What’s Growing at the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens: Cat-Tail Pickles

What’s Growing at the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens: Cat-Tail Pickles
Melanie Priesnitz

I was not a child to play with swords. I much preferred making dandelion soup, so I have only recently discovered how much fun having a fencing duel with cat-tails can be. If done at the right time of the year you get the added bonus of covering your opponent with either fluff or pollen. I have lately found myself with a surplus of cat-tails and am discovering all sorts of uses for them – there are a plethora.

Typha latifolia, commonly known as cat-tail is a common wetland species that grows across North America and abroad. It has long been an important food source. The shoots, roots, and young flower spikes are all edible, and flour can be made out of the pollen. Cat-tails are prolific where they grow, so large quantities can be harvested without detriment to plant populations. In fact they are so abundant that harvesting an amount from a wetland is often beneficial to the ecosystem.

My favourite recipe for cat-tails doesn’t require removal of the root, (this may be why it’s my favourite as attempting to pull cat-tail roots out of mucky marshes often results in a mud bath and sore back) you need only harvest young spring shoots to make delicious cat-tail pickles. These are simple to make, pickle them with garlic, vinegar, and salt, let them sit for 24 hours and eat! Another great and easy, non-root pulling recipe is cat-tail “corn”. Young flower spikes can be cut, boiled, and eaten with salt, pepper, and butter just like corn on the cob.

I have never had the perseverance to pull any quantity of roots to try making rhizome flour but as the marsh at the Botanical Gardens continues to fill in, I just might have to try! Once I’m finished the grueling root harvest, I may need to try stuffing a mattress with cat-tail fluff and then make myself a cat-tail shoot shelter to recuperate in. If you have a strong back and are looking for several thousand cat-tails to try out new recipes, grab your chest waders and call me.

Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens
Acadia University