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!

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