Cattail is a popular herb among survivalists. If you need what you can forage on, cattail is your answer. Most parts of this herb are edible, provided you harvest it at the right time.
Cattails are edible and easily identifiable. Once harvested, you can use the shoots and stalks, roots, green flowers, and pollen grains.
Read on to learn how to identify it from poisonous look-alikes. We will also walk you through how to prepare cattails into delicious meals.
Are Cattails Edible?
Yes. Cattails are among the favorite survival foods that have been a staple for Native Americans since prehistoric times.
If you have the best foraging skills, you must have heard about it. Fortunately, cattails are found in almost every part of the world.
The cob-like tips of cattails are edible. You can also eat the stalks and roots. Each of these parts is rich in starch and vitamins A, B, and C.
Some minerals you find in cattails’ edible parts include potassium and phosphorus. Despite being wild, this plant is almost a complete meal on its own.
Cattails are tasty, but you need to correctly identify them. It has a distinctive cat tail-like feature when it matures hence the name.
They grow to about 9 feet tall with a slender stalk. Believably, you can never confuse a mature cattail with any other plant.
However, young cattails can be easily confused by five other plants. Three of these plants are toxic and should never come to your table.
So, how do you differentiate cattails from their poisonous look-alikes?
Young cattails can be distinguished from the look-alike by their smell and taste. They produce mild aromas and flavors, unlike others with intense muddy scents.
Also, you identify cattails with their basal, erect, linear, flat, and D-shaped leaves.
4 Edible Parts Of Cattail
Almost every part of Cattails are edible. Whether it has flowered or not never matters. You will get enough nutrients from a mature one as you would with the young one. The following parts are edible:
- Cattail shoots and stalks
- Cattail corn on the cob
- Cattail pollen
- Cattail roots
Let us get into the details of making a meal from each of the listed edible parts of cattails. Do not starve if you can access this nutritious plant nearby.
Cattail Shoots and Stalks
Cattail shoots and stalks are the commonly used parts of cattails. But how or when are they ready to be harvested and used? Ensure you get it right by following these guidelines:
How To Identify And Harvest Shoots And Stalks
Cattail shoots and stalks are best harvested during spring. That is when they are less fibrous and more nutritious.
Look for the new shoots with white stalks, especially those close to the roots. These are available all through springs and can be eaten well into the summer.
How To Prepare shoots And Stalks
Cattail shoots can be eaten raw or cooked. If uncooked, they taste like cucumbers. Cattails harvested in the spring are best eaten at this time. Clean and slather using peanut butter to taste.
When they get more and more fibrous, cooking is preferred. That should be the case if you are harvesting late in the year when nearing maturity.
Cooked cattails taste more like asparagus. That is why they are called Cossack asparagus in some areas. Some people also steam cattail shoots, which give them a cabbage-like taste.
Cattail Corn On The Cob
Cattails have catkins, which are just the green female flowers. If you time them correctly, you will find the best food for you and your family.
How To Identify And Harvest Cattail Corn On The Cob
The green female flowers are harvested in the spring before the buds mature. The catkins are usually hidden within the leaves. Find them and pick as many as you want.
How To Prepare Cattail Corn On The Cob
The cattail catkins can be eaten as you would corn on the cob. Boil the green flowers until they are tender and serve with butter, salt, and pepper to taste.
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Cattail pollen comes from the flower. This is usually formed as a brown densely packed female and thin yellow spikes male extending from the female parts.
This is where pollen is harvested. Arguably, cattails have the most easy-to-harvest pollen of all other plant species.
How To Identify And Harvest Cattail Pollen
The green head or spike is usually green, but it turns yellow as more and more pollen grains are produced to cover it. However, the season for harvesting pollen grain is short.
It is in spring and lasts only a week. That means you should be ready to collect as much pollen grain as you need before they are blown away by the wind.
You can harvest the cattail’s pollen in two ways. First, cover the pollen-packed spike or head with a polythene bag.
Once done, bend it downwards and shake it off to dislodge the pollen grains. This method is safe for those allergic to pollen grains.
The second method is also straightforward. Just bend the yellow spike onto a container and shake it. Repeat this on many cattail heads to gather as much pollen grain as you need.
