Cattails are edible plants that grow in swamps and marshes. They have a long history of use in Native American medicine, especially for treating diarrhea and dysentery. Today they are grown commercially as ornamental plants, but their medicinal uses remain. Cattail leaves contain glucosides (a type of dietary fiber) which may help with constipation or promote bowel regularity. Some research suggests that these compounds could even reduce the risk of colon cancer. Cattail seeds contain high levels of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients may help prevent heart disease, arthritis, rheumatism, osteoporosis, depression and other conditions.
The edible parts of a cattail include the stalks and the leaves. The stems are used for making soup stock or as a garnish for salads. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked into soups or sauces. Cattail stalks can be ground into flour or used in breads.
Edible parts of a cattail are not the only things that make up its nutritional value. Its leaves, flowers and fruits are all rich sources of vitamins A, B1, B2 and C. The fruit contains vitamin K which helps protect against certain cancers such as skin cancer. The leaves also contain beta carotene which may help prevent blindness from age-related macular degeneration.
Cattails are part of the wild onion family. The stalks resemble a thick green corn-on-the-cob with small brown hairs, although some varieties have no hairs at all. The flowers resemble yellow or white umbrellas and can be seen in early summer. The roots grow in a marshy area or mud and can extend up to two feet below ground.
Cattails can be prepared in many ways and are a favorite food during survival scenarios. Boiling or steaming these vegetables is a healthy way to eat them. You can eat the roots raw or cooked, but some people may experience a laxative effect when eating too many of them. Due to their high soluble fiber content, they may cause digestive upset for some people though most simply find them to have a bland taste.
Sprouts are also very nutritious as well and can be eaten raw or cooked. The white parts of the cattail can be eaten, but some people find them to have an undesirable taste or texture. Most people prefer to eat the young shoots or “coleoptiles” when the plant is about an inch tall, before it has sprouted leaves. The young flower heads, commonly called “cotton” or “pollen”, can be cooked and eaten as well.
Cattails grow in wetland areas and thrive in marshes, lakes and riverbanks. If you are not in a survival scenario, you may want to be careful while harvesting cattails since they can often grow in polluted waters. If you are unsure of the water quality, always boil the water first before drinking or cooking with it. You should also only use the stalks and leaves and never the roots since the roots are often where pollution can be found the strongest.
If you are in a survival scenario and need moisture, you can get water from breaking off the stalks near the base and squeezing the nutritious juice from them. The pollen can also be used as flour to make a nourishing bread. Take care when gathering cattails since you do not want to end up with a poisonous look-alike. Certain toxicity can be determined by the color of the flower head. If it is green, it can be eaten.
If it is white or brown, do not eat it.
Cattails are one of the most overlooked survival foods and can easily sustain life if no other food is available. They are easy to identify, easy to forage and provide more than enough nutrition to keep you going until you are rescued or able to hunt for more substantial food.
Cattails are members of the wild onion family and thrive in wet soil, wet mud, or even standing water. They contain as much sugar and proteins as corn and are a super food in every sense of the word. Native Americans ate cattails long before the arrival of the first European settlers and used them as a staple in their diet.
Cattails can be eaten in various ways such as boiled, roasted over an open fire or even dried and turned into flour. Most parts of the plant can be eaten including the root, stems, leaves and flower heads. Early Native Americans would often eat cattails immediately after a flood when the plants had expended all their nutrients into the ground and their starch content was at its highest.
Cattails can be identified by their tall stalks with large brownish triangular joints and spikes at the top. The bases of the plants often sits under water and can be identified by their long spikes and brown color. The younger plants are more suitable to eat as the older ones can become too fibrous.
Cattails can be found in the wild across all 50 states and are most common in moist or dry soil areas near sources of water such as rivers, streams, ditches and puddles. You can even grow your own supply in your backyard.
Cattails are very easy to identify and can grow up to 8 feet tall. With the exception of the rare look-alikes, they are non-poisonous. If you are in an area that is unfamiliar to you, it is always a good idea to use caution when gathering wild edibles. There are various plants and shrubs that may look similar to cattails but can be toxic or cause side effects such as diarrhea, cramping and vomiting. It is recommended to research the plant before harvesting or eat a small portion at first to test for allergies or digestion issues.
Hazelnut bushes are mostly found in North American woodlands growing along streams and slopes. They are the typical image of a wild nut tree growing to about 6-10 feet high and 6-8 feet wide. The nuts grow on short stalks after the leaves have dropped from the tree and look similar to a small acorn. Hazelnuts are encased in a very hard shell and cannot be eaten raw. They require extensive processing to remove the husk and inner skin before they can be eaten or used in cooking
There are both wild and domestic varieties of hazelnut bushes but they cannot be properly identified unless you are an expert. It is best to assume that a large bush with nuts on it growing in the wild is a wild variety which can be eaten.
The nuts can be found all year round depending on the species and location. They are relatively easy to harvest as the husk comes off easily when still fresh. They do not need to be cooked and can be eaten raw or roasted over a fire as required. They can also be crushed and made into a paste or pressed for their oil.
Although they do not grow in the UK, hazelnuts are one of the most important staple foods in the world. The highest quality ones are hand picked in Turkey, the Black sea region and Eastern Europe. They have a very slight sweet taste and are often eaten as candy or added to baked goods.
Hazelnuts can be eaten raw, roasted or turned into milk in the same way as soya beans. They can also be used in curries and sauces and make a good substitute for pine nuts if soaked beforehand.
Sources & references used in this article:
Edible wild plants: a North American field guide to over 200 natural foods by TS Elias, PA Dykeman – 2009 – books.google.com
Wild Seasons: Gathering and Cooking Wild Plants of the Great Plains by K Young – 1993 – books.google.com
Acorns & Cattails: A Modern Foraging Cookbook of Forest, Farm & Field by R Connoley – 2016 – books.google.com
Northwest Foraging: The Classic Guide to Edible Plants of the Pacific Northwest by D Benoliel – 2011 – books.google.com
Edible Wild Plants for Beginners: The Essential Edible Plants and Recipes to Get Started by A Press – 2013 – books.google.com
Southwest Foraging: 117 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Barrel Cactus to Wild Oregano by J Slattery – 2016 – books.google.com
Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries by L Meredith – 2014 – books.google.com
Field guide to edible wild plants by B Angier – 2008 – books.google.com