Cattails are truly a gift to have on our farm. Year round nutrition can be found with these native plants in all forms from roots to shoots, pollen and pods too. Comfort and function accompany cattail lore as the fluffy seeds insulated clothing and blankets, while the reeds and leaves were used for making baskets and containers.
Where cattails are found it is said that no man will go hungry. Perhaps if we started with this time of year, and throughout winter, the roots can be dug and eaten in a variety of ways. I recommend that young roots are used. The larger they get, the more fibrous and woody they become. I have stir fried cattail roots with dandelion roots and wild garlic for a satisfying and nutritious root skillet.
In the spring, the young green shoots are tender and tasty in all sorts of ways. I eat them raw in salads, and cooked in everything I can add a little spring green to. It goes well in rice, pasta, soups and stews.
As summer emerges, the young pods that will later become the notorious “cat tail” shape that we all know can be picked while still green. They can be roasted or boiled and husked like an ear of corn and eaten much like an ear of corn.
Later on the brown cat tail blooms start to pollinate. The yellow pollen can be gathered by simply shaking the yellow dust into a bag. Golden cattail pancakes can be made with any amount of cattail pollen, add flour to the pollen to make 2 cups. Add 5 teaspoons of baking powder, 2 cups of milk and 2 tablespoons of oil. Mix well then drop 1/4 cup of batter at a time onto a hot skillet with butter or oil. Turn the pancakes when they start popping bubbles on top. Serve with your own syrup or apple butter.
After the pollination the fertile seeds will emerge from the spires with white tufts. These fluffy seeds can be used for stuffing pillows, blankets, mittens and slippers. This is also just about the right time to harvest the reeds and stems for making baskets with.
What a great plant!