How to Eat Cattails for Survival: Top 4 Ways, Best Recipes

Cattails are one of those plants that grow in abundance in different regions, specifically wetlands. 

When I was growing up and spent my days in the field hunting and exploring, I would see this plant everywhere. 

At the time I did not think much about them other than they reminded me of big corndogs!

But this simple-looking plant offers edible parts that are nutritious and can be harvested at different types of the year. 

Cattails Throughout the Year

Cattails can be used in various ways throughout the year. Knowing which parts to use during different seasons will help in determining how to prepare this plant for consumption.

Spring 

This is the best time of the year to harvest the shoots or stalk as they will be tender and easy to eat.

The male spike, the portion that sits atop the flowering head can also be eaten in early spring. 

Summer

At the beginning of summer, the male spike will produce an abundance of yellow pollen. This pollen has a high protein content and can be used in a variety of recipes. 

The pollen should be collected on calm days and placed into a container that can be sealed shut.

Fall

During the fall months, the roots offer a lot of starch that can be eaten raw or collected in used as a thickening agent in recipes. 


Harvesting and Preparing Cattails 

As with any wild edible, great care should be taken to properly identify the plant, choosing a safe location to pick the plant from, and not to over harvest. 

Cattails can resemble other plants that may grow in the area and a proper plant identification guide should always be used. 

Many plants act as environmental filters in that they can absorb substances from their surrounding area. Sometimes these substances can be harmful or even deadly to humans if consumed.

Cattails are especially good at this since they grow in or near water sources. 

Waterways that are near urban settings, farms, industrial complexes, or ones that are downstream from these environments are more likely to contain harmful contaminants. 

Lastly, only harvest what you need and will eat. By being conservational a cattail’s population will not be wiped out and ensure future harvesting opportunities.  

Tools 

Harvesting a cattail is easy but there are a few tools that will make the process even simpler. 

  • Knife or cutting tool. A cutting tool will make removing certain parts of the plant much easier and more precise. 
  • Small shovel (optional) A small shovel is always a good tool to have when foraging for wild edibles. But since cattails grow in or very near water, the soil in which they are rooted is very soft. Cattails can be easy to remove by simply using both hands to grab the base and pulling firmly upward. This will remove the entire plant as well as the roots.  
  • Collection container or cordage. Depending on the number of cattails that are being harvested, a way in which to carry them will be needed. A simple basket or bucket may work fine. But by laying a length of cordage on the ground, the cattails can be placed in the center and tied up into a bundle that can be carried in the hand or attached to the outside of a pack.   

Preparation 

Because they grow in wetlands when an entire cattail is removed the roots will most likely be covered in sticky mud. This is easily remedied by giving the root a quick shake in the source of water that is close by.


Best Cattail Recipes: My Top Picks 

Roots

To eat the roots you are first going to want to thoroughly wash them in clean water and then cut away any of the small, stringy branching roots. A knife or vegetable peeler can then be used on the roots to skin them similar to potatoes.  

This will leave the main body of the root that can be cooked in several different ways. It can be grilled, baked, or boiled until it becomes tender enough to eat.

Collecting the Starch 

Since the roots are high in starch, they can be used as a thickening ingredient in soups or stews. 

To collect the starch scrape the outside layer of the root away and bake it in an oven at 200 degrees for several hours or until dry.

The roots then need to be skinned, followed by removing the fibers. Once this is done, the roots need to be ground into a fine powder using a pestle and mortar or a food processor. The powder may need to dry further before use. 

Preparing the spike/catkin

The small spike on top of the cattail is also known as a catkin and it can be prepared in a few different ways. 

In the springtime, the catkin will be green and it is said that they can be eaten much like corn on the cob! 

The catkin should be washed and then boiled until it is properly heated. Then, enjoy it just as you would when preparing regular corn on the cob. 

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, towards the end of summer the spike matures and produces pollen. This pollen has a high protein content and can be used much like flour for baking bread, rolls, biscuits so simply sprinkled on top of different dishes. 

Shoots or Stalks 

The springtime is a great time to harvest these two parts because this is when they are the most tender. The new shoots and the white part of the stalk can both be gathered and consumed.  

After cleaned and cut, the shoots and stalks can be prepared much like asparagus. 

To sauté the shoots or stalks, brush them in olive oil, or your preferred oil, and place them into a hot frying pan. Sprinkle in a little salt, pepper, and garlic powder. 

Stir the shoots or stalks around frequently until the outermost portion is a light brown color. This will give the shoots a tender yet crunchy taste!

If you prefer an overall softer texture, cook the shoots longer at a lower temperature until they can easily be cut with a spatula or spoon. 

If you are looking for a more earthy, fiery taste, use the above oil and seasoning suggestion and cook over a campfire or grill. Take it from me that fire gives food a flavor that cannot be beaten!

But what if you can’t make a fire or do not wish to go through the process of making one? Fear not because the young shoots and stalk can be eaten raw.

After harvesting the young parts, cleaning them with clean water, and cutting to length, they can be eaten raw and fresh! They will have a crunchy texture much like celery and just like that vegetable, a savory spread can be put on top of them!

Seshelt Chowder 

One interesting and delicious sounding recipe I found was for this chowder from the online Farmer’s Almanac

What you will need:

  • 4 large cattail roots 
  • 5 cups of water 
  • 2 teaspoons salt 
  • 1 ½ pound cut salmon freshly cut salmon
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh pepper. 

Instructions

The 4 cattail roots will need to be cleaned with the side shoots cut off. The roots then need to be roasted and dried in the oven.

Place the roots into a pot with 5 cups of water and simmer for forty minutes. 

After forty minutes, add in the salt, salmon, and fresh pepper. Mix everything thoroughly and simmer for an additional 10 minutes. 

Cattail Acorn Bread

Another excellent recipe was obtained from Tactical Intelligence blog.

What you will need:

  • ½ cup of water 
  • 1 cup milk 
  • 2 tablespoons butter or vegetable oil
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt 
  • 2 tablespoons sugar 
  • 2 wheat flour 
  • 1 cup acorn flour 
  • 1 cup cattail flour 
  • 2 ¼ teaspoon dry yeast. 

Instructions

The source for this recipe simply mixed all the ingredients and put the dough into a bread-making machine for several hours. 

Although as they stated, the dough can also be cooked on hot coals to make ash cakes. 

If you have never eaten bread cooked over a natural fire I highly recommend it as the fire and smoke give it a very unique taste!


Wrap Up

For the survivalist, the cattail can be a welcomed sight because the plant can be used as a material source for making fire as well as consumed for food. Cattails also indicate the presence of a water source which is critical to life. 

No matter what time of the year it is, the cattail can provide materials for projects and a source for our nutritional needs. 

Hopefully, after reading this article you will look at this simple-looking wetland plant as more than a “big corndog.”

Thanks for reading and stay prepared!

Have you ever eaten cattails? Sound off in the comment section below and let us know how you used this versatile plant.




Written by Bryan Lynch

Bryan grew up in the Midwest and spent every waking moment outdoors. Learning how to hunt, fish, read the land, and be self-reliant was part of everyday life. Eventually, he combined his passions for the outdoors, emergency preparedness, and writing. His goal was to spread positive information about this field. In 2019, Bryan authored the book Swiss Army Knife Camping and Outdoor Survival Guide. His second book, Paracord Projects For Camping and Outdoor Survival, is scheduled to be released on March 2, 2021. Read more of Bryan's articles.