Cattails are often referred to as the “supermarket of the wilds.” This plant is incredible! At anytime throughout the season, there is a part of cattail that is edible. From the starchy roots to make flour, to the flowering tips to make a tasty ‘kabob’, there is always something to eat. Starting in the spring, we dig up the roots to make flour, and pull the centre of the shoots out to eat the hearts. This is a simple, satisfying harvest. Cattail doesn’t have any plants that it easily gets confused with, so it is usually easy to identify.
Cattails have a lightness to them, and a taste reminiscent of cucumber. They live in flowing water, and are water cleansers, pulling all the nutrients (and toxins) from the water and fixing them into their bodies. Because of this, it is important to make sure that your Cattail harvests are not in roadside ditches or downstream from any source of pollution.
Cattails are like our intestines, liver and kidneys, and they act as the “fat” of the land holding vast amounts of nutrients. Their cool, watery nature, specifically the slimy coating between the leaves, acts just like aloe; soothing, disinfecting and healing burns, cuts, bites and rashes. Like the inner part of aloe leaves, it’s also excellent for your complexion, and all edible parts are soothing to the stomach and intestinal tract.
Last spring, when we harvested cattail hearts, I connected with the flavour in a new way. I felt invigorated by the freshness and clean, light taste. I had visions of so many ways that I wanted to try cooking and making with Cattail!
In cucumber season I love raita, which in the western world, is usually made with yogurt, cucumber, garlic or green onions, cumin, cilantro and salt (see here for a more info on a traditional Indian or Pakistani raita, which varies from region to region).
I decided to try making raita with raw cattail hearts instead of the cucumber. This was one of those moments that will be remembered forever! The flavours were delicious and while it was like a cucumber raita, it was so much more complex and dynamic; this recipe is alive.
Wild food recipes are grounding. We feel the deep roots of connection between ourselves and this earth on which we live, and are deeply nourished, body and soul. This feeling always leaves me with a tremendous sense of peace and wellbeing. Bringing the earth into my body, I know I belong to Her, and I am thankful.
Here’s the Recipe:
1. Pull six hearts out and carry them back to the house. Basically what you’re doing is pulling at the centre core of the leaves of one cattail plant, they come out easily. Cattails are tough, and you’re not going to hurt them, or kill them this way.
2. Cut the white tender part off from the green tops (save these for later to try your hand at some weaving). The green leaves are fibrous, so I find the ‘line’ closer to the white part and cut there. If when you cut them there still seems to be some fibrous parts, cut them off. You don’t want these bits in your raita.
3. We chopped up the six white parts fine, adding up to 1 cup of chopped hearts, loosely packed. I added this to 2 cups of plain yogurt (homemade is the tastiest), 1 medium clove garlic, 1 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp cumin. I like to chill it in the fridge for a day to infuse the flavours, but it’s also so tasty right then.
We like to have it with dosas or falafel, but it’s great with anything you might have raita or tzatiki with.
For more cool information on Cattail identification and history visit eat the weeds!