The Edible Truth About Cattail’s Brown Core


Cattails are a type of wetland plant with long, blade-like leaves that are topped with a distinctive cylindrical brown flower spike. The scientific name for common cattails is Typha latifolia. Cattails grow abundantly across North America in marshes, along the edges of lakes and ponds, and in ditches and wet open areas. People have utilized cattails for various purposes for thousands of years, including using parts of the plant for food.

The starchy rootstalk, young shoots, and pollen from cattails can all be consumed by humans. Cattail parts have historically been an important food source for Indigenous peoples and early settlers of North America. There has been renewed interest in eating cattails more recently as people pursue more sustainable and natural foods. Cattails don’t require fertilizers or pesticides to grow, making them a nutritious wild edible. Foraging and eating cattails can also connect people back to nature and provide a source of free food.


Cattails are tall, slender plants with long, flat leaves that resemble swords or straps. They grow in dense clusters and can reach heights of over 10 feet (Mid Michigan Nature and Science, 2013). The leaves emerge from the base of the plant and wrap around the stem. When young, the leaves are bright green. As the plant matures, the leaves turn yellowish-brown (UMN Extension, 2021).

The most identifiable feature of the cattail is the cylindrical, brown flower spike that grows above the leaves. This spike is covered in tiny flowers and can reach lengths of 6-8 inches. As the flowers mature, they develop into the fluffy, familiar “tail” that gives cattails their name (Mid Michigan Nature and Science, 2013). This brown, velvety spike resembles a corn dog or hot dog (UMN Extension, 2021).

Cattails thrive in wet soil and are commonly found in marshes, pond edges, ditches, and shallow water (UMN Extension, 2021). Look for them near the banks of rivers, lakes, and streams. If you spot dense clusters of tall, green strappy plants terminating in a brown cylindrical spike, you have likely found cattails.

Edible Parts

The most edible and commonly consumed part of the cattail plant is the brown cigar-shaped flower spike that forms at the top of the stalk once the plant has gone to seed ( This brown spike is made up of tiny flowers that were pollinated and matured into small edible seeds.

While the green flower spike of the cattail is edible when young, harvesters seek out the brown flower spikes as they contain the most edible material. The pollen from the flowers coagulates into a substance inside the brown spike that has a consistency ranging from sticky to crunchy like corn kernels ( This nutritious edible interior can be eaten raw straight from the plant or prepared in various dishes.

Nutritional Value

The brown part of the cattail, which consists of the mature flower spike and seeds, is rich in nutrients. According to the University of Minnesota Extension, cattail pollen mixed with corn adds extra nutrition as well as flavor to flour and masa (source). Cattails contain significant amounts of protein, carbohydrates, vitamin C, potassium, phosphorus and calcium (source).

Specifically, the brown flower spike contains approximately 3-4% protein, 80% carbohydrates, 0.02% fat, and 10-15% fiber. It provides thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin C, beta carotene, calcium, potassium and phosphorus. Per 100 grams, the brown cattail part contains approximately 348 calories. The high starch content makes the brown part an excellent source of energy.


The brown spikes on cattails can be harvested in mid to late summer when the spikes turn from green to brown. Be sure to harvest spikes that are fully matured and browned. Use pruners, scissors, or a small knife to cut the spikes right below the lowest flower. Once cut, grasp the spike and gently shake it inside a paper bag to collect the pollen. Cattail pollen is very lightweight, so shaking too hard can cause it to blow away. According to the OSPI, each spike yields about two tablespoons of pollen.

Alternatively, you can place a sack or wide-mouthed milk jug over the entire spike while it’s still attached to the plant. Shake the spike inside the container to harvest the pollen. Just be careful not to damage the plant when placing the container over it. The wikiHow article recommends using a paper bag and recommends shaking gently, starting from the top down. Cut off spent spikes once they turn fluffy white and keep harvesting new brown spikes as they emerge.

For optimal freshness and nutrition, use the pollen immediately or store in the freezer. Pollen can also be placed in jars for storage without freezing. Avoid storing in plastic bags as they can trap moisture.

Sources: OSPI, wikiHow


There are several ways to prepare cattails for eating:

The shoots can be boiled or steamed like asparagus and eaten on their own or with butter, salt, and pepper. To boil, cut off the shoots and peel away the outer leaves until you reach the tender core. Boil for 5-10 minutes until tender. Steaming for 5-8 minutes also works well.

