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Friday, 22 July 2011

Bulrushes-Should NOT Be Confused With Cat-Tails

Bulrushes (Scirpus)  and cat-tails (Typha latiforia) do not have the same characteristics; nor do they look alike, because they, obviously, are not the same plant.

Pictured above-BULRUSHES
Whenever you hear the word bulrush, do you think of cat-tails? 
Oddly enough, many people; especially those  teaching survival/bushcraft courses, those professing to be of partial aboriginal heritage (Métis/First Nations), or those publishing modern improved dictionaries, encyclopaedias, or other; supposedly reliable reference??? books--you know the kind--they
are published by Amazon, Google, related so called encyclopedias, some United States of The Americas Universities; the kind that also don't know or don't recognize; the difference between an antelope and a so called prong horn(an animal which does not even have horns), beef and/or other meats and cheap highly, processed poisonous potentially deadly fillers, a bison and a buffalo, a dove and a pigeon, a carnivore and an omnivore, or an elk and a wapiti.
These people tend to think of bulrushes only as"the reeds or weeds that grow along the shoreline". Such web- browsers, dictionaries, encyclopaedias, and reference books will often clump the two together.
But, although cohabitation is not unheard of, there are some vast differences between the two that can not be simply attributed to differences in British and United States of THE Americas terminology, or geographical location. It should be remembered that although they are continually try to redefine the ENGLISH language; The United States of the Americas still uses a PIGEON type of it.
The bulrush has a public relations problem. It is found in the same environment as the cattail, can be used many of the same ways, and it tastes better yet one never hears the bulrush praised as much as the cattail. It should be.
The young shoots of spring can be eaten raw, or cooked. Its pollen can be eaten as flour; in bread, mush, or pancakes. The seeds can be parched and consumed, or first ground and then used like flour. The large, horizontal rhizomes roots can be eaten raw or cooked. Early Canadians- actually peoples of All Americas dried them in the sun then pounded them into flour. The estimated food value is 8% sugar — making it sweeter than the cattail –  5.5% starch 1% protein.
I repeat, again,Bulrushes (Scirpus)  and cat-tails (Typha latiforia) do not have the same characteristics; nor do they look alike, because they, obviously, are not the same plant.
Bulrushes are much slower than cat-tails in establishing and spreading because they proliferate more through underground (very edible, somewhat similar to a potato) rhizomes more so than seeds. There are some noted differences between the cat-tail and bulrush, as emergent vegetation, but one noted commonality between them is their special adaptation in transporting oxygen from the air into their roots, enabling them to grow in continually flooded, but shallow water areas. Both can tolerate poor water quality. Although bulrushes can handle and withstand long dry periods better than cat-tails; they do, nonetheless , usually, tend to grow in  deeper water (making the rhizomes more difficult to harvest) where as as cat-tails usually prefer shallow water.
Also known as tulle,  wool grass, and rat grass this herbaceous plant can grow up to 10 feet tall; they are found all through-out North America and Eurasia. The varieties found in Western Canada are Hard-stemmed bulrush Schoenoplectus acutus and Soft StemmedSchoenoplectus tabernaemontani. 
Shoots and lower stalks are edible raw; as are the growing tips of rhizome. Young rhizomes can be crushed and boiled to make sweet syrup or sugar.The dried rhizome can be crushed to remove fibres, then ground into flour. Parch the edible rhizomes. They are high in protein and very starchy, grind them into a powder for flour, mix with water, boil it and eat as porridge. Young shoots are considered a delicacy, whether eaten raw or cooked. The bulrush, used in a salad or eaten as a cooked vegetable. As in the case of cat-tails the pollen can be used to make breads and cakes. Seeds are edible raw or parched. A poultice can also be made from the stems to stop bleeding and to treat snakebites. The roots can be processed and used to treat abscesses.
The bulrush, and other edible rushes in the same family (Scirpus validus, S=cir-pus val-I-dus, Scirpus  acutus, S-cir-pus a-cut(as the word)-us)  are found throughout the Americas. It’s also found in Hawaii, the Cook Islands and Easter Island, where it arrived some 30,000 years ago. Other related rushes are found in northern areas and have similar use. Though called a rush the plant is one of the soft-sided sedges. If you haven’t heard the rhyme to help you remember the difference between sedges and other plants, here it is: Sedges have edges. All sedges are triangular, some markedly so, others barely so.
Scripus means sharp and refers to the usual edges found on sedges. In 1772 there was a large lake, some 760 square miles, in what was then Spanish territory but, since it was stolen from the Spanish; is now the San Joaquin Valley of California; USA. The lake was discovered by Pedro Fages but no longer exists. Fages named the area Los Tules because of the large bulrush marshes. “Tule” A word which, obviously, could not have originated in the United States of the Americas, probably came from Tulle-origin-A Town In SW France-definition- a soft ,fine net material used for making veils and dresses. Tullin in Spanish means cattail. An Aztec word –as later used in the Americas-“Tollin” was used to describe a group of plants including the cattails, bulrushes, and OTHER similar plants. When the Spanish first colonised Mexico and Central America in the 1500s, they borrowed many words from Nahunta, the language spoken by many of the peoples of central Mexico at the time, including the Aztecs, and still spoken by almost a million and a half people in Mexico today.
Tulare’s are significant wetland habitats for some 160 species of birds and many mammals and amphibians. Marsh wrens and blackbirds build their nests there. Migratory ducks seek food and shelter among the bulrushes. Wading birds forage on fish, amphibians, and invertebrates that hide among the bottom of the bulrushes. Geese feed on the new shoots and roots.  Among the birds found in rushes are the bufflehead, mallard, pintail, shoveler, blue-winged teal, cinnamon teal, greater scaup, lesser scaup, avocet, marbled godwit, clapper rail, rails, blackbirds, Canada geese and white-fronted geese. Indigenous North Americans hunted the ducks in the rushes. They would sink nets and make decoys made of rushes. When the ducks landed entire flocks were captured by pulling up the nets.
