You saw the meme online where someone puts ketchup and mustard on this plant that looks like a corn dog and gives it a negative review like, “Worst corn dog I ever ate!” Going down by the lake, I’ve always loved this plant because it adds to the beauty of nature. I wouldn’t, however, want to eat this as a corn dog for my next meal. What is that plant called?
The plant that looks like a corn dog is called the cattail, and you can spot them easily because they have the characteristic corn dog appearance. While the female brown part is soft like cotton or dandelion fuzz, the other part is a male cylinder-like flowering spike.
Can You Eat Cattails?
We wouldn’t try to eat a cattail in the same way that you would eat a corn dog. It won’t taste good. Still, several parts of the cattail can be eaten. Did you know that cattails produce more starch per acre than potatoes? With potatoes or yams, you can only eat the root, but at different stages in the development of the cattail, you can eat edible parts of it—in other words, this wild corn dog is edible!
Before you eat, check to see that it comes from a clean water source and doesn’t have pesticides on it.
The edible parts of the cattail include:
- Cattail pollin
- Shoots and stalks
Harvestable throughout the year, we would say that the cattail roots will test best in the autumn and winter season. Preparing a cattail root, you will clean the roots and trim away at the smaller roots. This leaves you with a large rhizome. Grill, bake or boil the cattail until it becomes tender. You can also use the cattail roots to make flour. This wild corn dog is probably more useful than a real corn dog—it’s also healthier.
Check out the video below to see how to harvest cattail roots for eating:
This portion of the cattail will taste the best during the spring season when still green. Believe it or not, you can eat cattail like how you would corn on the cob. Boil the catkins until you have heated them up and serve them with salt, pepper and butter.
You probably wonder how you can cook cattail pollen. In fact, you wait until the later part of June to begin the pollen harvest, and what you will turn it into is a type of flour substitute. It has antiseptic properties and will help with providing skincare, preventing anemia and providing increased energy.
As you bend the cattails off into the bag, you will shake off the pollen. Don’t be surprised at how fast you collect pollen. You can quickly come up with several pounds of it without trying, and truth is, it makes a mean pancake! Check out this awesome recipe if interested!
Shoots and Stalks
The last edible part of our plant that looks like a corn dog is the shoots and stalks. During the spring season, you can harvest the stalks, which are at the white part of the cattail near the root, and the new shoots coming up. You clean them up, slather them in peanut butter, and they taste like asparagus. We would advise that you eat them fresh for the best flavor.
You can learn more about how to eat the shoots and stalks here:
Cattails: Easily Recognized Because They Look Like Corn Dogs
Once you know a cattail, you never forget it because of its distinct appearance. This has become a popular water garden plant because of how easily you can recognize it. The common cattail can grow up to 8 feet, and you can find it pervasively throughout North America. It’s one of the easiest plants to recognize once you know it. The Typha angustifolia is a smaller version that only reaches 4 feet in height.
If you were to use cattails in a water garden, we would recommend that you only use them by themselves. The biggest issue with combining them with papyrus or rushes is how the cattail will lose their geometric seed heads.
We would call the cattail perhaps one of the most useful plants out there. In case you’re interested in the stories behind it, we would recommend the book “Cattail Moonshine & Milkweed Medicine.”
You will learn some fascinating tidbits about the cattail and other plants like the prickly pear cactus.
How to Plant Cattails in a Water Garden
Cattails look especially good in a water garden when you place them in a classical fountain or contemporary setting. The strong verticals when put up alongside the horizontal walls will look fantastic. You might place them near a stucco wall or a plaster wall. Don’t plant them in a shady location because they like the sun. You want either a partially shady or a full-sun area to plant them.
You usually want to plant them in the early autumn shortly after a rainfall. Contrary to what you might believe, plant them about 3 feet apart. Over the years, the cattails will self propagate themselves and fill out your garden space.
Cattails Wild Corn Dogs: What to Know
Previously, we spoke about how you can find male and female flowers growing on the same plant. This happens because of how cattails are monoecious. That means that male and female flowers grow on it. The two different flowers will often develop on different parts of the plant. The male flower forms at the top known as a tassel. On the other hand, the female flowers will develop on the sides.
You can see the flowers pop up in the summer season.
Human History of Cattails
Throughout human history, cattails have proven a useful companion in the many things that they could be used for. Humans used them as a food source among many other things. In the northeastern part of North America, Native Americans used them as siding sewn into their homes called wigwams. Especially in places where the wetlands dominated, you would see this used.
Many of the early Europeans would comment on how dry, weatherproof and comfortable the Native American homes were.
Humans also used cattails for medicines. For example, burnt cattail leaves could be used to make a sap that would treat wounds. At the same time, it stopped them from getting infected at a time when wounds were a big killer. They also used the sap from cattails to treat toothaches, whooping cough and sprains.
Even more fascinating, nature’s corn dog was used to bundle together, and the Native Americans would sculpt duck decoys out of them. Would you like to learn about some of the other wacky things that you can do with plants? Learn what plants like coffee grounds here.
Breaking Open a Cattail: Corn Dog Chaos!
Cattails have one fascinating thing about them that might surprise you. When you break them open, it looks like straight smoke or millions upon millions of bubbles. Do you wonder how something so big could come out of that tiny plant? Check out this video to see more about what I mean. It’s a great video that’s somehow satisfying to watch. Dandelions can’t compare to this one. This guy gives the impression that he has given the field a bubble bath:
Other Names for Cattails
- Corn dog grass
- Bullrush (British)
- Reedmace (also British)
- Bulrush (Canadian)
- Raupo (New Zealand)
- Punks (Australia)
Are Cattails Poisonous?
As long as you can find cattails out in the wilderness, you don’t have to worry too much about starving since many parts of the plant are edible. Beware, however, of the poison iris, which looks similar to the cattail. You don’t want to mistake this one. While they only cause abdominal pain and a burning sensation in the mouth, it’s better not to make a mistake with it.
The general rule of thumb to distinguish the poison iris from the cattail is that a cattail looks like a corn dog near the top or a cigar head. The poison iris doesn’t have this. Unless you know 100-percent for certain that it is safe, never ingest a plant that you don’t know. The results could be deadly.
How Animals Use Cattails
Redwing blackbirds, waterfowl, muskrats, raccoons, deer, frogs and turtles all nest in or shelter among cattails. Birds will even use cattail fluff to make their nests. Like humans, they will use it as a food source. Beavers, muskrats and certain fish species are known to use them for food.
In our environment, cattails serve an important role where they prevent erosion, and at the same time, new research has even shown how cattails remove pollution from our waters with their surrounding roots. Their roots have microorganisms that break down organic materials.
You can find over 30 species of cattails out in nature. They mainly occur in the cold and temperate regions of the Northern and Southern hemispheres.
The cattails would be the most distinguishable plant around because of how it looks like a corn dog. No other plant in nature has this appearance that we’re aware of. At the least, it doesn’t have too much for similarities. Even with the poison iris, as long as you look for the corn dog on top, you should be fine. We think of this as one of the great plants to know about because of its many uses even today.
Cattails are a utilitarian plant that is semi-aquatic, and they form dense stands in what is often wet and mucky soils. In all the cases where I saw cattails, it was usually in a wet and mucky type of soil.