Typha latifolia, also known as common cattail, corn dog grass, bulrush, broadleaf cattail, or just cattail, is a perennial plant in the cattail family. It is native to North and South America, Australia, Europe, and Africa. The grass-like plant commonly occurs in marshland, ponds, swamps, wet thickets, and bogs. It thrives in moist soil on the edge of riparian areas in places with plenty of sunshine.
The common cattail is easy to identify as it features flowers or seed heads resembling corn dogs or brown cigar-heads sitting on top of long stalks. It has linear, ribbon-like leaves with a gray-green color.
Common cattail flowers emerge in spring and summer. They feature a brown, cigar-shaped flower with a thin yellow spike at the top, which is essentially the male part. The female flowers are at the bottom while the male flowers are at the top. This male on top and female at the bottom arrangement helps in pollination as pollen floats down to the female flower when the stalk is shaken by wind or animals. Once the male part exhausts it pollen reserves, it withers and drops to the ground. This leaves the fuzzy-looking female flower at the top of the stalk. The flower resembles a hotdog impaled on a stick and is commonly used in floral arrangements, especially when it’s dry.
The cattail flower has many uses and ancient people knew this well. Native Americans utilized the plant for food, tinder, and bathroom purposes.
Basically, the whole plant is edible but it depends on the time of the year. At a young age, the leaves and tender stems are great as cooked vegetables. In addition, the leaves can be tossed into soups and stews.
The lower part of the stalk holding the flowers can be harvested and eaten raw. It has a cucumber-like flavor. Alternatively, common cattail flowering stalks can be boiled and eaten as corn. The raw stalks can also be ground and used as flour.
Before the male flower pollinates the female, which normally takes place in spring, it produces copious amounts of pollen. The pollen can be shaken into a container and eaten on its own as it is a great source of protein. It can also be used to thicken stews and soups or mixed with flour to make muffins, bread, and pancakes.
Before pollination, the female flower is green. At this phase, the flower can be harvested and cooked. The cooked flower goes well with butter just like corn on the cob.
Phew! So much going for one plant, right? It is no wonder the common cattail is considered a swamp’s goldmine or grocery store.