Moses in the rushes……or was it?

20th January 2013

Another few centimeters of snow again today, so not spotted much apart from these Greater Reedmace Typha latifolia or Common Cattail seed heads with a covering of snow.  All year round this plant can be utilised in some way, shape or form.  It was far too cold today to try it, but if had of been inclined, at this time of year the rhizomes of this plant can be used as food.

Greater Reedmace Typha latifolia

This species and the somewhat less invasive and smaller Lesser Reedmace T. angustifolia (which can be used in the same way) are quite often called Bulrush, but strictly speaking this is a completely different plant Scirpus lacustris which is a member of the sedge family. The confusion with the nomenclature is said to have come from paintings of the biblical scene where the baby Moses was found in a basket amongst the “Bulrushes” and artists had unknowingly or otherwise had painted Reedmace instead of or as well as Bulrushes.  However in most of the classical paintings depicting this scene there are no plants resembling Reedmace to be seen, so the jury is out.

This plant is found all over the country in still and slow moving water and boggy areas.  The leaves are quite similar to Flag or Yellow Iris Iris pseudacorus which is found in similar habitats, and contains a toxic glycoside called iridin which will cause severe gastric symptoms.  Reedmace has fleshy leaves which at the base curve around the central flower stem, Flag leaves are flat even at their base.

The pale rhizomes spread out horizontally from the base of the plant and generally form interlocking mats with their neighbours so if you pull one up you normally pull up several.  They can be eaten raw but it is possible they could harbour any bacteria or parasites that are in the water so it is probably best to cook them.  Roasted, in an oven if you are at home or in the embers of a fire if you’re not makes the starch in them more digestible and gives them a sweet almost chesnut like taste.  Once cooked simply peel off the outer skin and suck the sweet starch off of the long tough fibrous strands inside.  If you have more time on your hands the roots can be processed to extract the starch and make a form of  flour, simply wash and peel then pound them and leave in a bucket of water. Ater a few days strain out all the bits of root and other material and leave the liquid to sit and the grains of starch to separate out.  Carefully tip away the liquid on the top and then allow the starchy sludge to dry.

The young leaf shoots also start appearing in winter, normally early February but there may be some lurking underneath the snow. These can be finely sliced and added to salads raw or cooked in stir-fries, boiled or steamed and served with butter. They are sometimes referred to a Cossack Asparagus.

Kev Palmer


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