Wild About - Cattail Pollen

Prepare yourself to be covered in yellow powder. Your hands will be yellow, your clothes, your hair, your kitchen, too. But foraging for cattail pollen (Typha spp.) is worth the mess. I won't lie, it took me a while to get the hang of collecting and cooking with cattail pollen. I couldn't figure out how to collect an appreciable quantity, and the first recipe I tried was unremarkable. I almost gave up, chalking it up as a worthy experience, but not one I'd like to repeat. Then, I got it all figured out - how to collect good quantities of cattail pollen, and cook some great recipes. So please learn from my mistakes, and then get out there with me and collect as much cattail pollen as you can during it's brief season, because it's uniquely delicious.

Have you tried eating cattail flowers yet? If so, you'll recall that the cattail produces a male (upper) and a female (lower) flower on the same stalk. Similar to collecting cattail flowers to eat, to collect pollen, you're going to harvest from the male flower, which will be swollen with bright yellow pollen. Search out stands of cattails with the fattest yellow flowers, because they will yield the greatest amount of pollen.

Every guide book I read said to collect the pollen by bending the stem into a bag, closing the top of the bag around the flower, then shaking. I tried this with a paper bag, which got holes in it in no time, and I ended up losing a lot pollen. I tried a regular plastic grocery bag, but the wide opening let too much pollen fly. Finally, I found that using those long skinny bags that newspapers are delivered in works best for the shaking method. Just make sure the bag doesn't have holes in it before you leave the house and ride seven miles on your bike to collect pollen (blush).

That said, I'd recommend you try harvesting with a different method. After a week of trying, and wondering if reports of people collecting eight cups of pollen in a season were myth, I stumbled upon a better way. Take a plastic bag and a pair of scissors into the cattail stand. Carefully bend the flower into the bag, and cut it off. Collect as many pollen-loaded flower heads as you can. Take them home, and let them sit undisturbed for a day. Then carefully shake them out inside the bag. This method yields far more pollen than shaking in the field.

Just a few more tips. To make your life easier, try to find cattails that aren't in a pond or which run down a steep embankment. Instead, try to harvest from stands that you can walk straight up to. Knee-high rubber boots are pretty handy for mucking about in wetlands. And don't forget to step carefully, just in case you are in close company with a snake or other critter. I know I've scared away quite a few (harmless) bull snakes while foraging for cattails.

Now, the hard part is over. All that remains is to run the pollen through a fine sieve to remove leaves, fluff, and bugs. Yes dear, bugs. Remember that bugs on a plant are a good thing; they indicate it hasn't been sprayed with pesticide.

The first cattail pollen recipe I tried was from the wonderful and handy book The Rocky Mountain Wild Foods Cookbook, by Darcy Williamson. It was called Homestead Pudding, and was made with apples and walnuts in addition to the pollen. I chose the recipe because it was completely gluten-free as written. Unfortunately, nobody was really wowed by the pudding. It just tasted like eggy apples.

I decided to give the pollen another chance, and came up with a recipe that I hoped would take advantage of it's delicate floral aroma. I thought that maybe I could use it like saffron in a rice dish. I sauteed a small onion, a few cardamom pods, mustard seed, and nigella in oil, then stirred in 3-4 cups of cooked basmati rice. After removing the rice from the heat, I stirred in a heaping tablespoon of cattail pollen, and seasoned with salt. Ah-ha, a cattail pollen recipe success! The onion and spices underscored the flowery sweetness of the pollen.

One of the most common uses for cattail pollen is to replace about 1/3 of the flour in baked goods with the golden powder. I almost didn't try this because I'm not really grooving on bready things at the moment. But I figured, what the heck, I'll try cattail pollen pancakes, for the fun of it. I am soooo glad that I did. In a lot of ways, I'm my grandmother's granddaughter, and my favorite food is whatever is on my plate (what can I say, this girl loves to eat!). Even so, do not take my words lightly when I say that cattail pollen pancakes are one of the tastiest foods I've ever eaten. The flavor of the pollen sings through, and the texture is unaffected by the substitution. And the pancakes are a beautiful sunny yellow color. They were so utterly delicious that they were getting snarfed as fast as I could pull them off the griddle! Normally I'd tell you to eat any pancake with a ton of butter and maple syrup. But this time, I'd say spread the cattail pollen pancakes with butter only, because maple would cover the cattail flavor.

