Cattail Information and Identification

All parts of the cattail plant are edible. American Indians prepared the different parts in many ways.

Cattail

Cattail latin name – T. latifolia/TYPHACEAE

Other Common Names:

Broad-leaved Cattail

General:

The Cattail is a wetland plant with a unique flowering spike and flat blade like leaves that can reach heights from 3 to 10 feet. They are some of the most All parts of the cattail plant are edible. American Indians prepared the different parts in many ways.common marsh/wetland plants. They are unmistakable in appearance, the flower head is unique and great way to identify the plant.  Once established, cattails vigorously develop into large colonies and have a tendency to overtake or crowd out other plant species. We have a small man made pond in our backyard. Once each year we must cut back the cattail plants. We do that by cutting into the roots and removing a section. Two species are most common in US: broad leaved cattail (T. latifolia) and narrow leaf cattail (T. angustifolia).

Cattails have the ability to sprout from seed and to spread through their root systems (also called rhizomes). I have a small pond in my backyard. I planted a small stand of cattails on water’s edge. Within one year they spread to over three times their original size, all through the growth of the roots.

Description:

Cattails are rhizomatous perennial tall, stiff plants, growing anywhere from 3’ up to 10’ tall. As the pictures indicate, cattail leaves look like long blades of grass, about one inch wide. The flower has two parts; a brown cylinder (the female part), and a yellow spike above (the male part). Cattails flower from May to July. Afterward, the brown sausage-shaped flower head continues to grow and develop. As the pictures indicate, the flower heads are unmistakable trademarks and help in classic cattail identification

Habitat:

Cattails prefer shallow, flooded conditions and/or wet ground. With that in mind, you will find cattails along pond edges and lake shorelines, damp ground near streams or in waters 1 to 1.5 feet or less in depth. They can even be found in ditches, in fact cattails are common roadside plants. Cattails need to have moisture during most of the growing season. They tolerate perennial flooding, reduced soil conditions and moderate salinity.

Location:

Cattails grow in shaded wetlands. You can often find them in marshes, swamps and other areas of stagnant waterCattail can be found in all US states, Canada and Mexico. In fact, cattail plants can be found worldwide.

Edible:

Young shoots in spring – The outer portion of young plants can be broken off at the rootstalk, peeled and the heart can be eaten raw or boiled and eaten like asparagus. The raw young shoots taste like cucumber and can also be made into pickles.

Flower heads – In early summer the sheath can be removed from the developing green flower spike, which can then be boiled and eaten like corn

Pollen can be collected and used as a flour supplement or thickener. Pollen is gathered by shaking flower head gently into a container. Pollen is high in protein. It is a bright yellow or green color.

Seeds from brown heads in late summer can be eaten. Seeds can be harvested by burning the head, then winnowing.

Rootstalk throughout winter – they are nutritious with a protein content comparable to that of maize or rice. The rootstalk can be Baked or roasted. You can also dry out the cattail rootstalk and then pound it into a flour like consistency. Cattail rhizomes are fairly high in starch content; about 30% to 46% and the flour would probably contain about 80 % carbohydrates and around 6% to 8% protein. 1

Plants growing in polluted water can accumulate poison and pesticide residues in their rhizomes, and these should not be eaten

Notes of Interest:

A stand of cattails will provide food, shelter and fuel for your fire – 3 of the 5 basic survival needs at any time of year. The mature flower heads of Typha is a genus of about ten species of monocotyledonous flowering plants in the monogeneric family,cattail have high insulating power. In a pinch, use them in your clothing to keep warm. Additionally, you can beak apart the mature flower head and use as tinder. As a friend once said, “it lights up real good.”

Cattails are important wetland plants for wildlife. In the northeast US it is a common summer site to see red-winged blackbirds flying around or resting on cattails. Cattails are eaten or used as protection/housing by wetland mammals such as muskrats, waterfowl, reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects.

The Klamath and Modocs of northern California and southern Oregon make flexible baskets of twined tule or cattail. Cattails or tules were also twined to form mats of varying sizes for sleeping, sitting, working, entertaining, covering doorways, for shade, and a myriad of other uses.1

1.http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_tyla.pdf
2. Clarke, C.B. 1977. Edible and useful plants of California. University of California Press. 280 pp

Jerusalem artichoke – Helianthus Tuberosus

Jerusalem artichoke

Common Names: sunroot, sunchoke, earth apple or topinambour, Canadian potato, sunflower root, wild sunflowerJerusalem artichoke

Driving around in upstate New York in late summer you can spot Jerusalem artichoke growing just off the road. Take a walk near old farms and just off the path you can spot small plots of these native plants growing. This edible plant is actually a species of sunflower native to eastern North America – however due to its food value (and probably its flower) it has been introduced worldwide. Just another example of man bringing a new plant to an area to become an “invasive species”. The root system of this wild food is fibrous with thin cord-like rhizomes that can grow as long as 50 inches. Usually apparent at the tips of rhizomes are whitish to pinkish tubers that are irregular in size and shape and resemble a slender potato with knots.

Description:

The Jerusalem artichoke is a tall perennial plant. It can grow up to 10’ in height. Its stems are strong upright in growth. They have “hairs” along the stem. The leaves are opposite or in whorls of three on the bottom and alternately arranged near the top. The top of the leaves are covered with short hairs and are 4 to 10 inches long and 1 1/2 to 5 inches wide broadest at the base and tapering at the tip. All leaves have toothed margins. The flowers are bright yellow as can be seen in the picture. The flower head is a rounded central disc approximately 1 ½” to 2” wide which has approximately 10 – 20 – 1 ½” to 2 ½” flowers rays attached. Each plant will have several flowers on small stems.

Habitat:

You can find Jerusalem artichokes in damp or rich thickets, waste areas, old fields, along roadsides and even in peoples gardens – either as a known vegetable or just a nice yellow flower.

Location:

You can find clusters of these wild flowers growing from southern Saskatchewan south into Kansas and eastward into Quebec down to Georgia. Frankly since many people have attempted to grow jerusalem artichoke as a food source, you can find this plant growing where ever conditions are right – again “invasive”

Edible:

The tuber is the edible part of this plant. If you wait until after a frost the inulin in the tubers will start turning to sugar thus making it sweeter. You can prepare the tuber just as you would a potato – roast, bake, boil, eat it raw, dry and grind into a flour. It is extremely versatile.

“Jerusalem artichokes get their sweetness from a unique sugar called inulin, which the body metabolizes much more slowly than it does other sugars. This makes the veggie a preferred food for diabetics, and for anyone who wants to avoid eating simple sugars and starches. Jerusalem artichokes are rich in iron, potassium and a range of B vitamins.” 2

Notes of Interest:

Jerusalem artichokes were cultivated by the Native Americans, in fact Samuel de Champlain found domestically grown plants at Cape Cod in 1605.

Truly a plant of many uses, the jerusalem artichoke can be grown for: human consumption, alcohol production, fructose production and livestock feed.

“Dehydrated and ground tubers can be stored for long periods without protein and sugar deterioration. Tubers can be prepared in ways similar to potatoes. In addition, they can be eaten raw, or made into flour, or pickled.” 1

A 25-square-foot planting can produce more than 100 pounds of harvested tubers. 2
The sugars from one acre of Jerusalem artichoke can produce 500 gallons of alcohol, which is about double the amount produced by either corn or sugarbeet. 3

1. Alternative Field Crops Manual – University of Wisconsin
2. Mother Earth News
3. Ohio State University – Ohio Perennial and Biennial Weed Guide

 

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