Cattails, There is so much more than meets the eye. A superpower of the lake.
My dear friend and board member of the museum Michele Johannson, and I were having a conversation about a possible up coming project, and the topic of our cattails came up. She informed me that I should look them up. Her father “Elmer Kure, lovingly thought of as the Conservation Godfather, had taught about there importance to our water ways, as well as advocated to the county and government that the farmers should be compensated and encouraged to keep wetlands on there properties”
I learned a lot about Elmer Kure in this research project and his passion for conservation and his openness to work with people. I am not nearly done learning about Elmer Kure that is another up coming blog post.
Cattails? Whether they are called Cattails, Bulrush, Reedmace, Cumbungi, or another local name, few people are unfamiliar with their local Typha species. This common wetland plant is one of the most versatile elements a Permaculturist can add to a land design. Most parts are edible and have been used as such for thousands of years. Animals utilize this plant for food and shelter. The leaves and stems can thatch a roof, make paper, or fuel a fire as charcoal… to name but of few of many uses. This fast-growing plant is also one of the best wetland water filters on Earth. This plant should be strongly considered for any water feature you have!
History: Native and widespread around the Northern Hemisphere, from just below the Arctic to the Tropics. It has been used as food, fuel, fiber, and medicine by indigenous people in these areas. It has been introduced to many new locations around the globe, and it continues to be used in many ways around the world but most commonly as either a decorative wetland plant or as a natural water filter species.
What brought on the infatuation with the cattails you may wonder? You may also be wondering how it connects to the Danish Canadian museum? First a conversation with the Husted’s and then Michele Johannson is what triggered the research and in end the connection to the museum.
When looking behind our Dagmar church, an idea for an addition to the gardens around the Mindelund memory garden, we started discussing the cattails at this current point in time they look like a big mess (or at least they did till I completed this research). It was discussed digging out the cattails and removing them and replacing with other plats that like wet feet. Now my option is to show case them and explain their importance and significance to the lake and just how important they are to the museum and our local area.
Cattails are a vital part of our lake; they filter the water without these plants our lake would smell as it catches not only our runoff but also run off from the drainage ditch it attaches to. Cattails are honestly the best filtration system reading through extensive studies dating back to the late 60” s and early 70” s.
Cattails have an amazing ability to absorb phosphorus, nitrogen and other elements that may harm natural water bodies and sediment beds. They serve the same vital function in treating wastewater.
While cattails may have tremendous potential, there are two factors standing in the way: water levels and nutrient saturation.
Water level is crucial. Cattails do not grow in lakes or marshes where water levels are too high. And they do not perform their best at absorbing pollutants when their roots are bound in the soil at the bottom of the water body. Both problems can be solved when the biomass bed is floating. With water swirling beneath the root system, the plants maximize their uptake of nutrients in the water.
Our lake is the perfect setting for cattails. Besides the cattails home being at the museum how else do they connect to the museum, two researchers I came across working on a project of creating floating beds of cattails to filters lakes are two Danish for more information on this project: https://www.producer.com/crops/cattails-suck-floating-water-filters/
Typha × glauca – this is a hybrid cattail (T. angustifolia × T. latifolia) and is the White Cattail which is typically sterile… not a bad choice if you are concerned about spread by seed. This plant will still expand through rhizome (root) expansion.
Evidence of preserved starch grains on grinding stones suggests they were eaten in Europe 30,000 years ago (from Wikipedia)
Pulp of the Common Cattail can be used to make rayon, although wood pulp is the most common source of this semi-synthetic fiber
Rush Lights are a type of candle made by soaking the dried pith (inner core) of Cattail (aka “Rush”) stalks in household fat or grease; traditionally bacon fat was most common, but sheep fat was also used since it dried to a harder consistency. Beeswax was often added to make the candle burn longer
Pollen from Cattails is used in fireworks production
"For the number of different kinds of food, it produces there is no plant, wild or domesticated, which tops the common Cattail."
Euell Gibbons famously called the common cattail the “supermarket of the swamps”. And I agree! You can eat the roots, the rhizomes, the young shoots and developing flowers. You can even eat the pollen!
USING THIS PLANT
Ornamental Plant – used in water gardens and even florist’s displays
Edible Roots – raw or cooked. Can be treated like potatoes.
Edible Shoots – young shoots can be used raw or cooked, like a cucumber-tasting asparagus (known as “Cossack Asparagus” due to their popularity with Ukrainians and Russians); peel the outer layers and use the heart, ideally used before they become fibrous
Edible Stems – just the base, peel back the outer stem. This is the only part of this plant I have eaten so far. It was quite palatable to a child playing in the ravine to me it tasted like banana to my child palate!
Edible Flower Spike – only the immature male flower spike, used raw or cooked, reportedly tastes like sweet corn
Edible Seed – raw or cooked, but difficult to harvest and use, but some do. An oil can be obtained from the seeds
Edible Pollen – raw or cooked, high in protein, added to soups as a thickener or flours as an additive
Flour – roots and seeds can be dried and ground into a flour. This flour can be added to cereal flours for bread making. The flour can be used as a thickening agent in soups, stews, and sauces.
Syrup – roots are chopped up and boiled which yields a sweet syrup
General insect (especially bees) pollen plant
Wildlife Shelter – small mammals, birds, insects, fish (especially juvenile fish), crustaceans, etc.; birds will use the “hairs” on the fruit to line their nests
Wildlife Food – many animals will eat the seeds, but especially birds
Bioremediation Plant – beds of Cattails can be used as part of a biological filtration system to clean and purify contaminated water, often as part of a constructed wetland. This can be part of a home gray water system as well.
Biomass Plant – very fast-growing plant can produce large amounts of organic matter in a short time
Fuel Plant – the dried stems and leaves can be used directly as fire fuel or to make charcoal
Thatch Plant – used to make thatched roofs
Fiber Plant – from stems, leaves, and flowers, used to make paper, mats, hats, chairs, baskets, etc.
Tinder Plant – the female flowers have been used as tinder to start fires
Other uses – the hairs of the fruits are used to stuff pillows, diapers, and wound dressings; the flowering stems can be dried and used as insulation
Yield: Variable, in one study, 2.5 acres (1 hectare) produced 8 tons (16,000 lbs or 7,250 kg) of flour from the roots. Harvesting: One report states the roots are best when harvested in Autumn through to Spring. Shoots are harvested in Spring until 20 inches (50 cm) tall. The leaves can be harvest year-round, but typically less in the Spring when rapid growth is underway. Storage: Use within a few days fresh. The roots and seeds can be dried and stored whole or ground into flour. Flour does not store as long as whole seeds or roots. Considering that the plants can be propagated from bulb division, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant.
I want to show you how to make Cattail pancakes! Why? Because they are fun! They are delicious! They are even nutritious, very high in protein.
When you eat a golden Cattail pancake it is like inviting the sun for breakfast!
To gather the pollen you the flower part it the tip
Here at the Danish Canadian Museum we will be exploring some class options show casing this super star.
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The Mindelund Memorial wall in the Memory Garden.