Typha latifolia & quadrifolia Cattail reed plant “Potato-roots”
Video Clip from “The Forgotten Abundance of America’s Wildlands w/ Richard Lonewolf” available on WildWillpower.org & RichardLonewolf.com.
- Pages from “The Forgotten Abundance of America’s Wildlands w/ Richard Lonewolf” available on WildWillpower.org & RichardLonewolf.com
CAUTION: Although the flowering plants are easy to identify, the young shoots closely resemble several unrelated plant species, including toxic members of the Orchid and Lily families. The wild food forager should carefully monitor a specific stand of plants throughout the growth cycle before gathering young shoots the following year.
Cattails are commonly found growing in marshy water, which can be polluted. Choose plants from areas that are erlatively clean. To assure purity, sterilize the plant through baking, or if using raw, soak in water with iodine disinfectant (Aqua-pure) or grape-seed extract.
Description: Characterized by its tall stature (up to 9 feet tall), long narrow leaves, & slender spikelike flower clusters.
Blooms: May to July
Location, Range, & Habitat:
Habitat: Cattails are water plants, often standing as the predominant cover in shallow waters and at the edges of lakes, sloughs, and slow-moving streams across North America.
Location: Every U.S. state in United States & Western Canada, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines
Native: North & South America, Europe, Eurasia, & Africa
Invasive: Australia & Hawaii
Traditional Food, Utility, & Medicinal Uses
Food: The young shoots can be pulled off the rootstalk and peeled in early spring for use as a delicious steamed or stir-fried vegetable. The flavor resembles bamboo shoots. The young flower heads are excellent when prepared and consumed like corn on the cob, or the pollen can be scraped off , dried, and used as an all-purpose flour. The roots can be peeled and boiled, or dried and made into a flour, although the “pollen flour” is generally favored among wild food connoisseurs. Age and habitat are the primary determining factors in the palatability of this plant. Most people know the flower spikes as smooth, rust-colored “cobs,” but the plant is actually past its culinary prime at this stage. The young, green, pollinating flower heads make the best eating. Plants from stagnant or salty water will often taste like a dirty aquarium, & cattails should be avoided altogether if water pollution is suspected.
Utility: Floor mats & roofing thatch can be made from the leaves, which, with the leaf-sheaths, can also be used as caulking materials in canoes and houses.
Burns or Skin Irritations: Boiling and crushing the roots for use as a poultice.
Diarrhea &/or Digestive Disorders: The flower heads are slightly astringent & can be used as relief.
Bibliography: Common Edible and Useful Plants of the West, by Muriel Sweet, Early Uses of California Plants, by Edward K. Balls, Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West, by Gregory L. Tilford, Edible and Poisonous Plants of Northern California, by James Wiltens, Richard Lonewolf
Database Entry: Melanie Dixon & Distance Everheart 5-7-13, 5-18-13
Film & Photos by Distance Everheart