Last week, I gathered one of Jenny's favorite wild foods -- the immature male flower spikes of Cat-tail (Typha spp.*). These spikes found at the tops of rapidly growing plants are initially concealed by a thin green sheath. Slightly older spikes will turn yellow as they prepare to release pollen. I gather them for food any time before the pollen (and associated nutrition) is released, which in New England is typically in mid-June through mid-July.
When gathering, I leave behind the female, seed-bearing flower spike (this bottom section will become the familiar brown sausage-on-a-stick) and simply snap off the top pollen-bearing part. Peeled (if needed), boiled for 5 minutes, and lightly salted, these wetland vegetables make a fine finger food that can be nibbled like miniature ears of corn. The flower parts can also be stripped from the "cobs" by hand and added to soups, stews, and baked goods.
For a practical demonstration of Cat-tail flower/pollen harvesting as well as a discussion of the plant's nutritive value, check out this video by Arthur Haines:
To view the following images in full-size, click here.
*Note: Two species of Cat-tails grow in New England: Broad-leaved Cat-tail (Typha latifolia) and the one shown here, Narrow-leaved Cat-tail (Typha angustifolia). While the former has a larger stature, and generally provides more food value per plant, the uses of these two species are similar. Hybrids of these two species also occur.