A few years back I wrote a column about the survival uses of cattails (Typha latifolia). There are many. This time I want to focus only on cattail pollen. It has been shedding now for over a week and if the high temperatures continue we can only collect it for a few more days. Normal collecting season averages about two weeks.
This fine yellow powder can be substituted for flour on many recipes. It’s also gluten free. My favorite two uses are pancakes and breading for fish, chicken and country fried steak.
Color of the final product is glorious. Just looking at it makes me want to hoe in. Once I do the real treat shows itself. This stuff really tastes great, and it need not be a major component to add character to a dish.
In pancakes I find that substituting about a third of the flour with cattail pollen works best. Judging by color alone you’ll think there was no wheat flour in the mixture at all. It looks like fine ground corn meal. Flavor is nutty, a little like buckwheat. Maybe the color has something to do with it, but there’s also a slight eggy taste and texture. I like that.
I think putting a little in a vanilla cake might be worth trying. I’ve never done it. I don’t seem to collect enough, so I’ll have to get back to you on that one.
With every positive comes a negative. Unless you’re really lucky, collecting enough for multiple uses requires copious time in the hot sun. Harvesting a pint in an hour is optimistic. I rarely do that well.
Numerous methods appear on the internet. The most traditional is bending the developing heads into a paper bag and shaking them. I quickly shifted from paper to heavy duty plastic. You still lose a lot.
I read about using a clean milk jug in one article. That’s a great idea as less pollen gets lost. That gentleman must be more talented than me though. Either that or he has a great stand of fertile cattails. I’ve never been able to come close to matching his yields of a quart per hour.
Some folks use a different method and harvest the entire male flowers. They place them in a good drying location and shake pollen loose over the course of several days. That may yield more pollen but it’s too tedious for me.
Once the pollen is collected it must be cleaned. Usually a fine strainer removes dust, debris and bugs quite effectively. I refrigerate clean pollen in sealed mason jars.
For those who are concerned about their appearance, there is another consideration. While collecting, you’ll get covered with yellow dust. Clothes, fingernails and skin pores will turn yellow, almost like you’ve been spraying paint. Fingernails and skin clean up easily. I’m not knowledgeable enough to comment on different types of clothes.
Collecting cattail pollen is not for everyone. I think it’s fun but finding time at the end of the school year is difficult for me. Maybe someday I’ll have an opportunity to experiment more.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (email@example.com).