled our buckets with the bounty we wandered off in different directions in search of stalks that were mature enough to harvest. We brought boards this time to balance on in the swampy muck but soon found that it was easier just stepping on last years dead growth for support and firmer footing. In this manner we moseyed for over an hour in the early morning sunshine. The bubbling stream laughing as it raced besides us.
It fascinated me to see the new green shoots emerging amongst their dried out elders of last season. It was as if these ‘parents’ were protecting their young with their brittle bones embracing their growth. The young shoots taste almost exactly like CUCUMBER. And I plan to use them in a tzatziki sauce for my next Greek Wild food dinner.
Along with the young stalks I collected 30 or so old dead trophies left over from last years harvest to use as tinder for fires.
Only a few times did the quagmire of mud seek to claim a boot or two but we kept our balance and our buckets from such fate.
Buckets heavy and full we then hiked around the lake in the woods, I pointed out to Hannah the Trilliums, the Mayapples, the Solomon Seal roots, and though we dug a few Solomon Seal roots we saved most of the forest foraging for our next ‘store’, the llama farm.
There I showed Hannah the amazing overgrowth of Poison Hemlock. Impossible to not walk by it for it lined the stream, it’s purple stems clearly flagging it’s location. Collected more Solomon Seal root, some peppermint, Japanese Knotweed, a bit of Trillium root… and identified many green friends along the path. Took pictures of a few mystery plants that we have yet to meet. Collected lots of Cleavers for pesto for dinner.
Still shopping we swung by the Nettle store (a mile away) and harvested a basket full of Urtica dioica. Fun to find an actual wooden swing hanging from an old oak inviting us to stay a bit and play.
Home with a harvest of wild gifts to garble, clean, pickle, tincture and hang to dry. Good day to make tinctures as it is a new moon and the moon is drawing heavily on the earth and all who live on it. Makes good medicine that way.
The time together was priceless… the shopping trip filled our bags with groceries… and the cost was nothing but our time and energy.
Free gifts from a GREAT God!