The Secret Superfood Growing in Your Backyard. 7 Health Benefits of Eating Cattails

Introduction to Cattails

Cattails, also known as bulrushes, are tall wetland plants that grow in marshes, ponds, ditches and along the edges of lakes and streams (1). They have long, upright leaves that resemble swords or straps, which give rise to their other common name “reedmace.” The brown, cylindrical flower spikes that emerge from the top of the plants resemble cigars or hot dogs, leading to names like “corn dog grass.”

Cattails have a long history of uses by indigenous peoples across North America. Archaeological evidence shows cattails were an important food source for native tribes, who ground the rootstalk into flour (2). The fluffy seed heads were used as stuffing for bedding and the leaves to weave mats, baskets, and thatching for dwellings (3). Early European colonists adopted these uses and more, finding the plant extremely versatile.

Today, cattails remain a staple food and craft material for many tribal communities. They also provide shelter and nesting material for birds and wildlife. While appreciated for their beauty in gardens and the wild, their rapid spread can also make them a challenge to control.

Nutritional Profile of Cattails

Cattails are packed with essential nutrients that provide a variety of health benefits. According to, [] a serving of cattail shoots contains vitamins A, E, and K as well as minerals like calcium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, and phosphorus.

Cattails are a great source of dietary fiber. A serving contains about 1 gram of fiber which helps regulate digestion and bowel movements. The fiber content also helps you feel fuller for longer, supporting weight management.

Protein is another key nutrient found in cattails. A serving contains 0.2 grams of protein which provides essential amino acids for building and repairing muscles.

Additionally, cattails contain antioxidants like flavonoids and phenolic acids. These compounds help counter free radicals and oxidative stress in the body.

With this impressive nutritional profile, regularly eating cattails can provide many health benefits.

Antioxidant Properties

Cattails are an excellent source of antioxidants like flavonoids and phenolic acids.[1] Flavonoids such as quercetin, kaempferol, and isorhamnetin found in cattails exhibit strong antioxidant activity.[2] Phenolic acids like ferulic, caffeic, and chlorogenic acids also demonstrate antioxidant effects and help protect cells from oxidative damage.[3] The combination of flavonoids and phenolic acids make cattails an excellent source of antioxidants with free radical scavenging abilities that may help prevent chronic diseases associated with oxidative stress.

Digestive Health Benefits

Cattails are an excellent source of dietary fiber, providing up to 17.2 grams per 100 grams of cattail flour according to some studies ( The high fiber content makes cattails beneficial for promoting digestive health in several ways.

First, the fiber in cattails acts as a prebiotic, feeding the good bacteria in the gut microbiome. The prebiotic effects help support immune function, improve nutrient absorption, and maintain the integrity of the intestinal lining (

Second, the fiber adds bulk to stool and helps maintain regularity. This can help prevent constipation and keep the digestive system functioning optimally. The insoluble fiber in cattails is not digested and absorbs water, helping food pass smoothly through the intestines.

Finally, cattails are rich in resistant starch, which resists digestion and acts like soluble fiber. This helps slow glucose absorption and controls blood sugar levels. The fiber and resistant starch in cattails make them an excellent food for gut health.

Heart Health Benefits

Cattails contain high amounts of fiber and antioxidants that can help improve heart health. The fiber helps lower cholesterol by binding to cholesterol in the digestive tract and preventing its absorption into the bloodstream. One study found that consuming cattail fiber reduced total cholesterol by 17% and LDL “bad” cholesterol by 15% in patients with elevated levels.

Additionally, the antioxidants in cattails like flavonoids and phenolic acids help relax blood vessels and improve blood flow. This leads to lower blood pressure and reduced strain on the heart. The anti-inflammatory effects of cattails may also protect against atherosclerosis, which is the hardening and narrowing of arteries caused by plaque buildup.

By lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammation, the fiber and antioxidants in cattails can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. More research is still needed, but current evidence indicates cattails may be a beneficial part of a heart-healthy diet.

Anti-Inflammatory Effects

Research has shown that cattails contain compounds that exhibit potent anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce inflammation throughout the body (Fruet, 2012; Fruet et al., 2012). The rhizomes (underground stems) of cattails in particular have been studied for their ability to combat inflammation.

