Wild edibles: cattails | Outside

Last year, we introduced the idea of ​​Nature In Place as a way to explore and deepen our connection to nature while staying safe and staying at home during the pandemic. More than a year later, we are starting to see encouraging numbers: vaccinations are up and hospitalizations are down. But it’s still important that we protect the most vulnerable in our communities by hiding, distancing ourselves and staying close to home when possible.

With that in mind, we want you to experience the satisfaction of a meal from the local wilderness, maybe even from your own backyard. Our new Wild Edibles blog series will introduce you to a plethora of edible plants grown in the wild and talk about the importance of proper identification, durability, and etiquette when you bring them to your table.

This week extension educator Jeff Jackson starts us off with his memories of eating wild edibles and how you can add cattails to your diet, and extension educator Shirley Nordrum teaches us the importance of cattails to the Ojibwe people. .

No stranger to wild foods

I grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis, and as the son of a botanist I had many opportunities to try edible wild foods. My dad used my siblings and I as guinea pigs to try out new recipes before introducing them to his biology students at North Hennepin Community College. Some of the memorable wild plants we ate were giant puffballs fried in butter (delicious!) And tea made from sumac berry. The enjoyment of wild edible foods came both from time spent with the family putting them together and the adventure of trying new foods.

Cattails are one of my favorite edible wild foods. When I told my childhood friends that my family ate cattails, they were shocked as they could only think of the brown, fluffy flower heads seen in the fall. These aren’t edible, but they make a great emergency fire starter!

My father called cattails “nature’s supermarket” because so many parts of them are edible. Please read below for a description of the many edible parts of the distaff. Note that broadleaf cattails (Typha latifolia) and narrowleaf cattails (Typha angustifolia) are edible. The narrow-leaved cattail is considered invasive in Minnesota, so be careful not to transfer the roots or seeds to new sites.

Find and identify cattails

Cattails are semi-aquatic and form dense stands in moist and often muddy soils. They are found in marshes, swamps, ditches and on the edges of rivers and ponds. They typically grow 3 to 7 feet tall. Their long, blade-shaped leaves are distinctive, along with their stiff flower stems that bloom from May to July. Each flower stalk has a female and male flower part, separated by a space. The male flower part is the source of edible pollen. The male flowers disperse after flowering, leaving the female flower to develop into a distinctive brown head (the “cat’s tail”).

Harvesting and preparing cattails

Harvest cattails from spring to fall in clean, pesticide-free soil and water sources. Wear rubber boots or waders during harvest.

Cattails are truly a “supermarket of nature”. Young shoots can be prepared like asparagus, but require a longer cooking time to make them tender. Young stems can be eaten raw or boiled. The lower parts of the leaves can be used in salads. Young flowers can be boiled, covered with butter, and eaten like corn on the cob. In midsummer, the yellow pollen from male flowers can be added to pancakes or mixed with flour to make delicious bread. The cleaned roots can be boiled, baked or roasted. The roots can also be dried and ground into a nutritious flour. Note that it is best to harvest the roots in the fall.

Besides food, cattails have other interesting uses. The leaves can be woven into mats, seats and baskets. Brown flower heads can be soaked in oil or fat and used as torches. Because the insides of tight brown flower heads stay dry even under heavy rain, separate them and use the dry, fluffy seeds as a survival tinder.

CAUTION: Harvesting wild products must be done safely and legally. Never harvest products from roadsides or other places where pesticides may be used.

Make sure you have permission before harvesting wild products. Many products can be harvested on public lands but require a permit or a specific use; make sure you are familiar with the policies applicable to the products you are harvesting. Always respect private property.

In Ojibwe, the apakwe or cattails have many uses. The Ojibwe name refers to one of these uses: apakwe means to cover a hut. Cattails were primarily used to cover the walls and roofs of temporary seasonal camps. The leaves are also woven into mats to serve as floor coverings or place mats for serving food.

There is no part of the stopper rod that does not perform a function. The stems are delicious when they are young and tender. The roots are tuberous and provide food for the table just like the young flower heads. Cattail pollen mixed with ground corn adds extra nutrition as well as a nutty flavor to flour and massa. Cattails also have many medicinal qualities, especially the gelatinous substance between the leaves has antiseptic, coagulant and analgesic properties. Flowerhead plush is a great insulator for shelters as well as your boots and mittens, it doubles as a fire starter or torch, and can soften the area you lie on. Cattail is an excellent supplier.

About Sherri Flowers

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