Sunday, August 31, 2008

Cattails - 'Hawahawa' (Pawnee)

Cattails are an easily recognizable plant of the waters edge, usually growing in thick patches. I remember spring hikes, coming on a stand of cattail, and grasping the center stalk and pulling out a tender white core which was eaten on the spot...refreshing. In the late fall, thru spring, I've gathered the pointy corms from the traveling rootstock and peeled and eaten them raw. The roots can be peeled and broken apart in water to harvest the starch. After it settles the excess water is poured off and starch is dried and used as flour in ashcakes. Another source of flour is the dried golden pollen that gathers on the spikes in the fall. There is a sticky substance at the base of the leaves that is reported to have antiseptic and numbing qualities for cuts and toothaches. The Dakota referred to the cattail as 'Wihuta-Hu', which means 'bottom of the tipi plant'. Leaves and stalks were gathered and woven, or sewn, into floor mats and shelter coverings, as well as backets, bags, and cordage.

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