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Cattails – The Little Known Super Food

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Few people realize what a great source of food cattails are. Cities all over the world have cattails growing in them. They can be found anywhere from Alaska to Zimbabwe. Cattails are healthy and nutritious, even if the area is polluted, and they can be found almost anywhere there is year-round standing water. They’re also fairly easy to identify—they have brown, weiner-like seed heads at the end of a long stem. However, like with any plant, if you’re not certain you’ve correctly identified it, don’t eat it.

At the beginning of spring, shoots grow up from the main roots. These are called corms, and they’re good for eating. Cut them up when they are 5 to 10 inches long. Any longer and they’ll be tough and bitter. You can eat them fresh with a salad or add them to a stew. Better yet, cut them into tiny pieces and stir fry them with butter and your favorite seasoning.

Later in the year the brown, weiner-shaped tops will finish forming, but you don’t want to wait that long. Instead, pick them early when they are green and tender. Peel off the leaves—like you would when shucking corn—boil them for about 10 minutes, and eat. They taste a lot like corn.

After the flowers mature, they will begin to pollinate. Vigorously shake the pollen off the flower into any container. You should be able to gather several cups of this stuff in just a few minutes. The pollen can be used in place of flour when making pancakes, bread, or even cake. The result will be heavy and filling.

In the fall and early winter, the roots will fatten up in anticipation of the cold weather. Dig them up, clean them, and boil them. The alternative is to peel them and break them up under water until the flour separates from the fibers. After that just pour away the excess fiber and allow the slush to dry in the sun until you’re left with something like mashed-potato mix (it will be very bland). You can also boil the roots until it becomes a syrup that is good for sweetening other foods.

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  • Barb

    Cattails can actually produce 12 different foods.
    1-2-3 Starting at the top (during the spring) is the pollen spike and then the seed pod and later on the corm — which is called Cossack asparagus (which you have already described.)
    4 Next are the leaves — which can be bitter — so you need to boil or stir fry them for soup, stew, or stir-fry..
    5 There is a part of the stalk down by the root that stays white. This part can be eaten raw or cooked. — in a salad, soup, stew or stir-fry. It’s very much like the Asian cabbage called bok choy.
    6 Next go to the rootlets on the bottom of rhizome/root. Cut these off, boil them up, and they are pasta substitutes. Add cheese and you’ve got Mac and Cheese — add tomato sauce or pasta sauce and you’ve got spaghetti –add soy sauce and you’ve got Chinese noodles.
    7 You can cut these rootlets into smaller pieces and boil them to use like rice.
    8 Next cut around the sheath on the root. Pull the sheath from each end and you have the actual root, which is mostly starch. This root can be boiled and mashed, sliced and fried, and baked just like potatoes.
    9 Or dehydrate the root, grind it up and you have cattail flour, complete with gluten. It won’t make a fluffy loaf of bread, but it has enough gluten to make pancakes, tacos, and biscuits.
    10 Next take the same part of the root, cut it into pieces, put it in a container and cover with water. The next day pour the water into another container and let the slurry dry. This is pure starch. You can use it like corn starch for thickening stews or gravies or making pudding.
    11 Then do the same thing plus add the water from the starch, except this time simmer the starch and water until you get a syrup. This is a sweet syrup that you can use like honey or maple syrup.
    12 Last but not least, take the root, roast at 400 to 450 degrees until the root is a nice chocolate brown, and chop into rice sized pieces. Use this as a coffee substitute.
    All of this surprised the heck out of me when I found out about it. If I ever get in a situation where I need to find some free food, I hope there are plenty of cattails. around.