Cattail Foraging

Cattails are a seriously under appreciated plant. Every part of the plant is either edible or has some great uses for surviving and thriving. Like all foraging make sure you are harvesting from a relatively unpolluted area, toxins can accumulate in the stem of the plant if it is taken from heavily polluted areas like road sides or road drainage ditches. If you are harvesting for crafts and not consumption road side plants would be fine.

What You Will Need

If you plan on harvesting the rhizomes you are going to need something you can dig with, ideally a shovel because a hand spade for a garden might not do the trick depending on the ground you're digging in. You'll need something to snip the leaves if that's what your going for. Finally you'll have to bring an attitude of gratitude and be thankful and respectful to what you take from. 


The rhizomes of cat tails are very starchy and when completely dried, can be ground into a flour and used to enrich dishes that call for regular flour. Cattail flour can also be used as a thickener. The best time of the year to harvest cattail rhizomes is in the fall after the plant has had the whole summer to accumulate nutrients and be as nutritional as possible. The best way to harvest the rhizome is to wade out to where the cattails give way to open water. Reach under the water and soil where the last cattail stem is and find the horizontal root and harvest those.

Cattail Rhizome Flour Mug Cake

This recipe was found online and I substituted the all purpose flour for cattail rhizome flour. Make sure you use a mug that is big enough to hold the ingredients plus 2 inches of head space at the top. This recipe fluffs up quite a bit in the microwave and to prevent a mess ensure proper vessel size.


Cattail Cobs

In the spring when the seed heads are still green and still hidden in the leaves you can harvest them to be eaten like corn on the cob. Boil them until they are cooked through and serve how you would corn on the cob.


The bottom five inches of the stem are the best for eating. They can be eaten raw or cooked. When eating raw foraged food, it is very important to make sure everything is properly cleaned and harvested from a safe location. When taking off the outer leaves of the stem you will notice a gel in between the leaves. This gel is an antiseptic that helps with healing minor wounds, soothing burns and also helping with the pain of toothaches. The stem can be prepared the same way as you would asparagus, steamed, sauteed or baked. I have found that chopping them up and adding them to a stir-fry is a great way to use them and get great mileage out of your harvest.


The leaves are great for weaving mats or the fibers can be used to make cordage when you might need it. For weaving, leave the leaves in the sun to lose their moisture and shrink. When you are ready to weave them, re-hydrate them for about four hours so they are malleable and then weave to your hearts content. 

Cattail fluff

Cattail fluff can be collected in the fall and throughout the winter until spring and can be used for insulation in clothing or somewhere that requires waterproof properties. During wartime when supply chains were cut off people turned to cattail fluff for insulation. Eventually the army tested out life-jacket models using the cattail fluff and the life-jackets would still provide buoyancy after 100 hours of being submerged. Eventually after the wars were over and trade routes were reopened the cattail lost its spotlight. Recently however, with the eco-friendly movement cattail insulation is making a comeback and it is hopeful that this sustainable fibre will compete with polyester, down and other mainstream insulators that are less eco friendly for clothing in the near future. 

Which ever way you choose to use the cattail remember to be thankful and respectful to the plant for its gift to you! Let us know if you try cattail foraging and how it went. Happy foraging!


3 commentaires

  • Nikki – That sounds delicious!

    Northern Wildflowers
  • Last summer made a delicious cattail stem, onion, and mushroom salad!! Sooo refreshing!

  • Would love to have this info


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