Wednesday, March 11, 2009

More on Cattails

Note: I'm thinking of getting a scanner, cause I have LOTS of good articles from various mags that most of your guys would love.
I have 20-25 binders mostly full of clipped articles.


Exerpt from Harvesting the wild: greens-Jackie Clay
March/April 2003 Backwoods Home Magazine

Nearly everyone is familiar with the
cattail, especially its round, cigarshaped
fuzzy seedheads. Besides being fun to whack each other with
(as kids we would watch the fuzzy seeds blow about in the wind,) the cattail plant is a storehouse of good
eating. From the very top (the yellow
pollen), to the mucky bottom (fleshy
roots), the cattail provides a wide
variety of edibles for the wild forager.
And you don’t have to get very
“wild,” either, as the cattail is common
in farm ponds, along streams
and lowlands nationwide.
Do not pick cattails from polluted
bodies of water, or those having high-
nitrate run-off from farm fields. Also
be careful about harvesting from
heavily traffic areas, due to auto pollutants.
Be sure of the plant you pick, as the
wild flag or wild iris, which has a
blue-purple flower, is toxic to consume,
lives in the same habitat as the
cattail and has quite similar leaves.
Generally, the cattail leaves are wider
and more hollow. The wild flag’s
leaves are iris-like and flat down to
the bottom, where the cattail shoot is
rounded right down to the root.
Like many other wild foods, the
cattail is extremely nutritious in all
Our first spring foraging trips
always include a side trip to a remote
mountain marshy creek, where abundant
cattails grow. As a child canoeing
with my parents, we would pull
tender white cattail shoots from the
water to eat as a snack on each trip.
These taste just like a mild cucumber.
Simply grasp the green cattail leaves
of young plants and pull upward. The
shoot comes up easily, with the lower
portion being a very succulent, tender
Dipping these in your favorite vegetable
dip or simply sprinkling with
vinegar dressing as you would a garden
cucumber, and you have a wild
salad deluxe. I’ve even made wild
pickles by using sliced cattail shoots
in place of cucumbers for fresh
refrigerator pickles, from dill to bread
and butter types.
This same blanched, tender shoot
can be steamed for ten minutes and
served with butter or a cream sauce
and you have a tasty vegetable that
tastes kind of like mild parsnips.
Likewise, in the spring for a short
period of time, the spike on top of the
plant above the more familiar green
“hot dog” that later becomes the
brown seed head, can be eaten for a
delectable treat. This is sometimes
called cattail corn on the cob. Like
corn on the cob, you prepare it by
dropping it in boiling water for about
five minutes. If not tender at this
point, simply let it sit in the boiled
water for five or ten more minutes
until it is. Then dribble butter over the
spikes and sprinkle with salt and you
have an excellent vegetable.
This male spike quickly goes from
green (corn on the cob) to yellow.
This yellow powder is the pollen, and
once the spike loses its green color, it
is no longer good as corn on the cob.
But this yellow pollen is quite easily
collected and is a flour substitute (use
about half domestic flour and half
pollen). To collect the pollen, simply
stick the pollen spike into a paper
sack and shake or beat the head
inside to release the pollen.
You will get quite a bit of chaff as
well, but this can be sifted out with a
common flour sifter or fine screen.
Once you have sifted your pollen, it
is ready to use as flour. We often
make pancakes or cornbread using
cattail pollen, especially when out
camping. It is a bit slow to absorb
water, so you need to make your batter,
then let it rest for half an hour,
stirring occasionally, until all is evenly
And finally, the root can be dug to
eat as a starchy flour substitute. This
is a messy job, as you can’t simply
pull the cattail plant. You need to get
down and dirty. We wade barefoot in
cattail marshes, digging down around
the base of the cattail with bare toes
and a pointed digging stick. The toes
locate the rhizomes and the digging
stick helps pry them out of their
mucky bed.
Once cleaned, the rhizomes can be
slowly roasted until dry. Then grind
the roots between two smooth large
stones to release the starchy powder.
These roots contain a net of fibers,
which can be picked out and the flour
sifted. This flour is good to add to
stews and soups or to add to your
bread or pancakes. As well, they really
aren’t too bad roasted and eaten
with salt and butter, mashed with
your fork or fingers and the good part
sucked off the fiber.
Not bad at all, for this common
weed of marshy places.

1 comment:

SteveK said...

Cattails are a terrific source of food grown in clean water and soil. They are also natural janitors, and absorb any pollutant they can find, so not just any can be eaten. Now, widen your vision. There are literally gigatons of this food source going to waste near almost every group of hungry people on Earth. Look at Africa's Lake Chad. Unused, it is causing innumerable troubles, and is a driving force in desertification. It could be an everlasting resource.