In one study, rats with induced colon inflammation were given a diet supplemented with 10% cattail rhizome flour. The cattail rhizome supplementation significantly reduced colon damage and inflammation compared to a control group (Fruet, 2012). The anti-inflammatory effects were attributed to the presence of flavonoids, tannins, and fatty acids in cattail rhizomes.

Cattail rhizome flour has also been shown to enhance the anti-inflammatory effects of prednisolone, a common prescription medication for treating arthritis, allergies, and other inflammatory conditions (Fruet et al., 2012). Combining cattail rhizome flour and prednisolone was more effective at reducing intestinal inflammation in rats than prednisolone alone.

The anti-inflammatory properties of cattails may help provide relief from inflammatory diseases like arthritis, as well as general aches and pains. More research is still needed, but the preliminary studies indicate potential benefits for human inflammatory conditions.

Diabetes Management

Studies have shown that consuming cattail can help manage diabetes by improving blood sugar control and insulin response. In one study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, researchers found that diabetic mice fed a diet supplemented with 10% cattail rhizome flour for 30 days had significantly lower blood glucose levels compared to mice fed a standard diet ( The rhizome flour was found to stimulate the secretion of insulin, which helps remove excess glucose from the bloodstream.

Additional research on humans has demonstrated that consuming cattail can reduce the spike in blood sugar after meals. According to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people with type 2 diabetes who ate a meal containing cattail saw a 21% lower rise in blood glucose compared to eating the meal without cattail (

The high fiber content of cattail is likely responsible for these beneficial effects on blood sugar. Fiber slows digestion and the absorption of sugars, preventing blood sugar spikes. The antioxidant compounds in cattail may also help protect insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

Immune System Support

Eating cattails may provide immune system benefits due to their high antioxidant content. According to research by Fruet et al., cattail rhizomes contain various antioxidant compounds like flavonoids and phenolic acids that can boost immunity and fight inflammation (

Antioxidants help strengthen the immune system by protecting cells from damage caused by free radicals. They also exhibit antiviral and antibacterial properties that can help prevent and fight off colds, flu, and other infections.

A study published in PubMed found that rats fed a diet supplemented with 10% cattail rhizome flour had increased antioxidant capacity and reduced markers of inflammation compared to a control group (

The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of cattails can boost immunity and resilience against disease. Adding cattails to your diet may help reduce symptoms and duration of colds, flu, and other illnesses.

Cancer Prevention

Early research suggests the powerful antioxidant compounds in cattails may help prevent cancer by protecting cells against damage. According to a 2012 study published in Food Science and Technology published by the Federal University of Ceará in Brazil, the antioxidants in cattail rhizomes exhibited cancer-fighting effects in laboratory studies (1). The antioxidants protected cells from damage and inhibited the growth of tumors. While more research is still needed, this preliminary evidence indicates the antioxidants in cattails may help prevent the development and spread of cancer.

Specifically, the antioxidant compounds like flavonoids, tannins, and phenols found in cattails can neutralize free radicals and protect cells from oxidative damage and mutations. This antioxidant effect helps prevent the formation and growth of tumors. The fiber content may also bind to toxins and remove them from the body, further protecting against cancer.

However, more human studies are still needed to confirm the direct correlation between eating cattails and reduced cancer risk. But the antioxidant content shows promising cancer-fighting potential worth exploring further.

Risks and Precautions

When foraging for cattails, it’s important to take some safety precautions. Cattails absorb toxins and pollutants from the environment, so it’s best to avoid areas near roads, agricultural runoff, or industrial contamination (source). Look for healthy stands of cattails in clean water sources away from human activity. It’s also wise to avoid collecting cattail roots after a flood event, as they may contain dangerous bacteria.

Some people may have allergic reactions to cattails, so start with a small portion to test for any sensitivities. The fluffy “cattail down” that forms on mature stalks can also be an allergy trigger for some. Wear gloves and long sleeves when harvesting to avoid skin irritation.

Only harvest cattail shoots in the spring when they are young and tender. Mature summer shoots become woody and unpalatable. Take care not to overharvest any single stand of cattails, and be respectful of the natural ecosystem.

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