Indigenous North Americans also cut the sedges for mats, and for thatching. The thatching is both, insulating, and water-proof. When woven with grape vines or other strong vines, they form floats a person can stand on and pole over water. A similar rush was used by Thor Heyerdahl when he made the Kontiki [Kon-Tiki was the raft used by Norwegian explorer and writer Thor Heyerdahl in his 1947 expedition across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian islands. It was named after the Inca sun god, Viracocha, for whom "Kon-Tiki" was said to be an old name]. Bulrush “shoes” helped hunters to walk over muddy flats without sinking in. Shredded rushes were used to make baskets, baby diapers, sleeping mats,  menstrual material, ‘Grass’ Skirts For The Ladies And Capes For The Men
Like most aquatic plants in the area the bulrush is also home to a beetle grub that fish like. On the bulrush, look for a small hole, and a brown streak in the upper portion of the stalk. You will find a small grub, actually the larval form of an Arrowhead Beetle. The size will vary but they do grow big enough for a small hook and fish love them. As it is a weevil, the grub is also probably edible by humans but I haven’t got around to trying one. You can find the same grub in the base of cattails. Look for a green cattail with an outer leave that is browning at the bottom.
Some Bulrush Recipes
Bulrush Flour
Clean the roots thoroughly, and dry them completely, in a dry place, in the sun. When they are dry, remove the fibres from the root, and pound the remaining pulp into flour. The texture of the flour depends upon how much elbow grease you use in its preparation. It is very sweet.
Bulrush Bread
Skin the roots and cut them into small pieces, the boil in to a gruel. Remove the fibers and let the water evaporate. When all the water is gone you have a sweet-tasting flour. Mix some fat into the flour and mix. Roll the dough mixture out onto a flat rock and bake in a reflector oven. Or make small rolls about 6 inches long and half an inch thick, twist around a stick and set in from of the fire to bake.
Bulrush Pancakes
Peel the skin from the roots, cut into small sections, add water, and boil into a gruel. Let cool. Stir in porcupine skunk, or any other fat, then add diced porcupine, skunk, or bacon. Heat a couple of flat stones [see cooking without a pan] over the fire. Form small patties of the mixture and fry on the stones. If berries are in season, mash a cupful and use a compliment.
Roasted Bulrush Roots
Dig up the roots and clean thoroughly, removing all the hair roots by scraping, then wrap in big leaves. Dig a hole in the ground about 18 inches across and 6 inches deep. Build a fire in it, and when you have a good bed of coals, remove most of the coals from the hole and place the wrapped roots in. Scrape the coals back on top of the wrapped roots. Roast for 2 to 3 hours.
Bulrush Broth
1 1/2 any available meat, cut up
1 1/2 tsps. salt
1/2 cup flour
2 Tbsps. bulrush flour
2 Tbsps. (if available) mustard seed
2 Tbsps. (if available, any fat will do) bacon fat
6 cups water
1/2 cup bulrush shoots
3 wild onions
1/4 cup wild rice (if available-remember, wild rice is NOT rice)
3 bulrush roots, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce (if available)
Roll the meat pieces in a mixture of flour and salt. Sauté them in hot fat, turning several times to brown completely. Add the water, bulrush shoots, and wild onions, then cover and simmer 1 1/2 hours, or, until the wild rice is tender.
Bulrush Stew
Peel the skin off the roots and cut in inch long pieces; then place in a pot with boiling water and add a few wild onions, or, sprigs of mint. Then add pieces of porcupine, skunk, and/or other small animals. Boil one hour.
Bulrush Bake
1 lb. small bulrush sprouts
1 lb. ground beef(or any other available-see recipe above- meat
1 large onion
Optional ingredients, if available:1 can tomato soup (or water)1 cup tomato juice (or water) Potato chips (thinly sliced bulrush “potato” Salt and pepper
The small inner stalks of the bulrush are tender, and taste much like asparagus, when cooked. These stalks are easy to remove from the plant: simply part the leaves and pull the shoots from the roots. Wash them in running water, and cut into small pieces. Soak in salted water (If available).
Mix any meat and finely diced onion, add salt and pepper to taste. In a greased baking dish or skillet, put a layer of bulrush sprouts, then a layer of meat. Repeat until all the ingredients are used. Pour the tomato soup over the mixture.
Bake for about an hour or until the bulrush sprouts are tender, adding a little tomato juice from time to time to keep it moist. Top with potato chips and let stand in oven ten minutes more. Serves six.
Creamed Bulrushes
12 lbs. tender bulrush shoots
1/2 tsp. salt-if available
1 cup water
3 Tbsp. any fat
3 Tbsp. bulrush flour
3 cups liquid (milk, if available but definitely not necessary, plus drained bulrush juice)
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Rinse the fresh bulrush shoots and steam with salt and water, in a covered pan, until limp. Drain off all juice into a cup and save.
Dice the bulrush shoots- fine to medium. In any suitable pot, melt fat and stir in flour, to form a roux. Cook 2<3 minutes. Gradually stir in (stir this Veloute or Béchamel sauce smooth between every addition of liquid) bulrush juice, and/or water, and or enough milk, to bring total liquid to 3 cups. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Hunters’ Stew with Bulrushes
 2 cups finely diced wild onion (do not mince)
2 medium sized bulrush “potatoes” (rhizomes)
10 slices bacon (if available), diced
3 lbs. boneless meat, cut into cubes
1 Tbsp. finely diced chives
2 cups water
1/2 cup dry red wine (it would be nice if it were available)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 water
1 cup wild rice (again, if available).
8 bulrush shoots
1 1/2 cups stock or water
·         Skin the onion, cut-small dice, and put aside.
·          In a 2-quart saucepan (if available) cover the bulrush rhizomes with water, add a pinch of salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook for 30 minutes.
·         Drain water. Scrape and slice rhizomes in 1/4 inch slices and set aside.
·         In a skillet cook the bacon over medium heat until it is crisp.
·          Remove bacon from pan and set aside.
·         Pour off all but a thin layer of fat from the skillet and set the skillet aside.
·         Add the onions and bring the heat up. Cook until onions are transparent.
·         Add the meat cubes and the rendered bacon fat, then the chives and bulrush roots. Cook for 15 minutes, over medium heat.
·          Return the bacon to the skillet. Stir in the water and wine. season with salt and pepper and reduce heat to a low simmer. Cover and cook for about an hour.
·         Drop wild rice into your saucepan or available pot. Add a pinch of salt and just enough water to cover. Bring to boil, lower heat and cook for 30 minutes.
·         Gradually stir the cooked wild rice, bulrush shoots, and one cup of stock, or water into the skillet. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
·         Taste for seasoning. If the rice starts to become too dry, of course, you can add the remaining stock to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pan

