Cattail’s many uses make it claws for celebration
So you pass that massive field of cattail on your drive home and you think, “What a waste of good ground.” But I say, “Not so, my cattail-ignorant friend.” The captivating cattail – considered to be “the supermarket of the wild” – is not constrained by seasonal considerations. Various parts of this 4- to 9-foot water-loving stalk can be used 365 days a year for medicinal, edible and utilitarian purposes.The best way to list all of cattail’s uses (and by no means will I be able to list every single one), is to start at the top of the plant and work down to the root. -Pollen head – In late spring to mid-summer, depending upon your locale, the tip-top spike (known as the male flower head) becomes encased with a thick insulation of pollen. This is a high-protein, ultra-nutritious food source. Wait until the spikes are thick with pollen and collect it in a paper bag. Put the pollen through a fine sieve several times until you get a consistency of talcum powder.Mix half regular flour with half cattail pollen and make golden-hued bread, muffins or pancakes. Add a little pollen to soups or stews and you’ve got a natural and nutritious thickener. Store the pollen in airtight, glass canisters in a cool, dark cupboard, it should last for one year.-Seed head – Several months before the pollen head is ready for harvesting, the hot dog shaped part of the cattail (a.k.a. the female part of the plant), is encased by a protective papery sheath much like the husk on a corncob. While it is still green, take this section of the plant and steam or boil it (again, much like corn on the cob) for no longer than four minutes. The best time to gather the green flower head for optimum tenderness is right before the spike breaks through its protective covering. The fuzzy, cream-colored down that floats off the seed head in late summer or early fall has been used to stuff pillows, crib headboards and mattresses. Pack it into your jacket for a crude yet effective form of natural insulation. -Young shoots – In the spring, the tender young shoots are called Cossack asparagus due to their slight resemblance to that other spring time plant. The shoots are only good up until the plant gets to about a foot and a half tall. After that, they are too fibrous. Peel off the outer rind to expose the soft white center. That is what you eat. It can be eaten raw or, better yet, steam or stir-fry them until they turn light brown.-The root – The cattail root is one of the most delicious wild foods. It is a cross between celery and hearts of palm. It is very easy to dig up – sometimes if the area is really wet, you can just rotate the stalk out of the ground and pull up the root. Wash off the mud, cut open the root and remove any fibrous portions. It can be eaten raw or steamed, or stir-fry it for three to four minutes. The root is almost pure starch and is loaded with tons of vitamins and minerals. The best time to collect the root is in late fall and throughout the winter.There are two cautions. Cattails suck up everything within their vicinity, including heavy metals. When you find a cattail swamp, look around the area. If you are near a railroad track, a leech field, old or new mine, toxic waste dump or nuclear power plant, do not pick the cattail! The only other consideration is that if you are not used to eating wild foods, start off slowly with cattail roots. Too much of a wild thing will give you “Wild Food Revenge.” And I don’t want your first cattail experience to be anything but superb.Good grazing!E-mail your questions to The Humorous Herbalist at email@example.com.The information in this column is not meant to take the place of your physician, nor is it intended to treat, diagnose or prescribe. Pregnant or nursing women should consult their doctor before using herbal therapy.
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