Swamp socks and a dead duck was a common occurrence growing up in the country. And summer evenings always seemed to spur a much needed shower after a day of hide and seek with the bull frogs. In the local marshlands we had to bushwhack through our own form of jungle. But instead of overhanging impenetrable vegetation and vines, we pushed our way through the thickets of tall “grasslike” leaves breaking off the brown flower spikes and launching the little torpedo’s at fellow expeditionist. However it wouldn’t be till years later when I finally learned to appreciate Cattail for its many ‘other’ practical uses.
Did you know…
Cattail (Scientifically known as Typha latifolia) was used by the Native Americans as a source of food, medicine and building material for thousands of years! Every part of the plant for every season had and served an important use. And because of its robust growth as well as its wide range of habitat there was never a need for cultivation. Even the early European settlers quickly took note and realized its many uses. If not used for food, the Native Americans would weave Cattail leaves to make soft mats, blankets, capes, hats and bags or as an insulation/water barrier for homes. The seed fluff created a comfortable cushion for pillows and bedding and was a great absorbent as a wound dressing or diaper.
In spring and summer the young shoots can be picked, stripped of the outer leaves and eaten cooked or as a raw vegetable. The green immature flower stalks can be boiled and eaten like corn on the cob. Later in the summer months, pollen from the brown mature flowering stalks provide a nutritious flour supplement for cakes and flat breads. During fall and winter when there is no longer any foliage the roots may be boiled down for a starchy broth rich in carbohydrates. Cattail is very low in Saturated Fat. It is a good source of Iron and Phosphorus, and a great source of Fiber, Vitamin K, B6, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium and Manganese.
Cattail has been used to treat cuts, burns, stings and bruises. The roots were split and bruised to be used as a poultice to cover the wounds. Ash from the burned leaves are antiseptic and the sap from the base of the plant can be applied to toothaches or small cuts. The leaves may be woven into a bandage using the seed fluff as an absorbent.
In the kitchen
Cattail plays many roles as either a main course or a side dish – may it be sweet, sour or salty. It can be eaten as a vegetable, cooked or raw. Used as a flour or a starch in baking. Its even great as a cucumber substitute in pickling. Feeling adventurous? Click on the pictures below to follow the link for recipes and directions on these many dishes.
Aquatic to semi-aquatic perennial from large coarse rhizomes. A monocot from the Typhaceae family. Growth and physical features resembling that of a large, spongy leaf grass. Brown sausage shaped flowering spike standing tall, borne during summer. Poisonous look-alikes include Iris and Sweet flag, neither of which produce the “cat tail”. When in doubt do not eat.
Wet lands, marshes, ponds, ditches, flood zones, lake shores – low to middle elevations – Most of the America’s and Europe, virtually cosmopolitan.
Roots and rhizome all year, tender inner leaves spring and summer, pollen in summer. Mature leaves good for construction. All parts are edible.