Cattails, the roots, flowers, shoots and seeds are edible.  There's more...

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Cossack Asparagus

Cattails (Typha latifolia; Typha angustifolia)

Itís a gorgeous spring day as I paddle through Painter marsh. I am coaxed along by a Red Wing black bird perched atop an old cattail. His message sounds cheerful, but itís a warning to keep moving, "...This is my territory and as soon as the "Missus" gets here weíll set up housekeeping and have a brood...So you there in the boat, beat on down the water road"

A bit further along a young muskrat swims out of the cattails and paddles toward the canoe, she swims along the gunnel until we are both eye to eye. Iím frozen in the moment, my hand just inches from this naive newborn. She stops. Looks me in the face, then continues on down the stream. Momma ratís not put the fear of man in her.

Five pulls on the paddle later a startled male goose takes wing, making a great deal of racket trying to distract me from the nest where his lover warms a half dozen eggs. Momma goose, her head down, body nestled low, as motionless as a rock, looks like one of the a cattails piled on the nest. In a few days, when I return to see her new family, she will be animated, plucky, bold, aggressive, keeping me at bay until the goslings can hide in the "swamp grass".

Now the marsh swallows me, I hear a young coyoteís yap. Morel mushrooms and edible polypores are ten minutes awayĖjust past the springs choked with watercress, and bordered with edible nettle shoots and burdock roots. Soon my basket will be full of wild foods. But itís the cattails Iím excited about. The tender young shoots of spring provide a small window of opportunity. Soon they will reach sky high and be as tough as boot leather. So I step out of the canoe onto the quaking earth and pick a half dozen. As I step sideways toward number seven, a glint of dark darts in the rushes. I pursue. Suddenly there is an explosion of black, brown and white. A feather loops in a lazy spiral toward the earth as a wild turkey flaps cattail high over the marsh and into the woods.

Probably every human being that reaches high school age knows what a cattail is. Cattails of the Typha genus are a grass that dominates shallow ponds, shorelines and other wetlands, providing a variety of resources used by indigenous people worldwide. The roots are pulled, pounded in clean water to release their starch. The starch is used as a soup thickener, or to supplement the batter of fry bread. It may be dried, powdered and stored for later use during cold months as quick energy food in biscuit and muffin recipes. The young cattail shoots popping through the ground may be pulled and stripped of their tough outer sheathes until you reach the tender yellow green core of edible shoot. I saute these tasty tender tongues of cattail in a couple tablespoons of olive oil, with lemon pepper, and a pinch of salt. Known in Europe as Cossack Asparagus, cattail shoots are starchy, flavorful and easy to collect.

A month later, mid to late June, the flowering heads of the cattail emerge. Both heads may be eaten, I prefer the upper flower, the male flower. You have to pay attention, timing is important. The male flower head is best when it is still sheathed in a translucent skin. Strip off the skin and place a plastic bag over the head. Pinch and strip upwards squeezing the entire head into the plastic bag. Do this to about a dozen cattails and you will have collected about a pound of male reproductive parts. Like cattail starch the cattail head parts may be added to pancake batter, corn muffins, waffle batter as an extender that is nutrient rich. Male reproductive parts are full of essential amino acids, phytosterols (the starter material for making hormones) and essential fatty acids. A poor manís dish like pancakes is greatly improved by the addition of the male flowering heads of cattails.

In late summer, I gather the female flower heads, that have been reduced to a hotdog of cotton. A half dozen of these seemingly unpalatable tube of seeds and fluff may be stirred into milk and a egg until you achieve a thick batter like consistency. Then add some Parmesan cheese. Bake in an oven, or stir fry. When is it done? Who the hell knows! After a few minutes of intuitive cooking I pull it from the fire or the oven and serve it up on a dish for my dog. All my dogs have liked this swamp grass treat. For humans it is impossible to eat. You have to chew and chew and chew. But dogs donít chew, they bolt food like I did when I was a kid. Itís a high fiber lunch for Fido or Foofoo, a change of taste from the rancid over-the-counter stuff you buy in the supermarket.

The flowering cattail heads of late summer, swell and disintegrate as fall gives way to winter. Pluck off a handful of this cattail cotton and stick a match to it. Watch out! The ignition is explosive. An excellent fire starter in cold weather when wetlands donít give up much that is dry. The ash of burned cattails is styptic and antimicrobial, an excellent first aid applied to cuts and scrapes...A pinch of ash will stop bleeding immediately.

Hunters use the spent cattails of autumn to fashion duck hunting blinds. Native Americans use the same shoots in spring and summer to make mats, doors and rugs, weaving them together with other fibrous plant materials.

Muskrats and deer eat the young grasslike shoots in the spring. Later in the fall and winter muskrats will build their houses from cattails, hump-like hovels here and there throughout the marsh. To survive the cold months the muskrats will eat cattail roots along with snails, mussels and other fruits from the marsh.



Recipe for Nutrient rich, high fiber Paleo Waffle

Here's a recipe:


1 cup milk

1 cup waffle/pancake mix

1 cup of 7, 12, or 20 grain hot breakfast cereal

1/4 cup walnuts and/or pumpkin seeds

one whole egg


Preparation: Cook the 12 grain cereal for three or four minutes and add it to the other ingredients that have been combined to make a batter. Enter into waffle iron. Viole!

The Paleo waffle; sweet as a nut, nutritious as a steak and as fiber rich as a Cro-magnonís cattail door mat.

Food Combination: Cattail shoots, saute with stinging nettle, violet leaves, violet flowers, dandelions, wild leeks and spring mushrooms such as Adrian's saddle or morels.

This is a favorite one skillet dish I prepare in May when hiking or foraging. All the plants can be gathered in a lowland area with adjacent woods.

Recipe: Feeds four:

-chop ten leeks

-two cups of violet leaves and flowers

-two cups chopped nettles

-two cups dandelion leaves

-two or three cups mushrooms

-ten cattail shoots about six inches long

Put Ĺ cup of water in the pan. Cook over coals. Flavor with two tablespoons of olive oil, a couple dashes of soy sauce, and if you have it with you two tablespoons of chopped Oriental ginger and a tablespoon of sesame seed oil. Squeeze in the juice of 1/4 cup of lemon. Stir fry until mushrooms are tender. Serve.