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Harvesting Cattail Shoots

Cattails are a nutritious plant that are packed full of starches and in a survival situation, that means a good find.

The cattail is found throughout most of the US near slow moving or standing water. Almost all parts of the cattail are edible at some time of the year and were depended upon heavily as a main source of food by Native Americans. Currently in the North Woods around late April and early May, the cattail shoots are just coming up and are ready for harvest. They are very tasty at this time of their growth and exceptionally tender.

Here is a cluster of old growth cattails and new shoots growing near a lake.

This time of year, we are looking for the younger, new growth plants which are typically the green plants among the dead brown.Here is a young cattail


And another young cattail to show you the variation in sizes and to further illustrate that plants don’t always look text-book.


The goal is to reach down and dig a bit through the muck at the base of the stalk and pull up the white shoot, starchy bulb, and/or the starch filled rhizome. This early in the season we are focusing on the tender white shoots.

With a little bit of swishing in the water, the white shoot should become prevalent and it is this white part that you are after.

These cattails are plentiful and quickly gathered.

To be a responsible harvester and make sure that there are new cattails for you to harvest later, only harvest a third of the available cattails at the most.

The outer leafs are separated from the stalk, leaving the tender shoot to be cut up into chunk sized pieces. They then can be fried up with a little butter or otherwise cooked in the same way one would do with asparagus.

About Bruce Pandoff

Bruce Pandoff
I live in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. I am a wildland firefighter, wilderness medical first responder, and attended NMU for environmental conservation.I much enjoy practicing primitive skills, researching ancient societies and cultures, and focus a lot of time and energy on studying plants and fungi.