Description: Cattails are grasslike plants with strap-shaped leaves 1 to 5 centimeters wide and growing up to 1.8 meters tall. The male flowers are borne in a dense mass above the female flowers. These last only a short time, leaving the female flowers that develop into the brown cattail. Pollen from the male flowers is often abundant and bright yellow.
Habitat and Distribution: Cattails are found throughout most of the world. Look for them in full sun areas at the margins of lakes, streams, canals, rivers, and brackish water.
Edible Parts: The young tender shoots are edible raw or cooked. The rhizome is often very tough but is a rich source of starch. Pound the rhizome to remove the starch and use as a flour. The pollen is also an exceptional source of starch. When the cattail is immature and still green, you can boil the female portion and eat it like corn on the cob.
Other Uses: The dried leaves are an excellent source of weaving material you can use to make floats and rafts. The cottony seeds make good pillow stuffing and insulation. The fluff makes excellent tinder. Dried cattails are effective insect repellents when burned.
Cattail Fried Rice
This savory version of a well-known Chinese dish combines left-over rice with wild plants.
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup peeled and chopped cattail shoots
1 cup shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 cups cooked brown rice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon chili paste or 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Heat the sesame oil in a large skillet over a medium flame. Add the cattails, shallots and garlic and saute for 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and cook until the rice is hot. Stir frequently to prevent sticking.
Raw Cattail Soup
When I was invited to a raw food potluck dinner, creating an extraordinary recipe posed a psychological challenge for me because I disagree with the theory that it’s more healthful to eat only raw food. I was quite pleased to come up with a successful raw, wild variant of a traditional iced Greek yogurt and cucumber soup. The party guests consumed it completely soon after it was served.
2-1/2 cups almonds
10 cups water, or as needed
2 cups sliced cattail shoots, thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh spearmint leaves or other mint leaves, finely chopped
The juice of half a lemon
1. Cover the almonds with water and soak, refrigerated, 6 hours to overnight.
2. Puree the soaked almonds, about 2 cups at a time, with about 3 cups of the water at a time in a blender until all the almonds have been pureed.
3. Pour the almond-water puree into a colander lined with cheesecloth or thin nylon fabric over a bowl. Twist the top of the cloth and squeeze the remaining water.
4. Discard the pulp and mix the remaining ingredients with the almond milk. Serve chilled.
Preparation Time: overnight + 20 min.