Delicious Recipes Using Cattails – “The Supermarket of the Swamp”

Sarah Davis
By Sarah Davis March 1, 2017 12:56

Delicious Recipes Using Cattails – “The Supermarket of the Swamp”

Cattails (Typha latifolia) are one of the most versatile plants on Earth. It is called the “Supermarket of the Swamp” for good reason since it can be used throughout all four seasons. They even inspired the Boy Scouts’ motto: “You name it, and we’ll make it from cattails!”. The plants can be found virtually anywhere in the wilderness where there is a water source across the entire North American continent and almost everywhere in the Western hemisphere worldwide.

Alternative Practical Applications

It is said that if a person lost in the wilderness found cattails, they’d have four of the five things needed to ensure their survival: water, food, shelter, and fuel. The Native Americans used cattails for so many different reasons:

Crafts (using green or dried leaves or fluff):

  • Shelters’ covers
  • Making mats, blankets, and baskets
  • Making cordage used for hunting or fishing, as ropes, for belts and straps, for defense equipment, as arrow shafts, and so on
  • The fluff was used to insulate footwear and hats, for stuffing pillows, or for a baby’s cradleboard.

Medicine

  • The pollen is hemostatic and astringent. It was used for controlling external and internal bleeding, chest pains, and other forms of blood stagnation. The pollen is also mildly diuretic.
  • Roots were used to treat burns, insect bites, scrapes, and bruises. Fresh, ponded roots were used directly as a poultice for open blisters and infections but also as a toothpaste if mashed up.
  • The ash of burnt plants was used for its antiseptic properties and is good for treating wounds and abrasions.

Fuel and illumination

  • Boiled, filtered, and fermented cattail roots release ethanol, which is now used as a biofuel.
  • The fluff inside the cattail’s head makes for an excellent tinder for starting fires.
  • The brown flower heads could be used as torches or as an illumination source if dipped in wax. The smoke will also drive away any insects.

Related: What the Pioneers Stockpiled To Survive Winter

Eatable Parts of Cattail During Spring:

Cattail Shoots/Stalkscattail shoots_stalks

This part of the young plant can be eaten raw or cooked like corn on the cob or asparagus. They contain potassium, phosphorus, and vitamins A, B, and C, and they taste like a cross between a tender zucchini and a cucumber. In addition, the cattail shoot is one of the best natural resources of protein and unsaturated fat, and it provides nutrient-rich enzymes and minerals.

Late Spring:

Leavescattail leaves

The cattail leaves are excellent for salads or sandwiches when they are young and tender.

Eatable Parts of Cattail During Summer:

Pollencattail pollen

There is probably no other pollen on the planet as easy to harvest by the pound as cattail, and there are so many tasty things to do with this fine, flour-like staple. To collect it, you’ll need to place a bag over the end of the cattail plant and shake to capture the pollen. It can be eaten raw—sprinkle it in yogurt, fruit smoothies, oatmeal, or salads—or use it as a flour supplement or thickener for gravy and soups.

Eatable Parts of Cattail During Autumn and Winter:

Roots/Rhizomescattail rhizome_root

The underground lateral stems are called rhizomes—although most of us would simply call them roots—and the best period to harvest them is from late autumn to early spring. These parts are edible any time of the year.

Cattails contain ten times the starch of an equal weight of potatoes.cattail starch

In order to harvest the starch, which is very sweet and tasty, you’ll need to thoroughly clean the roots and mince or crush them before you put them in clean water. Then you can either leave the pounded chunks in clean water and wait for the starch to settle to the bottom, you can filter it, or you can boil them down. The best time to collect the starch is in late fall and winter, when the starch is stored in the rhizome.

A single acre of cattails can produce approximately 6,474 pounds of flour during an average year.Cattail-Flour

First, you need to peel and chop the roots and then clean them very well. Next, you’ll have to remove the long fiber strings, pound them into a powder after they have been allowed to dry completely, and then use that as flour.

Recipes

1. Scalloped Cattailsscalloped cattails

  • 2 cups of chopped cattail tops
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup melted butter
  • ½ tsp. sugar
  • ½ tsp. nutmeg
  • ½ tsp. black pepper
  • 1 cup milk (scalded at 180°F)
  • Mix the cattail tops, eggs, butter, sugar, nutmeg, and black pepper in a bowl while slowly adding the scalded milk, and blend well.
  • Pour the mixture into a greased casserole dish, top with grated Swiss cheese (optional), and add a dab of butter. Bake at 275°F for 30 minutes.

