Sunday, July 1, 2012

Cattail Pollen: Gathering A New Edible (Typha latifolia)

Cattail pollen--gathered and sifted. 
The season for gathering cattail (Typha latifolia) pollen is frustratingly short for a part-time cave man.  We've missed every year since we began foraging.  But not this year.  It was Yub-yub's first canoe trip.  We were exploring the wide confluence of the Connecticut and West River.  Highlights included watching an industrious mink hauling a fat, brown duck along the riverbank rocks.  Yub-yub had a great time, and we were just about to return to the boat launch when I decided to look for wapato in the thick mud of a nearby marshy island.  We all got out of the canoe and squished our toes on the muddy bank.  We did find a few scattered wapato plants (Saggitaria sp.), but that wasn't what the trip will be remembered for.  Finally, we had found the cattails at the perfect stage. 

There they were!  Bright golden fingers of sunshine that sent out a powdery cloud of yellow dust when they were struck.  We made plans immediatly for me (Thag) to paddle out the next day and make a go at gathering the precious sun-dust. 

Mixed with wheat flour and leavening. 
Cattail pollen can be used like a flour, though it has no gluten and will crumble if not mixed with wheat.  (Unrelated digression:  These days gluten is a much-maligned substance, blamed for all kinds of human ills.  This is really a shame, for gluten is a truly miraculous molecule that should be celebrated for its unique role in human foods.  And though real gluten allergies are very real and miserable health problems, I suspect that many so-called gluten allergies are imagined, and that the improved health experienced by people who reduce gluten in their lives is due in large part to an accompanying decrease in processed foods and a greater diversity of foods.)  What a gift it must have seemed to our ancestors that this protein-rich, versatile food could be stored for long periods.  We had no plans to store it, however, knowing that it would take time to gather this staple in quantity. 

Cattail batter.

I paddled out a borrowed whitewater kyak (quite badly, I admit) the next day.  I had with me a plastic gallon milk jug with a hole, about one inch in diameter cut from the side.  The instructions, as I'd read them, were to insert the pollen-heavy male flowers into the hole and shake.  The pollen was supposed to fall into the container.  And while this was true, insects, and other fibrous parts of the flower fell in as well.  As the container was shaken, the fibers would bunch up into dense little cottony balls.  No matter.  I figured they could be sifted out later. 
My friend, the owner of the kayak, was waiting back at the dock, and I was anxious not to leave her too long.  So after about 40 minutes of inserting and shaking, I returned, stuffing an old sock in the hole so that none of my hard-won harvest would fall out. 
On the griddle. 

The harvested pollen was beautiful.  The fibers and insects sifted out easily through a jelly bag fastened to the top of an old mason jar.  (The jelly bag is surely one of the great contribution of civilization to the forager's toolkit.)  The sifted pollen looked even more magnificent, and I found myself admiring through all angles of the thick glass.  But then what to do with it? 

I'd read about the several recommended uses of my novel ingredient.  Porridge?  I tasted some of the raw pollen.  Porridge might be too strong.  Sprinkle on like a seasoning or nutritional yeast?  No, I wanted something that would feel like the pollen was the real center of the meal.  I checked out several baked goods that all had promise but didn't highlight the pollen enough for my maiden voyage into to pollen cookery.  Then I found this recipe for cattail pollen pancakes.  The proportions were right.  The quantities were right.  The dish was right.  Pancakes it would be. 
The cakes were a golden color. 
You can see how colorful the food remained through the whole process in the pictures here.  We used every last morsel to make enough pancakes for the three of us to enjoy a hearty breakfast.  Ooga and I didn't dress these cakes at all for fear of distracting from the curious, light, rich cakes you see here.  (Butter, on the other hand, is Yub-yub's reason for living.  If we don't watch her carefully, she scoops a finger-full out of an unattended stick.  As you might guess, Yub-yub gobbled hers up with butter.)  This was certainly one of the Foraging Family's greatest triumphs of 2012. 

Years from now, Yub-yub will be delighted that
such flattering pictures were posted. 


  1. Hey, at least this flattering image isn't the one described of the cow impersonations in search of sorrel... :)

    Also, she is adorable.

    1. Oh, it's so easy when we have so much material to work with.

      And, though I recognize my bias, I have to agree. She IS adorable.

  2. There's something about that golden pollen that makes me smile! Thanks for sharing!


    1. Isn't it beautiful. I dream of an upcoming year when we can gather a quantity of this fine food to keep in a clear jar in our pantry for dark winter days that need a little sunshine.

  3. nice looking :)
    hey go to youtube and type william davis ,,
    i wanted to ask you what are the other types of flower pollens you do eat,
    i heards somewhere some flower pollens may be poisonous,

    i already harvest pine pollen and cedar pollen " im from morocco "' atlas :)

    1. I've only eaten cattail pollen, but have heard of folks gathering pine pollens as well. What is commonly called cedar in North America is not really a cedar at all and I've never heard of anyone gathering its pollen. We'd love to hear more about gathering in the morocco. My good friend just returned from a trip to the Atlas region.

  4. Thanks for the great recipe! I featured this on today's roundup :)