Cat-tail Pollen

Foraging is about using the plants and fungi etc. that are locally and seasonally available. Sometimes if you’re in the right place at just the right time, an opportunity presents itself.
One such opportunity arose at the weekend as I was camped near a water body the banks of which were covered in reed mace. photo 1
Reed mace (Typha latifolia) also known as bull-rush, cat-tail or corn dog grass in the United States. It is part of a genus of plants most commonly found in wetland habitats in the northern hemisphere.
Fossil fragments of flowers and pollen from the typhacea family have been found that date back from the end of the Cretaceous c 100 million years ago.
Reed mace has many edible and bushcraft uses. The rhizomes can be collected and the starchy contents can be eaten as is or ground into a flour. The young stems can be steamed and eaten as asparagus, the young leaves are nutritious steamed and the young flower head can be roasted like a corn cob. When the cigar shaped seed head is mature it will burst open and large quantities of fluffy seeds can be gathered and used for tinder or insulation. The dried mature stem can be used for arrow shafts and even for the hand drill. At this moment however, there is a chance to collect reed mace pollen.

There is a relatively short window for collecting reed mace pollen, but the ease of collection and the quantity that can be obtained makes it well worth it and as pollen is such a highly nutritious substance, high in protein, vitamins and minerals, it makes an excellent food.
As with all plants, firstly be sure you have correctly identified it. The long flat strap like leaves, tall round flowering stem and cigar shaped seed head should be fairly distinctive. The cigar shaped part is the female flower and above this is the male flower. This will be light green at first as it emerges from a sheath. It is this male part that should now be releasing vast quantities of bright yellow pollen giving it a yellow appearance as can be seen from the picture above.

It may not be a good idea to collect the pollen if you suffer from hayfever.

Collecting is easy, merely  pull the flowering stem towards you and gently bend the pollen covered male flower over a container or bag and gently tap, this will release the pollen. Repeat this with several flower heads until you have the amount you require ( try to not take all the pollen from all the plants in one area).

photo 2
You should now have a good quantity of pollen as in the picture. You can now store this or use straight away. Either way, gently persuade any beetles or flies that fell into the container to leave the pollen.

Remember that this is likely to be a food you have not tried before, so try little amounts at first until you are sure you are not intolerant.

I looked for possible recipes for reed mace pollen and came up with very little, so I decided to just experiment. So the following are 4 possible ways to enjoy your pollen.

1) Reed mace pollen damper.

  • 2 dessert spoons of pollen
  • 2 dessert spoons of self raising flour
  • A pinch of salt
  • A little water.

Mix the ingredients together with enough water to form a dough, then either cook on a Dutch oven lid or skillet over coals, dusting the surface with flour  or you could fry instead. Turn over after a few minutes and cook the opposite side. It will turn a lovely golden colour and smell like popcorn. Serve with butter, tastes like corn.

photo 3

2) Reed mace and cherry( fruit) patty.

  • 1 1/2 dessert spoons of pollen
  • 1 dessert spoon of cherries crushed and drained (or another fruit)
  • Pinch of sugar ( optional)

Stone, crush and drain the cherries, then mix 1 dessert spoon with the pollen and sugar if applicable. Mix into a patty add a little flour if needed then cook as with the damper or could be cooked on a hot rock.
After cooking on both sides for several minutes it may not seem to hold it’s form, but leave to cool and it will hold together.
photo 4
3) reed mace pollen pancake

  • 1 1/2 dessert spoons of pollen
  • 3 dessert spoons plain flour
  • Sugar
  • Enough water for a batter
  • Oil.

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, heat the oil and then spoon in the batter and cook as a pancake, turning when becoming more solid.
It is not exactly like a pancake and a little more difficult to cook, but tastes very good.

photo 5

4) Fish fried in pollen with mugwort.

  • Small fish fillet or several whole small fish.
  • 1 – 1 1/2 dessert spoons of pollen
  • Some dried chopped mugwort leaves( or fresh).
  • A pinch of salt
  • Oil

Chop up the mugwort leaves and mix on a plate with the pollen and salt. Put the oil in a pan and heat. Dab the fish in the pollen mixture ( wet them slightly if dry).

photo 6

Covering the fish then place in the pan. Cook both sides until browning.
The fish takes on a pleasant colour and taste.

photo 7

Go and collect the pollen and give these a try or make up your own recipes.

Edward Sellen

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