2. Cattail Pollen Biscuitscattail biscuits

  • 3 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/3 cup flour
  • ¼ cup cattail pollen
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 Tbsp. shortening
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • Preheat oven to 450°F.
  • Mix all ingredients.
  • Cut the dough into biscuit shapes, and bake them at 425 for 20 minutes.

3. Cattail Pollen Pancakespancakes with cattail

  • ½ cup cattail
  • ½ cup flour
  • 2 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 Tbsp. salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 Tbsp. bacon drippings
  • Mix all ingredients.
  • Pour onto a hot skillet or griddle in four-inch pancake amounts.

4. Cattail Casserolecattail casserole

  • 2 cups scraped cattail spikes
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 egg (beaten)
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 diced onion
  • Salt and pepper (according to taste)
  • ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • Combine all ingredients in a casserole dish, and place in an oven set to 350°F for 25 minutes. Serve hot.

5. Cattail Acorn Breadcattail acorn bread

  • 1 cup acorn flour
  • 1 cup cattail flour (or another flour with gluten)
  • 2 Tbsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. sea salt
  • 3 Tbsp. honey, agave nectar, or pure maple syrup
  • 2 omega-three eggs (or regular), beaten
  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • 3 Tbsp. olive, grape seed, or coconut oil
  • Mix all of the ingredients together.
  • Pour into a greased loaf pan.
  • Bake at 400°F for 30 minutes.

6. Cattail Wild Rice Pilafwild rice cattail pilaf

This recipe can be made with brown rice, but the wild rice adds a special dimension to it.

  • 1 cup dry wild rice (4 cups cooked)
  • 2 Tbsp. sesame oil
  • ½ cup chopped green onion
  • 2 cups cattail shoots, sliced (about 30 cattails)
  • 2 Tbsp. salt
  • ½ cup slivered almonds
  • Cook the wild rice until tender.
  • Sauté the onion and cattail shoots in sesame oil until tender and translucent.
  • Mix the rice and the sautéed cattail shoots and onion together.
  • Add the salt and slivered almonds.
  • Serve hot.

7. Cattail Wild Rice Soupcattail soup

  • 1 cup dry wild rice (4 cups cooked)
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • ½ cup chopped green onion
  • 2 cups cattail shoots, sliced (about 30 cattails)
  • 2 Tbsp. salt
  • Cook the wild rice until tender.
  • In a heavy-bottomed soup pot, sauté the onion and cattail shoots in sesame oil until tender and translucent.
  • Add the cooked wild rice, salt, and 4 cups of chicken broth or other soup stock of your choice.
  • Simmer together for 15–20 minutes, and serve.

8. Cat-on-the-Cob with Garlic Buttercat on cob recipe

  • 30–40 cattail flowerheads, peeled
  • Garlic butter:
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 12 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 cup freshly chopped wild greens (or parsley or other fresh garden herbs)

Make garlic butter in a food processor by whipping the butter, oil, salt, fresh garlic, and parsley together until smooth.

Note: If using salted butter, eliminate the salt from the recipe.

The olive oil makes the butter nice and creamy and spreadable, even after refrigerating. I like to make a batch of this to keep handy in the fridge. You can also make a larger batch ahead to freeze in small containers when the greens are in season.

  • Boil cattail flowerheads in water for 10 minutes.
  • Make garlic butter in a food processor by whipping the butter, salt, fresh garlic, and parsley together until smooth.
  • Drain the cattail flowerheads, and slather them generously with the garlic butter.
  • Eat them just like miniature corn on the cob.

9. Cattail Flower/Shoots Refrigerator Picklespickled cattails

  • Enough cattail flowerheads/shoots to tightly fill a quart jar, about 30 or 40
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
  • 4 to 6 bay leaves
  • ¾ cup apple cider vinegar (use some of your herbal vinegar!)
  • 1½ cup olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp. salt
  • 1¼ cup water
  • Boil the cattails in water for 5 to 10 minutes, and drain thoroughly.
  • Stuff flowerheads/shoots, garlic, peppercorns, and bay leaves into a clean, sterile quart jar.
  • Combine vinegar, oil, water, and salt in a saucepan.
  • Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and pour over the cattail heads.
  • Add a little more oil, vinegar, and water if the liquid does not reach to the top of the jar.
  • Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator overnight.

If you are experienced at making pickles, you could experiment with some of your favorite pickle recipes and put them up as preserves.

10. Indian Cattail Spoon Breadcattail spoon bread

Preheat oven to 400°F.

