[ FORAGING ]
Flour from the Marsh
It is not an exaggeration to call the cattail (Typha
spp.) the supermarket of the marsh. Food can be
procured from cattails during any season – even
the dead of winter – and nearly every part of the
plant is edible.
Perhaps the most distinctive food that comes
from the cattail is its rhizome, a root-like, underground stem that is one of the richest wild
sources of edible carbohydrates in the Northeast.
Cattail rhizomes can be harvested at any time of
year, but the best time is after the plants have
died-back in late autumn, when the cattails have
stored starch for the next growing season. It
takes a large number of rhizomes to produce a
sufficient quantity of food, so it is best to gather
from a sizable population. Since cattails readily
accumulate metals and other pollutants, choose
your location carefully.
Rhizomes can be gathered from anywhere
within the patch, but digging them out of the thick
tangle at the center requires a lot more work. The
best way to gather them is to wade out to where
the cattails give way to open water and follow a
stem several inches down into the mud with your
hand, until you feel a finger-thick, spongy, rope-like stem leading horizontally away from the plant.
Give it a little tug. If it is connected to another cattail nearby, you can often see that plant wiggle as
you pull. Cut both ends with a knife and pull the
rhizome out of the mud.