You've heard of people sprinkling bee pollen onto foods, like yogurt, as a nutritional supplement? You can do with same with cattail pollen. Also, if you manage to collect a lot of cattail pollen, it freezes well. So, do not pass go, get yourself out there and gather some cattail pollen to try for yourself!


Have you visited the new Two for Tuesday recipe carnival yet? Go have a look-see. You're sure to find lots of great recipes by people who love to eat Real Food, just like you!

Comments

  1. Crazy! I would never have guessed you could make pancakes w/cattail pollen. We have lost so much in the last 100 years when it comes to food and its preparation and eating.
    Great post.

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  2. Wow! thank you so much for sharing your trip into the woods with us and these cattail pollen recipes! The rice and pancakes look delicious! I am going to see if there are any stands of cattail around here, but like I told you, most of the marshes are over run with invasive phragmytes! UGH! Thanks for sharing the real food love on Two for Tuesdays! :) Alex

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  3. omigads AMAZING. I've been wanting to try using cattail pollen for ages-- thanks for the inspiration!!!
    Cattail pollen is used in Chinese medicine to stop bleeding and move blood stagnation (most period pain or bruising are blood stagnation)...
    I'm totally going to harvest some this weekend now :) :) :)

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  4. Christy - I was talking about this with a relative just the other day - how it's odd for someone today to can, or pickle, or forage, or even have a garden, when just 50 years ago, these things were all standard. Let's not lose this WISDOM - share, pass it on, tell stories, cook, love!

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  5. Alex- Oh, thankfully nothing foreign has taken over our wetlands. But we've had a zebra mussel invade our waters, so I can relate. It's scary.

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  6. Rebecca - Tell me more! I've got some serious blood stagnation (tmi - adultlhood-long menstrual pain). Should I have a small dose regularly throughout the year?

    Wow, cattail pollen tastes yummy and it's good for my blood stagnation, too? Guess where I'm going to be spending all of my free time!

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  7. Awesome, awesome, awesome!! I love fennel pollen sprinkled on things, and now I totally want to try this! That's it. I'm off to hunt down some cattails!

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  8. Fennel pollen? Wow, I've gotta look that up. Does it taste of fennel? I've got some growing in the garden, should I just let it flower? If I do, does that ruin the vegetable? Fennel pollen! Eek, now I'm all excited.

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  9. Wow, You have really opened my eyes to something new. Love the foraging gene. My husband has that and has been on the quest for morel mushrooms. So far we have only found them at our local Farmer's Market. Great rice and pancake recipe.

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  10. I just found my first morels this year! But only just a few, enough to whet my appetite for them. I can't wait to hunt them again next year, since I know where they grow. I can now understand why people go bonkers for them.

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  11. This is so interesting BPB!
    I've never even heard of cattail pollen! That rice dish looks really yummy! I wonder what our equivalent of cattail pollen her in Aus is?
    That would be so cool to harvest that and get it all free. I've seen some bottles of bee pollen for around $10, but you got yours for free! Very resourceful!
    Thanks for sharing this with us at Two For Tuesdays.

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  12. Hmm, Michelle, I wonder if all pollen isn't edible? I mean, bee pollen could come from pretty much any source, right? So, I think the real advantage of cattails is that they grow in marshes in great numbers, and the flowers are quite large, allowing a forager to collect good quantities of pollen. Let me know if you find a source.

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  13. This is an interesting question Butter baby, because you would need a plant that spread its pollen via wind and had a large quantity of it to be very time and effort effective related to collection. What other large ones are there? things like corn spread via the wind, but have a much smaller and segmented male part. Pines and birches do have larger catkins, but nothing like the cattail!

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  14. Alex- Maybe you're on to something with the pines? I've got a blue spruce at the end of the driveway that puts a thick layer of pollen onto my windshield every morning at the right time of year. Maybe there's some way you could bag the individual pine cones for collection? I wish I had stayed awake for more of those bio courses, maybe I'd know more about plant sex!

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  15. Just an update for anyone who is attempting to collect cattail pollen. Look for flowers which are more brown-yellow than green-yellow, they seem to release more pollen. Also, don't let the cut-off flowers sit in the bag for more than about 12 hours, otherwise the moisture starts to collect and cause problems.

