Here’s some footage that I took of Matt Berry of the Regenerative Design Institute (RDI) and I on a cattail harvesting expedition in the late winter. The raw young cattail shoots were very tasty indeed, a nice blandness that would be good to dip in some yummy sauce, but nutty enough to enjoyed by themselves. I was, however, scared to eat them on site. I took them home and peeled and washed them thoroughly with tap water. The reason I was hesitant to eat them onsite was because of the fear of Giardia, an intestinal bacteria that can make you really sick. According to most sources, Giardia is considered to pretty much be in all our water now — even our most pristine waters (like the pond in the video.) I’ve read that you shouldn’t even wash your dishes in the stream while camping or eat after being in the water. This seems extreme to me, but nearly all of us these days come from an extreme germ-a-phobic upbringing. I’m still trying to get over it in many ways, from lactofermentation to people sneezing near me, to giardia in the water. Although I see that it comes from our extreme cultural alienation and fear of the natural world, giardia is in the water, it does make people sick, and I can’t find any intellectual fodder that puts my mind as ease. Anyone have any info to offer? I guess Matt didn’t get sick from eating the cattail (which grow in the water) but he actually has had it before. How much does that matter?
Anyway, before I need to change the title of this posting to “Jumping Giardia”, I want to say that the cattail is an amazing plant, useful for so many things, including friction fire making as spindle and fluff for the tinder bundle, but also for making cordage or primitve string, and most importantly its many many edible uses. Matt covers nearly all of these in the video.
Also, I did pickle a whole jar of them in vinegar and they didn’t come out all that great. The vinegar taste is really strong, and they are very chewy, to the point where I had to spit out the fibrous plug that accumulated in my mouth.
Also, besides being sure of identification, NEVER eat cattails that grow in polluted water. Cattails are used for bioremediation to clean water and can be great for greywater systems. But this same attribute allows them to bioaccumulate some pretty scary toxins, including heavy metals.