Cattail (Typha sp.) ****
The Cattail is the most conspicuous and well-known marsh plant, with its
tall stalk of long, narrow leaves and the brown seed-head. This is a
pan-temperate zone plant, and its food value is recognized in parts
of Europe and Asia. You can eat anything on a Cattail plant that you
can chew, but we’ll describe the better parts below.
The best: In spring, the young bloom spikes emerge that will later form
the brown, fuzzy Cattail head, popular in dried arrangements. At this
stage, they are about the diameter of your little finger, and enclosed
in a papery sheath. The bloom spike is divided, with the male part above,
about 8-12 inches long, and this is what you eat. Cook these spikes abut
7 minutes, roll in butter and salt, and nibble the buds off the hard
central core. It’s a really fine vegetable.
Cattail roots are good survival food raw, and you can also make biscuits
from them. Throw them in the backyard until they dry and split. The inner
part of the root is a good starchy material that can be ground into flour.
The pollen that forms on the older bloom spikes also makes a good flour,
and produces pretty yellow pancakes and biscuits. A friend used this pollen
in making hushpuppies, and they were excellent.
The delicious young Cattail sprouts will be discussed in the salad section.
One final Cattail cue: The very new shoots just forming on the
roots are crisp, nutty, and very good raw.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
This native of Asia is naturalized all over North America and comes up
in sidewalk cracks, waste places, and gardens. It is a relative of our
little ornamental “Moss Rose.”
Purslane grows perhaps 12-18 inches across,
and only about 6-8 inches high. This small, succulent oval leaves are
somewhat mucilaginous, and make excellent soup material. They’re also
OK raw, in salads. Mama Stahl devised an excellent Purslane Casserole
recipe which we’ll share with you. You’ll like this:
Gather the Purslane leaves and wash them. The tender young stems are also
OK to use in the dish.
Mix two eggs and enough
cornmeal to “bread” the Purslane leaves, just as
if you were breading Okra.
Chop an onion into the blend, and add salt and other spices to taste.
Place in a casserole dish, and bake at 350 degrees about 25 minutes.
Mama Stahl had some leftover bits of cattail once and added it to this
dish. It was great. Throw in anything similar you may have. Heck, throw
in anything you want.
Nettle (Urtica sp.)
The common “stinging nettles” make an excellent potherb. Boil
them for about 5 minutes in very little water. The stinging hairs
will relax, making a tasty, high-protein dish.
Fishin’ Cane (Arundinaria tecta)
If you’ve eaten in an oriental restaurant, you probably remember how
succulent the bamboo shoots are in many of the dishes. The oriental
bamboos which are planted in the southern U.S. all have tender young
sprouts in spring which can be used. However, the native American Fishing
Cane, Arundinaria, a relative of the bamboos, is just as good as any of them.
In late spring a canebreak along any creek will be pushing up young
shoots which look somewhat like asparagus. While they are no more than
a foot or two high, they are tender and can be broken off easily with
the fingers. Take them home, scrape joints lightly under running water,
and cut them into 2-3-inch pieces. The will need boiling about 15 minutes
with some salt, and then should be delicious and tender.
Bulrush (Scirpus californicus)
A plant with similar root-uses to the Cattail is the Great Bulrush,
found in marshes near our coasts and in major inland water areas.
The roots are good for survival food raw, but are made more palatable
by cooking. The swollen joints where new shoots are emerging are a
Cattail (Typha latifolia
and T. augustifolia etc)
The young Cattail plants about 2 feet high have a base area of crisp,
white stem. To gather them, grasp several of the inner leaves and
pull. About 8-10 inches of the white area will be good salad material.
You may need to pull off the outer parts of the plant further up to
obtain more succulent and tender material.
Every plant has an individual taste, and it is difficult to tell
people what a vegetable tastes like that they have never eaten.
However, nearly everyone who eats raw Cattail shoots exclaim “Cucumber!”
There is a marked resemblance.
Also see the earlier entry on cattail.
Daylilly Sprouts (Hemerocallis sp.)
Daylillies aren’t native, but can be found all over America, around
old farm and home sites, many of which have returned to the wildwood.
The lower parts of the Daylilly plats are white and crisp, and sweeter
than lettuce. This is especially true in spring, and the plants can be
blanched even higher by piling leaves on them.
These two plants (Cattail and Daylilly) can be used as bases for a
wild salad, just as we’d use ordinary lettuce.
Other Salad Stuff
Wild Onions (Allium sp.)
These little chive-like plants pop up on sunny roadsides and wood
borders in early spring. They are delicious, chopped into any salad.
Pull the tiny bulbs and toss them into your cooking, too. Great!
Woundwort (Stachys sp.)
Why do so many good food plants have such yucky names? Anyway, this
is a good one. A small square-stemmed plant which grows about 8-10
inches high in damp garden places, Woundwort has small, labiate
pink-to-lavender flowers. They bear crinkly white tubers from 1 to
5 inches long just underground, and these are more delicious raw than
radishes. Cut them into your salad, or eat them whole.
Sheep-Sorrel (Oxalis sp.)
This little clover-like Oxalis that grows everywhere in cool weather
is a pleasant nibble, and it’s excellent scattered over a salad.
It has a lemony flavor. While clover leaves are rounded each Oxalis
leaf is heart-shaped. Don’t
eat a lot – it has good amounts of “oxalic acid” which is large quantities
will give you a tummy ache.
Wild Lettuce (Lactuca sp.)
The tall growing Lactuca is believed by many botanists to be the ancestor
of cultivated lettuce. It’s OK raw when very young, and we have cut it
into salads may times. The plant is better as a cooked potherb when it
Glasswort (Salicornia sp.)
If you live near the sea, or visit the beach now and then, try this one.
Glasswort, or “Chicken-claws,” is the little open-branched plant with
scale-like leaves. It resembles a miniature Arborvitae. Glasswort is
quite salty to taste and adds a good tartness when scattered over a salad.
The branches make good pickles too.
Peppergrass (Lepidum sp.) and
Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)
These 2 plants, of close kinship and resemblance, form basal rosettes
through all the cool part of the year which are excellent in salads.
They also make good cooked greens. The peppery seeds are excellent
seasoning in salad, and may be dried for long-term use.
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Some garden flowers are great in salads, and add beauty as well as spice.
Nasturtiums were originally grown as a salad vegetable. The plant was so
beautiful that it gravitated to the flower garden, and people gradually
forgot that it is also delicious. The leaves are spicy and slightly
peppery to taste, and both leaves and flowers may be added to any salad.
Daylilly -- That plant again! Cut some Daylilly buds into the salad, and
lay an open blossom on top.
Redbud blossoms are spicy, and scattered over the salad make
the prettiest one you ever ate. They are also delightful on ice cream!
Violets are both beautiful and tasty.
Rose Petals from any rose are fine. Scatter them over the salad,
and lay a whole rose blossom on top.
Don't hesitate to add these lovely things to the top of your salad.
They're good food!