Serves Six
"Boneset" was a popular remedy, used in almost all cultures, to address general aches and malaise It is said to be effective in treating flu and cold symptoms, reduce sweating, and to promote bone healing.


Stems can also be used to weave strong sleeping mats, ropes, baskets, baskets, hats sandals, temporary shelters-even canoes and rafts. The roots are a source of black dye.

Pictured below-Cat-tails


SEE ALSO: Cattails= A bog or Wetland Supermarkethttp://cookingforsurvival--yourdownbutnotout.blogspot.com/2010/09/cat-tails-also-known-as-bull-rushes.html
©Al (Alex, Alexander) D. Girvan-originally published (1995) as part of my cookbook-2012


  1. If you get the cattails blossom before the leaves 'unwrap' it, you can cut off hands full of them, take off the leaves and boil them in a pan of water, and just eat them by putting them in your mouth and strip the young blossom off the stick. Very tasty, and taste like asparagas. In fact, they were called "settler's asparagas". You can also reach down into the water and get the young tender leaves (white) wash them and eat them.---Bernie

    1. To Anonymous: Thanks very much for clicking on my website, for taking the time to write out your comments, for sharing your knowledge of cat-tails, and for the recipe. This particular post is mainly BULRUSHES and the differences between them and CAT-TAILS; which are dealt with on another page. I hope you will click on that page; where you will see several cat-tail recipes. I wrote both pages a long time ago; but if I recall correctly, you will find a recipe, very similar to your own on that page. If not, we now have it here and I sincerely thank you again for sharing. I do hope you will continue to follow all my sites. You may want to follow my Facebook page as well.

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  3. Your information on the variations between the two are helpful. However, the one essential part you missed was some good examples of photos of the differences between the two species.

    1. Thanks very much for your comment. I do show photos of both in this post and while I have used the same photos of cat-tails and bulrushes on both pages if you follow the LINK:Cattails= A bog or Wetland Supermarket included on this page it will take you to more cattail recipes; and also a little more information. Glad you found my site helpful.