How To Prepare Cattail Pollen
Cattail’s pollen grains are the best substitute for flour in different baked foods. If baking is your hobby, you will enjoy doing it with cattail pollens.
You can make biscuits, pancakes, and generally all other baked products.
The procedure outlined in your usual recipes does not change. You only need to use cattails pollens instead of wheat flour or any other.
Unlike other cattail parts, roots can be harvested at any time of the year. However, we recommend it during fall and winter.
This part of the herb has been used as starch for centuries. So, how do you harvest and use it?
How To Identify And Harvest Cattail Roots
Uproot cattails to access the root. It has a fibrous section that should be removed. After that, peel it to remove the excess fiber from it.
Do this when they are still wet and fresh. It can be a difficult task once they dry.
How To Prepare Cattail Roots
The cattail roots can be eaten raw or grounded into flour, but some people have problems when eating it raw. Many complain of stomach aches.
Our advice is you should not try it if you are unsure of the consequences.
To make cattail root flour, peel, clean, pound, and let them dry. The resulting flour can be used for baking just like wheat flour or thickening the soup.
You can also boil the roots like potatoes without grinding them into flour. It is also possible to fry or roast them until they are black and spongy.
4 Other Great Uses Of Cattails
Cattails have other uses apart from being eaten as food. They seem to be the most complete plants to make your off-grid lifestyle worthwhile. If you don’t intend to eat them, consider the following other uses:
- Making insulation and absorption
- Making fire starters
- Utilizing the leaves of the plant to weave baskets
- Medical use
How is it possible for cattails to suit the listed uses? Let us briefly discuss each purpose in the following subsections:
Make An Insulation And Absorption
The leaves of cattails have supporting tissues filled with sponges, giving them excellent thermal insulation properties. This property is also preserved in the finished products, such as mats and panels made using cattails.
Magnesite-bound insulation panels have many applications because of their excellent heat insulation, fireproofing, and soundproofing.
The sponginess of cattails makes them absorb sound and cope well with pressure. The panels can insulate homes and camping tents to help conserve heat.
Make Fire Starter
Cattails fire starters have the same properties as cattails. They are environmentally friendly, fibrous, and catch fire easily.
The cattail seed head catches a spark and burns quickly, ideal for starting a fire in different situations. The fluff is very flammable even when it is damped.
So, you can pack a few of them and place them in your backpack for your next camping trip.
Utilize The Leaves Of The Plant To Basket Weaving
Basket weaving is an ancient art practiced by many Native Americans for years. Using natural; materials, weavers could weave baskets with unique patterns for their own use.
The same thing can also be achieved using dried cattails.
Harvesting Cattails For Weaving
Cattails are not used as they are in weaving baskets. Instead, the leaves and stalks are harvested in summer or fall and specially treated.
Wear gloves and use sharp garden shear to cut the stalks where the leaves start branching out. Once done, arrange them to make the head face in the same direction and tie with a string.
Buddle the harvested cattail stalks and hang them by the end. Air dry for about 1-2 days. The next step is soaking them in warm water.
After this step, your cattails are ready for use. It should take about 5 minutes to make the stalks pliable and easy to work with.
Weaving The Baskets
Weaving baskets is a skill that we may not explicitly describe in this section. But if you have some experience, you will find it easy to use the treated cattail stalks, just like other weaving materials.
The steps to follow depend on your desired basket size and design. Just follow the procedure as you always do.
Apart from the nutritional value of cattails, it also has many other medical benefits. These common medicinal uses include the following:
- Natural antiseptic
- Anemia prevention
- Making skincare products
- Cancer prevention
- Provides cardiotonic and lipid-lowering effects
- Reduces the risks of atherosclerosis
- Controls diabetes
- Controls hypertension
- Boosts weight in underweight individuals
- Improves digestion
- Acts as an analgesic
Harvesting cattails at the best time is a crucial part of eating them. However, some people have ended up with brown, fuzzy cattail flowers and seed heads, which is not nutritious.
When the plant matures, the flower head pops open and releases fluffy seeds.
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If you are a survivalist and thinking of an herb that you can forage for, cattails are your best choice. We have seen its nutritional benefits and other uses.
Also, it is readily available in many marshy places in the United States and other parts of the world. Harvest it at the best time and use it as preferred.
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