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Copyright:  Mike Sillett


1. Intro
2. Tools
3. Materials
4. Procedure / technique

Photo of a cattail sprout.

1. Intro

Just about everyone with any outdoorsy inclinations knows that the cattail is a plant that contains many edible parts. Couple that with the fact that cattail can be easily found and that it grows practically everywhere and you would think that it is one of the more perfect foraging foods. NOT!

A disclaimer, of sorts:
Gathering clean cattail parts is not that easy. With cattail you always have to look at the big picture involving ground water 'runoff'.
Often, after you do so, you will eliminate that chosen body of water as a prime cattail foraging area because of various reasons such as: potential residential sewage discharge, factory area runoff, mine water reclamation, too near a road where pesticide runoff collects, etc., etc.
Pollution is very pervasive.
And, also to consider is to think historicaly. That body of water may not look so bad now but what was running into or was dumped into it years ago that may still be seeping or polluting.

If you are now apprehensive about foraging cattail parts then I am successful of what I intended.

However, you should not be totally turned off to foraging it's parts - just aware that it takes a bit of work and exploration to find a source that provides naturally clean cattails.

When you find those places cherish them and don't tell anyone about those locations because cattail does provide some might fine table fare.

2. Tools

3. Materials

4. Procedure

First step is to find a clean location.

When you have assured yourself that the cattails are growing in pretty clean water then it's collecting time. Here are just two examples of areas near where I live that have clean water where some cattails grow.

Photo of a group of cattails growing in a quarry spring seep area.
This is a spring seep in a quarry at the top of a hill.
There is no ground above this hill from which ground water runoff can enter, except a bit if it rains.
The spring seep starts right where you are looking and exits at the left of the photo.

This is a native trout stream tributary. It is actually another spring that runs about 100 yards before entering the trout stream. Virtually nothing enters the short run of water before getting to the trout stream.

Photo of a group of cattails growing along the edge of a spring seep which is a native trout stream tributary.

A native trout stream tributary - spring origin - which has a short run of approximately 100 yards before emptying into the trout stream.

I also have found other spring seep areas where several sources of seeps produce water all year. There's not enough water to produce a pond or lake but more than enough to be constantly wet and mucky. These seep areas are above road level so there is no runoff possibilities. They are far enough from roads to not receive sprays by road departments and there are no creeks or streams entering anywhere eliminating any uphill pollution source.
If you can find a few places like that you will have your nature's gardens.

For the cattail sprouts get them in Spring.
You do want them to grow a little bit, like at home in a garden you wouldn't pick produce until it is at it's best, so don't gather cattail sprouts too early either. Mid April is a good guideline to follow. Each patch is a bit different as far as growth goes so it is best to gauge the picking by the size of the shoots in the various areas.

Photo of a cattail sprout.

This is a nice size cattail shoot. For me the desired diameter is about the size of my thumb.

To collect just grab the shoot down low, the lower the better and pull slowly giving a slight twist and bend.

Photo demonstrating the removal of a cattail sprout, step 1.

Grab it low and maintain a steady pull, mostly straight up.

The next step is to square off the cored apples so that when the slices are taken all the slices will be even in thickness.

Photo demonstrating the removal of a cattail sprout, step 2.

A little twist and a little bend, a couple of times, and the shoot will snap off from where it is attached to the rhizome under water.

After snapping off it's time to trim off a couple of layers of leaf.

Photo demonstrating the removal of a cattail sprout, step 3.

This is what the final pull reveals - a neatly broken off cattail shoot.

When I am 'out and about' in the foraging mode I generally bring home enough of whatever to go with whatever meal I may have in the next day or so. SInce my wife does not enjoy the stuff I forage my haul is usually just enough for me.

Photo of a bunch of foraged cattail sprouts - enough to go with a meal.

I know my appetite so I only pick what will go with supper for an evening - or two.
This is enough to go with tonights leftover meatloaf and baked potatoes.

here are nine cattail shoots to take home for supper.

Photo of a group of cattail sprouts which have been field cleaned and ready to go home.

These have been fiels cleaned, that is, I cut off the tops near where I think the good part is at the base of the sprouts.
At home I'll trim the ends that were snapped off the rhizome and remove some layers of leaf that are prior year growths.

These 9 have now been de-layered of some leaves to get to the tender parts. The ends have been cut off cleanly and they are ready for the boiling water. Approximately 10 to 15 minutes and they will be ready to take out, put on a plate with my main course and add a little butter.
They are about as close to asparagus as you can get.

Photo of bunch of cleaned and trimmed cattail sprouts ready for the boiling water.

Boil for approximately 10 minutes.
After ten minutes they will almost be done perfectly but some may be slightly not done so monitor from then on.

You can make several of these and leave in refrigerator and enjoy them all week long.


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