  • ½ cup butter
  • 2 cups fresh flower buds or cattails on the cob
  • ½ cup diced onions
  • ½ cup diced green pepper
  • salt
  • 1 cup sharp cheese
  • pinch of chili powder
  • Melt butter in a skillet, and add cattail buds, onions, green pepper, and salt.
  • Sauté for 5 minutes or until tender.
  • Pour into greased baking dish.
  • Sprinkle with cheese and chili powder.
  • Bake until cheese melts.
  • Spoon onto plate while hot.

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Sarah Davis
By Sarah Davis March 1, 2017 12:56
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29 Comments

  1. Jack March 1, 14:18

    Love this and want more!

    Reply to this comment
  2. Bashful March 1, 15:18

    I had no idea you could use these in so many recipes. Thank you for this information>

    Reply to this comment
  3. Methane March 1, 15:22

    A Naturalist told me that cattails only grow in water contaminated with feces (human or animal). Very important to cook and not eat raw!

    Reply to this comment
    • TSgt B March 9, 05:14

      I’ve been all over this country, and have found cattails in every wet/damp environment. Urban, suburban, rural, and WAY the Hell out in the boonies. Your “naturalist” is mistaken.

      Reply to this comment
    • Sylkz March 9, 05:45

      Whoever told you that is unfortunately misinformed…

      Reply to this comment
  4. Country Gal March 1, 15:27

    In the recipe “Cattail Pollen Biscuits” I really question the amount of baking powder.

    Reply to this comment
    • Sarah Davis Author March 2, 15:22

      Thank you for your comment, Country Gal! Indeed, there was a mistake in the recipe, there are actually 3 tbsp. of baking powder instead of 3 cups.

      Reply to this comment
  5. GhostEagle March 1, 15:37

    This is a great article about forgotten resources. You should write more articles like this.

    Reply to this comment
  6. raedu March 1, 15:51

    I am sure that in your cattail pollen biscuit recipe, you did not mean “3 cups of baking powder”.

    Reply to this comment
  7. Russ March 1, 15:56

    Every excited I’ve been looking for these same receipes. My Grandmother use to make them and receipes were lost after she passed.

    Reply to this comment
  8. John March 1, 15:57

    Thank you for the recipes for cattails. They sound delicious. I have wanted to try this food source for a while. Thanks to you, I am going to give them a try.

    Reply to this comment
  9. Softballumpire March 1, 16:04

    Having read Euwell Gibbons book ‘Stalking the Wild Asparagus decades ago, I was familiar with some of the uses but this extended my horizon on the subject, thank-you very much,

    Reply to this comment
  10. Ma Ma Edith. March 1, 16:20

    I would like to learn more about cattail and it used.

    Thank you for these articles.

    Reply to this comment
  11. Sylkz March 2, 02:51

    Hello and thanks for this post.
    I was wondering… after peeling and chopping the roots, do you have to dry out the root first and then start pounding to release the fibres and discard?
    Also, I have asthma and I’m quite allergic to pollen from flowering plants usually, would you know where to direct me to learn more about how cattail pollen might affect asthmatics? Again, thanks I love all your posts 🙂

    Reply to this comment
    • Sarah Davis Author March 2, 16:02

      There are several methods on how to collect the starch. Here’s how to do it:
      1. To harvest starch from a cattail plant, clean the exterior roots and then mince or crush them, before putting them in clean water. After the small bits of root sit in the water for at least five minutes, the starch will settle to the bottom. Carefully and slowly pour off the water. This step may need repeated several times in a bowl of clean water each time in order to remove all of the extra fiber.
      2. The roots can be boiled and the starch stripped off the fibers.
      3. They can be dried and then you can grate the starch off the fibers.
      4. You can put the roots on embers and roast until black, then peel the black layer off and then grate the starch off the fibers.

      Reply to this comment
  12. Jack March 3, 09:24

    This to me is the kind of survival info we need.

    Reply to this comment
  13. Trevor March 3, 19:53

    Well I’ll be damned. I had no idea!

    Reply to this comment
  14. MrsRanMac March 7, 20:07

    On your Scalloped Cattails…
    I don’t believe you meant the amounts of Nutmeg & Pepper to be 1/2 CUP each…
    Should it be 1/2 tsp. each instead????

    Reply to this comment
  15. JED March 27, 17:28

    HAY ARE THERE ANY BOOKS ON JUST CATTAILS ???

    Reply to this comment
  16. thesouthernnationalist April 26, 19:50

    Really good info!
    I’m nowhere near any water so I’ll keep this in mind should I come across some cattails.

    Thanks!

    Reply to this comment
  17. Richard May 1, 00:23

    Thank you for the work you do keeping us informed of important information like these edible plants. You never know when the time comes that you will need to use this information.

    Reply to this comment
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