Found in every state of the U.S. including Alaska, as well as in most of Canada. Prefers saturated/flooded areas such as wet meadows, marshes, fens, ponds, lake margins, floating bog mats, seacoast, roadside ditches, irrigation canal, backwater areas of rivers and streams. Tolerant of seasonal drawdowns in water as well as flooding but generally needs a water depth that doesnt exceed 2 1/2 inches and grows mostly in freshwater but sometimes found in brackish marshes. Often grows upslope of open water but downslope of common reed canarygrass and willow. Established stands of cattail generally grow in soils with high amounts of organic matter, may also grow in fine texture mineral soils but usually when there is organic matter making up the surface soils. Even if a fire comes through the area, the rhizomes are protected under the water and will rapidly grow back after damage is done.
Uses: Cattail has many uses such as thatch for roofing, woven into mats, chairs and hats. Used for torches and tinder, stuffing for pillows, insulation for homes, crude flotation devices, wound dressing and many more.
Stalks/Stems: Best from early spring through summer. Stems have a cucumber like flavor and said to be great in soups, salads and peeled and eaten raw. Eat the stem starting at the white end and as you go up peel away the leaves to get to the tender center.
Flower Spikes (fruit): Best collected late in the spring, gather when green. Boil them for a few minutes and they are like corn on the cob (See Recipe Below)
Recipe: Cattail Corn on the Cob
Put the cattail in a large pot of boiling water and boil for 7-19 minutes. Remove and serve with butter, salt or seeds and thyme.
Leave 3-5 inches of stem for holding the cob
Cattail Green Cobs
This is the female head of the plant and they are delicious! They taste like artichoke hearts (some say corn on the cob)
Eat them like corn on the cob to avoid eating the hard inner stick. They are densely nutritious!
Pollen: The pollen can be used as a flour and should be gathered in late spring or early summer before the spikes turn brown. The green pollen can be gathered by carefully bedning the flower head into a bag and shaking it gently. The flour will fall and collect in the bag and saved for later use. Once home sift out the flower with a metal sieve to remove bugs or debris and let sit out to dry and save for later use. It is high in protein and can be combined with Rhizome flower or wheat flour to make high protein pancakes, muffins, etc, or just sprinkled on foods to up their protein content.
Recipe: Cattail Pollen Griddle Cakes
2 large eggs
1 T milk
2 T flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 c. cattail flower spike pulp
1 T minced sweet red pepper
1 T minced glasswort
1/2 tsp salt
pinch of pepper
garnish with sour cream and glasswort
1. Mix the milk, egg, flour and baking powder together with a whisk until no lumps remain.
2. Stir in the remaining ingredients.
3. Cook the batter by tablespoonfuls on a medium griddle, until browned on both sides.
4. Allow the cakes to cool, and serve with a dollop of sour cream and more glasswort.
Corms: The Corms are the little shoots that are at the base of the stalk and can be fried or eaten raw and said to taste great. best taken in the fall
Rhizome/Root: Best harvested in Late Fall/Winter. This can be dried into flour and even made into jelly.
according to a report by Harrington in 1972 one acre of cattails yields approximately 6,475 pounds of starch. Native Americans used the flour to make bread and other baked goods, which contained 80% carbohydrates, 6-8% protein and is abundant in minerals and vitamins.
Recipe: Making Cattail Flower
Collect and Clean the Rhizomes: They look funny, but clean them well
Now peel the Rhizomes with a potato peel or knife the same way you would peel a potato and reveal the white/starchy interior
The Next step is to extract the starch from the rhizomes
There are two ways to do this.
1) Rhizome Breaking method
You can just put the rhizomes in a big bowl of water and break apart the rhizomes and work them around with your hands until the starch is removed.
The water will turn murky (see left) and then in a few hours it will settle and look like the right hand picture with the settled “flour” at the bottom and debris floating.
Pour off the water and get the debris out of the bowl and then lay the sediment out on a flat surface or in the oven (lowest temp) or in a dehydrator.
2) Knife/Rock Scraping Method
The other way to release the starch is to take a rock or knife and scrape along the rhizome like you are trying to get that last bit of toothpaste out of a tube
(Not in a bowl of water just on the counter)
This will then cause the starch to collect on the knife or rock, and you can wipe it off on flat surface to dry or now put it in a bowl of water (This is best so the flower can separate from the fiber threads, just use the same method as shown above to separate the water and debris from the flower).
Once the starch has been dried sufficiently you can grind it with a mortar and pestle or put it through a wheat grinder to get the fine flour like consistency.
This cattail starch can now be used as a substitute or in conjunction with any normal wheat flower in any recipe
Poultices can be made from split or bruised roots and applied to cuts, wounds, burns, stings and bruises.
Ash of burned cattail leaves can be used as an antiseptic or styptic for wounds.
A small drop of a honey-like excretion, often found near the base of the plant can be used as an antiseptic for small wounds or tooth aches.