The spike heads can also be boiled before the pollen ripens and flies away. Boil the flower spikes for 10-15 minutes until tender then eat them like corn on the cob, with butter and salt.

Once the spike turns brown, the pollen inside can be used similar to flour. The pollen is quite nutritious with protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. It can be used in baking or to coat and fry other foods.

The rootstalk can be peeled, boiled until tender (15-20 minutes), mashed, and eaten like potatoes. Roots can also be boiled and sliced to add to soups and stews. Roasting the roots brings out the sweetness.

Cattail leaves can be used like spinach or other greens. The youngest leaves can be eaten raw in salads. Mature leaves should be boiled or added to soups and stews.

Some parts like the spikes and pollen can also be eaten raw straight from the plant, adding a sweet, nutty flavor. They make a nice trail snack while harvesting cattails.

Taste and Texture

The taste and texture of the cooked brown cattail spikes is often described as reminiscent of corn, with a sweet, nutty flavor. According to Eat The Weeds, when properly harvested and prepared, the texture is “chewy, juicy and surprisingly tasty.”

The cattail spikes contain a starchy pith that swells up when cooked, resulting in a soft, gelatinous texture similar to cooked grains or pasta. Proper cooking helps soften the fibrous texture. Cattail expert Green Deane describes the cooked texture as “a cross between an artichoke heart and zucchini with a sweet corn flavor.”

Cooking methods like boiling, steaming, or roasting the spikes until soft and chewy helps bring out the sweet flavor and make the texture palatable. The starchy gel can then be eaten plain, used in recipes, or processed further into flour. Overall, the taste and texture of the cooked brown cattail spikes make them a versatile and tasty wild edible.


The brown spikes of the cattail plant can be used as an ingredient in savory recipes like pancakes, fritters, and breads.

This recipe for Cattail Flower Griddle Cakes uses the brown cattail fluff as the main ingredient along with flour, baking powder, salt, egg, and milk to make tasty vegetarian pancakes.

You can also make cattail fritters by mixing 1/2 cup of the brown pollen with 1/2 cup flour, 2 tablespoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 egg, 1 cup milk, and 3 tablespoons bacon drippings. Spoon the batter into hot oil to make fritters.


While cattail parts are generally considered safe to eat, there are some potential risks to be aware of:

Contamination – As with any wild edible, cattails can become contaminated with chemicals, waste, or bacteria if growing in polluted areas. Avoid plants near roadsides, agricultural runoff, or downstream from livestock farms. Only harvest from clean, natural habitats.

Allergies – Some people may have allergic reactions to cattails or other members of the grass family. Try a small amount first to check for any sensitivities before consuming large quantities.

Proper identification – Make absolutely certain of plant identification, as some poisonous look-alikes exist. The narrowleaf cattail (Typha angustifolia) is the only safe species to eat in North America.

Overconsumption – Eat cattail parts in moderation. Consuming extremely large amounts could cause digestive upset in some individuals.

With care and proper precautions taken, cattail parts can be a safe wild food. But knowing potential risks allows foragers to avoid problems when harvesting and eating.


In summary, the brown, spongy spikes of cattails are edible and nutritious. While they may not look particularly appealing, the immature flower spikes can be harvested in early summer and eaten raw or cooked. They have a mild flavor reminiscent of corn and provide nutrients like protein, carbohydrates, vitamin C, potassium, and phosphorus. Preparation techniques like boiling, steaming, or frying can make the spikes more palatable and bring out their sweetness. With minimal processing needed and no poisonous look-alikes, cattail spikes are one of the easiest wild foods to identify and safely consume. Remember to harvest responsibly, and give these humble marshland plants a try if you get the chance.

Cattails are versatile, resilient plants that have sustained many cultures throughout history. Their young shoots and immature flower spikes continue to offer foragers a tasty, nutritious food source to this day. While the mature brown cattail fluff is not edible, the preceding green flower spike can be harvested and enjoyed in many ways. The next time you see cattails growing near water, don’t hesitate to gather some spikes for your dinner table. Just be sure to leave some behind to produce next year’s harvest.

Scroll to Top