Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cattail Season in Maine

Many of us establish our own little traditions, things we look forward to from year-to-year. One of mine involves harvesting seedheads from common cattails, Typha latifolia, for my Fourth of July celebration.

Picking the green seedheads is easy, but finding them at just the right stage for harvesting often requires repeated visits to wetlands or small ponds. When ready for cooking, the seedheads (that is, the sausage-shaped spikes atop the plant) should be light green in color and just soft enough to crumble under moderate pressure from a thumbnail.

It takes but little effort to snap many dozens of ripe seedheads from a colony of cattails. And the week of July 4, give or take a few days, stands as the height of cattail season in Maine.

Take the spikes home and set a pot of water to a rolling boil. Drop in the seedheads and cook for about 10 minutes. Drain and serve with butter, salt and pepper. Then, treat as per corn-on-the-cob. Hold the seedhead by what remains of the spike and gnaw away, twisting the spike as you nibble.

I used to blanch and freeze these specialty items for winter use. But with limited freeze space, it’s difficult to decide among all the wonderful wild foods. Cattails are delicious and perhaps some will wind up in my freezer this year. But if not, that’s okay too. Such high-grade treats as these are best enjoyed fresh.

Anyone who has not tried cattail seedheads has a fine treat in store. But don’t wait too long, because the seedheads will eventually become covered with pollen and no longer good for cooking. The pollen has its uses too, but that’s a topic for a future blog.


  1. Ok Tom, does Maine have wild sage?
    Im talking about the kind the Indians used to bless homes and people? And are there medicine uses for it? Thankyou, Marie

  2. Luxy,

    No, Maine does not have wild sage...that is a western plant. But we do have sweetgrass, something Indian people both east and west use in their ceremonies.


  3. I read an old beekeeping book that mentioned harvesting pollen from cattails and freezing it to give to bees when other pollen is not available. Can you tell me when I would harvest cattails for pollen?