Wild edibles: Cattail

Wild edibles: Cattail

Cattail / Bullrush – Typha Latifolia

Besides your weekly Pluk! harvest, we like to point out some edible wild plants that you can pick both on and around the fields of the Fruittuin van West.

Before we share are favourite plant of the moment, we ask you to be careful and well informed before picking any plants outside of our beds. Make sure that you look carefully at the example we have picked for you, and ask us questions if you have any doubts. Our water and soil at the Fruittuin is clean, but also keep in mind that plants growing in the city may take up toxic elements. As true lovers of nature we also encourage you to harvest responsibly: remember the important role played by wild plants in the local ecosystem, and keep in mind that unthoughtful and greedy picking will disrupt the system. Pick selectively in different places, and only when you are certain of what you are harvesting.

For sure you know Cattail (Typha Latifolia, also known as Bullrush), a pioneer plant that belongs to the Typhaceae family and is largely distributed in the Northern Hemisphere, where it grows in wet land, both within as alongside (still) water. The unripe female flower resembles a cigar and is a prominent feature in the landscape. On top of the “cigar head”, an elegant and narrow spike can be found that consists of numerous male flowers. When blossoming, the cigar head disintegrates into a cottony fluff from which the seeds disperse by wind.

In early and late spring (April-June) one can eat the juicy shoots of the plant. They look like large leeks, taste like young bamboo and are high in starch. Simply pull the plant out and remove the quite spongy outside layers at the bottom, like you would do with a leek. The white bottom and slightly green part can be eaten both raw and cooked, for example in salads, antipasti or soups. During this same period, the base of the leaves can be used both raw (in salads) and fried.

For very energetic people, the roots, cattail and the pollen of the male flowers (the stalk above the cattail, covered with yellowish pollen) can also be used in the kitchen. The roots can be used in both early spring and in the autumn, and can be boiled, steamed, fried or mashed into a smooth purée. The female cattail also can be taken off its stock and either fried or cooked. Finally, the pollen can replace or be mixed with flour.

Besides these culinary uses, people have used these plants historically for more practical purposes. Dutch tub builders for example closed holes in their barrels with the leaves, whilst the cotton-like hairs of the flourished flower served as stuffing for pillows or as bandages. Outside of the Netherlands, the leaves and stalks were used for weaving material.

Caution: young cattail leaves look like non-poisonous calamus (Acorus calamus) and poisonous daffodil and iris species (for example Gele Lis in the Netherlands). Here are some clear cattail photos here so you can avoid any mistakes.

You can find some inspiration for recipes using cattail here.