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Before I begin I feel the need to explain the concept behind Forage Friday. First and foremost, Forage Friday is not intended to teach you everything you need to know about wild foraging. Many of the plants I’ll be covering do have toxic look-alikes and for an inexperienced person could result in disaster. It’s highly recommended that you seek out further information before trying it yourself. One of the best resources will be those of the older generation from rural areas who have relied on wild foraging to get by in hard times. They’re just full of knowledge and crave interaction. As you’re reading the post please remember that the author is very human and as such is capable of errors so it’s best to double check with other sources. With that said, it’s my hope that you are entertained and inspired learn more.
One of the first wild edible plants that I learned is also one of the easiest to identify, I’m speaking of course of the common cattail. I remember that when we were kids we’d pretend that the distinctive flowerhead was a corndog. After all, it’s a hotdog shape on a stick. It even looks like it’s breaded. The “hotdog” is not really edible. It’s densely packed fluff would be like trying to eat a down jacket. This is actually the seeds. However, in its season the male flowers are loaded with bright yellow pollen. The pollen is collected by sticking the spike in a bag and shaking it gently. Soon you’ll have a protein rich powder that is generally mixed 50/50 with wheat flour. I have not actually tried it myself but I’m told that it makes awesome pancakes!
What I have tried is the cucumber flavored rhizome and stem base. They are carbohydrate rich and as a type 2 diabetic I tend to avoid carbs these days. But they are tasteful! The big thing to avoid here is contamination. Cattail is capable of absorbing both chemical and biological toxins. Because of this they are quite useful as biological filters in septic systems and in areas where the capture of chemical run off needs to be dealt with. That’s not to say that you can’t ever give them a try but be selective about where you find them. Open ditches in urban and suburban areas are most likely to be full of lawn chemicals or sewage. That pond out in country is a better choice but there’s still agricultural chemicals. Basically, if you wouldn’t eat the fish out of that water source then avoid the water plants as well. As I’ve matured and learned more about things like cryptosporidium I would no longer recommend raw cattail. Instead, scraping the starch out of the stems and leaf base to thicken soups.
Other than the food value of cattail it’s got some tool and craft uses. The fluff from the “hotdog” is a great tinder for your campfire. When I was a kid in Civil Air Patrol we learned that fluffing the down and stuffing it under your jacket makes a great insulation. The leaves are strong enough to be woven into mats or twisted into a string but it’s fairly weak and not suitable for anything that is under stress. But making a sun shelter for an extended stay in the woods is a perfect application.
Cattail is referred to as “Mother Nature’s supermarket. If I tried to list all of the tips and tricks that I’ve learned concerning cattail the post would be so long that reading it would take more time than most people are willing to invest. However, I do know that most of my fellow Appalachians probably have a trick or two to add. The majority of my readers find my posts through groups that I share with on Facebook. I want to encourage you to either comment on the post, or my Facebook page and even my blog is open to the public. I’d love to hear about your experience with cattail. How did you use it? Did you ever fall into the pond when pulling out the stems and leaves?
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