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roots in winter

Snow keeps piling up here in New England. We have mounds of snow, not quite as severe as Boston but impressive nonetheless. As I mentioned in a previous post, plant roots gathered in the fall after first frost can provide nutrients in tea blends. And though some roots tend to be bitter, the addition of these roots is worthwhile. However I came across an article in Mother Earth News today about a forager from Maine who decided to head out in the snow and create a winter meal from the day’s foraging. One of his primary food finds was cattail.

One of my favorite plant roots is cattail. When I participated in a wilderness skills week in Maine, cattail roots were an ingredient we used in one of our recipes. It was simply delicious. Our instructors gathered the roots, dried them which made a delicious flour. Some roots were chopped and placed into a stew. Flour was used in a quick bread type recipe. Cattails contain vitamins A, B and C, potassium and phosphorus. Have I foraged for cattail roots? Not yet but I hope to soon.

Cattails, Typha latifolia and sps. are a common sight here in New England marshes and ponds. Often they are found competing with Phragmites, considered an invasive plant and not edible. Cattails have a distinctive flower head that is an elongated compact spike. Locally they have many common names like marsh pestle, punks, candlestick.

Cattails have many uses locally and around the world. states:

Flour and cornstarch can be derived from the root-stalk, ethyl alcohol can be produced from the fermented flours, burlap and caulking can be made from the rhizome fibers, adhesives can be made from the stem, insulation can be gathered from the downy spikes. In fact during World War II it was common for children to gather cattail fluff to aid the war effort as a stuffing for life jackets and flight suits. Oil can also be derived from the seeds, rayon from the cattail pulp and the processed wastes from production of these various products can be used as chicken feed.”

Cattails provide food. When gathered from marshland and ponds whose waters are safe, one can harvest a delicious root even in winter. The following recipe provides a hearty soup perfect for a winter’s day. If you cannot get out and find any I suggest putting cattails on your spring and summer list of plants to gather.

Cattail Wild-Rice Soup

1 cup dry wild rice (4 cups cooked)
2 Tbsp sesame oil
½ cup chopped green onion
2 cups cattail shoots, sliced (about 30 cattails)
2 tsp salt

1. Cook the wild rice until tender.
2. In a heavy-bottomed soup pot sauté onion and cattail shoots in sesame oil until tender and translucent.
3. Add the cooked wild rice, salt and 4 cups of chicken broth or other soup stock of choice.
4. Simmer together for 15-20 minutes and serve.

Enjoy. Judith

Judith Dreyer, MS, BSN, Writer, Speaker, Holistic Health Consultant and Workshop Presenter, Master Gardener. 

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