Cattails, of the genus Typha, are a plant abundant in wetlands around the world. They are charactarized by their long, thin grasslike leaves, somewhat large tubers, and by the 'hot dog' shaped masses of seed borne on tall stems late in the year. Cattails are fast-growing plants which depend on large amounts of nitrogen to survive. They are charactaristic of most open marshland around the US. They have also become abundant in other areas, such as Australia, where they are not native. In these places they are somewhat of a weed. Cattails can also become weedy in their natural habitat if too much fertillizer is dumped into the water. for instance, the everglades, where once cattails were rare, is now quite overrun with them in places where irrigation runs off of fertillized fields.

the Native Americans used the tubers of these plants as food in certain times of the year. They also sometimes used the 'down' to help start fires. Cattails are pleasant plants, but not useable in an urban landscape unless you have a pond or other permenant source of standing water.

Cattails can be a good food source if one knows where to look and what to do. Cattails grow in marshy and swampy areas all over North America and are easy to identify. As with all wild food gathering, plants growing in areas of high pollution should not be used for food.

The tubers or roots of the Cattail plant may be gathered and used like potatoes or the starch can be processed from the roots to make a flour that is used in cooking. The best time of the year to gather the roots is in the early spring, as the tubers become tough and stringy later in the year.

The leaves or fronds of the Cattail plant can be gathered as well and eaten raw, like celery, or cooked as a green vegetable. The greens should be gathered before the plant reaches two feet tall, as the leaves tend to become tough after that.

The flower spikes, or the distinctive part of the plant that gives it it's name can be gathered and used as food in several ways. The buds can be gathered in early spring and cooked and eaten like corn on the cob. The seeds from the lower half of the flower can be collected and made into flour. The pollen from the Cattail plant, which is found in the top part of the flower, can be gathered in the spring and eaten raw, used as a thickener in soups, or cooked as a hot cereal. The pollen is very high in protein.

When gathering wild plants to be used as food, one should always attempt to leave enough of the plant growing so as to ensure the viability of the plant. Never take an entire plant, and always try to leave the remainder as little damaged as possible.


(Typha latifolia)

The cattail is a very well-recognized plant. It can be identified by its tall, firm stalks, which are tipped with an interesting flower structure composed of a dense spike. The leaves are somewhat sword shaped, and the bases of the leaves are often submerged. When the flowers fall off they leave a dark brown spike.

The cattail grows in marshy places and, like the bulrush, is a source of food all year round.

In the Bush

As a Cooked Vegetable: The inner stalks, after they are cleaned, are excellent in stews or boiled in salted water. The roots are edible cooked or roasted after they have been scraped, cleaned, and sliced.

As a Gruel: Scrape and clean the roots. Cut into small pieces, remove the fibers, add a little water, and boil into a thick gruel.

As Meal: Dry the root thoroughly, skin, remove fibers, and pound into a meal. The pollen of the plant is also edible. It is delicious eaten either raw or ground into flour. It resembles musty wheat in flavor and can be used to make bread or cakes, or to thicken soups.

Steamed Cattail Roots: Pull up the root, clean, scrape, and remove root hairs. Wrap in large leaves. Dig a shallow pit with flat stones. Place over them a good bed of coals from your main fire and feed them with small branches to get the stones underneath as hot as possible. Scrape the coals out of the pit and replace them with wet, green grass. Place the cattail roots, wrapped in leaves, on the grass and cover with another layer of grass, then a layer of earth. Punch a hole in the pit down to food level and pour in a small quantity of water, then block up the hole with earth and leave undisturbed for at least an hour to let the steam cook the food.

Cattail Soup: For the lone traveler—or survivor—without cooking utensils, it seems impossible to make soup without a pot of some kind, but you can make an excellent pot out of birch bark. Form the birch bark into a funnel shape and put a stopper of clay or a stone sealed with clay in the hole at the bottom. If you remember to keep the water level higher than the surrounding coal bed, the birch bark will not burn.
As for the soup, fill the funnel three-quarters full of water and add some dark meat from a squirrel that has been properly skinned and cut up into small pieces. Simmer for half an hour, then add two handfuls of pollen from the cattail. Simmer for another half and hour and you will have a surprisingly tasty soup.

Cattail Bread: Collect pollen from the cattail by bending the stem over a pot or birch bark funnel. Hit the spike hard and the pollen will fall out. Grind the pollen between two flat stones into a fine flour. Mix the flour with a bit of porcupine fat and water and make balls of the mixture. Flatten the balls into cakes and griddle in a reflector oven made out of flat stones.

Home Recipes

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like soldiers, they are standing tall, strong - surrounded by the chaotic mass of half dried reeds, swamp grasses and those who did not make it, the fallen. they are still across the surface now, water-soaked and so, much darker, this is a battlefield. scarred and ravaged by cold they have given in (and so, have i?). bent slightly in the mid-section first, i can see they fell slowly, defiantly (and so, i think, did i). the others tower behind them, a broken wall swaying at the slightest hint of a breeze. (things rarely fall to pieces all at once, it is a progression, slow and steady.)

standing along the fence you will see them cast against the calendar skies, wonder how they might have managed to stand through all that snow. the penetrating cold this place will force upon you. (and i will wonder at my own strength, as i always do.) how they seem to be spilling seeds from their fuzzy brown heads, despite the unforgiving season. seething in new life.

few things are able to hold on for so long, around here. resiliant, as far as soldiers might go, they are of the strangest sort. (most things around here learn it is better to let go.)

Cat"-tail (?), n. Bot.

A tall rush or flag (Typha latifolia) growing in marshes, with long, glat leaves, and having its flowers in a close cylindrical spike at the top of the stem. The leaves are frequently used for seating chairs, making mats, etc. See Catkin.

⇒ The lesser cat-tail is Typha angustifolia.


© Webster 1913.

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