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  16. WOW! This is fascinating! And great discussion in the comments as well. I never knew that cattail pollen was edible, or any other pollen for that matter. You are opening my eyes to a whole new world! THANK YOU! It's so sad that we have lost all this knowledge about food and I'm so happy that you are bringing it back to all of our attention. It's too bad there's no cattail or wet lands around here, otherwise I'd be running off to try this right now! Thanks again for adding this to our Two for Tuesday blog hop!

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  17. Wow, cool! The pancakes are gorgeous!

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  18. Aren't they just a sunny day on a plate! Normally if I saw a picture with food that color, I'd think it was a trick of bad lighting or flash photography. But that color reads pretty true.

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  19. Michelle - Is it possible that the plant I know as cattail is the plant you know as bullrush?

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  20. I have identified a large stand near our house. I can't wait to try cattail pollen. Even though it means I have to put up with Eulle Gibbons quotes from my husband: "Ever eaten a cattail? Many parts are edible". :)

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  21. Yay! Alea! Given where you live, I bet we'll be cooking up our pancakes at about the same time. I can't wait!

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  22. Thanks for the really nice, detailed information on harvesting the pollen. I posted a link to this page on my Wild Green Smoothies group on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/groups/228529537184607/

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  23. Pollen is a powdery substance which consist of Pollen grains and is produced by anthers of plants containing seeds. While the substance is necessary in the reproduction of seed plants, it can cause hay fever for those who are susceptible to allergies. Allergies are strongest in the spring, summer and fall. This is because plants are beginning to bloom. The wind and rain during the spring causes the Pollen to flow through the air causing allergies to act up.

    Coming From….
    Pollen Information

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  24. I love pollen and now i decided to give the pollen another chance, and use your recipe and take advantage of its delicate floral aroma. I l love the smell of this lovely dish and i will invite all my friends to serve this deletions recipe.
    came up with a recipe that I hoped would take advantage of it's delicate floral aroma. read more

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  25. This year, I really want to find some cattail pollen and make these pancakes!

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  26. I know you and WFG are extremely conscientious forages, but I still have to ask. Does taking the entire flower head in any way negatively impact the girly parts getting pollinated? Brian and I went out last night and collected some with the plastic bag/tapping method and got 5 ounces (about a cup) in about 45 minutes, not counting the half hour spent driving from one small stand to another. Last year I missed the harvest by a matter of days. We saw tons of flowers still encased in their sheaths, so we still have time to collect more this year. I'd love to use your method instead.

    One other tip about stepping cautiously (and vewy, vewy lightly) - one wrong move and you could be stuck in muck up to your chest. Not a fun place to be when you're by yourself. (But it's rather humorous in retrospect).

    P.S. Hope you're enjoying your kefir. :)

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  27. Shirl! Yes, I'm very much enjoying it. Thank you so much for sharing.

    I find that the very act of touching the plant released a good deal of pollen. My guess is that in harvesting the male half, more than enough pollen is released to do the job. Additionally, around here, the cattail stands are so vast that I feel the few that I harvest don't impact the population. Did you see the updated post I wrote last year, Cattail Pollen Lessons? http://hungerandthirstforlife.blogspot.com/2012/06/cattail-pollen-lessons.html

    Yikes! Be careful out there. I've only gone in up to my knee.

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  28. Good to know! I noticed a stand just a couple miles down the road from my house, so we're heading out shortly.

    Yep, I read your update about keeping the flowers around for a few days to repeatedly shake out pollen. This morning, I spread last night's take out on newspaper to dry. So glad I read to do that. I bagged up my acorn flour too soon a couple years ago and it ended up getting moldy due to the retained moisture. Major bummer since I spent so much time preparing it. I did get a couple batches of muffins out of it at least. Hmmmm, I wonder how cattail pollen/acorn flour muffins would be?

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  29. june 18. 2017 @ 4:20 pm--just read about the cattails-- questions--difference between cattails and bull,.rush--when is the best time to harvest, don't think i've ever seen the flowers. I know you can make homemade torches from cattails also, for outside yard lites, pretty cool

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  30. That is so cool, I am going to give it a try. Thank you for sharing.

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