Cattail is as starchy as a potato. But with a pith that tastes of cucumbers if offers culinary opportunities no spud ever could.
Where to Find It
Throughout Denmark, cattails grow in shallow water with fertile ground. Look for them along lakes and streams, where they mingle with reeds.
Streams, the sea, towns, roadsides.
Where to Find It
Young shoots make the best eating, so harvest cattails in early summer.
Piths: April, May, June.
How to Spot It
The cattail has a vertical stem that grows up to two and a half meters tall, and long, bluish-green leaves. At the top of its stem, its inflorescences look like corn cobs —male ones form at the very tip and female ones just below. Both are cocoa-colored and velvety.
How to Pick It
The roots and lower pith (the inner core of its stalk) are the edible parts of the cattail. Cut the stalk as far down as you can. Only the lowest 10-15 cm of the stalk and roots are usable; the rest can be discarded. The exact amount of stalk that is edible will depend on the plant’s age; the younger it is the more of its pith you can eat. Peel away the many layers of leaves, so that only the springy pith remains. Separate the roots from the outer leaves as well.
On the palate
Cattail pith tastes like cucumber, unripe melon, and water chestnuts. Its light, crisp texture is reminiscent of leeks.
Cattails have no particular scent.
Cattails always need to be cooked before they are eaten, if only to kill any bacteria from the water where they grew.
The pith can be cut out into pieces three to four cm long, and blanched, grilled, or fried in butter or olive oil. It pairs well with roasted or smoked nuts, and its cucumber flavor makes it a natural match for freshwater fish such as perch, pike, trout, or whitefish. You can also marinate chunks of pith in fish sauce and tamarind for an Asian take. Plated, its size and heft make it the center of attention.
Store the piths in a sealed bag or airtight container inside the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. They will keep for up to ten days.
No equivalent substitutions.
Risk of misidentifying the plant
There is no risk of mistaking the plant for another dangerous or undesirable plant.