Phragmites “Cossack asparagus”

Andy in the fieldI like the flutter of expectation and curiosity I get in my stomach just as I try something for the first time.  Before the boil, the butter and the salt, with only a precursory rinse I explore the flavor over my pits and buds.  Unexpected sweetness.

Cossack asparagus” is traditionally the young shoots from Common Cattail (Typha latifolia), but it’s very close to the Phragmites shoots we collected Monday.  And like asparagus, one of the best recipes is the simplest.  A little boiling, butter, salt, and pepper.  I’m not going to make a fancy recipe because there’s little need.  It’s is just good.  More importantly though, the easier it is, the more people might try it.  So I’m going to keep it simple.  But feel free to experiment, every part of this plant is edible*.


In early spring, you can spot Phragmites from a distance.  Last year’s tall, brown, bushy-headed stalks wave gently above their wetland habitats*.  Just always be sure to correctly identify your species, as we discuss here.  The young shoots are simple to find, just look where the old shoot meet the damp earth.  With your fingers, probe around the base of the shoot into the soil, and pluck the shoot from where it meets the underground stems.

*It is important to note that plant roots are excellent at sequestering heavy metals from soils.  While this provides a great land management strategy known as phytoremediation, it also means that eating plants in polluted areas can be dangerous.  Phragmites commonly grows in ditches and along roadsides, but you should forgo these populations and only harvest from parks and other lesser polluted areas.

Phragmites young shoots
Tasty Phragmites young shoots. Photo by A. Deines


½ lb Phargmites shoots, washed

1 Tbs butter

1 Tbs salt

Salt and pepper to taste


Bring several quarts of water to a boil with 1Tbs of salt.  Add the shoots to the water and boil for 10 minutes.  Strain the shoots and place in serving try, melting and evenly distributing the butter over the top.  Salt and pepper to taste.


Serve the shoots still warm but at a handling temperature.  Peel 3 or 4 of the tough outer layers off the shoot, to reveal the soft core.  Holding the shoot by the hard green end, bite off the core.  Alternatively, peel the shoots and cut off the tips before serving.  I like finger food.

Phragmites Cossack asparagus
Peeling the boiled shoots of Phragmites. Photo by J. Deines
Andy Invasivoring a Phragmites shoot
Andy Invasivoring a Phragmites shoot. Photo by J. Deines

9 thoughts on “Phragmites “Cossack asparagus”

  • April 6, 2011 at 8:23 am

    Neat stuff! Is the pollen as good as cattail pollen?

    • April 6, 2011 at 9:23 am

      Sorry, we don’t know yet. We’ll find out in the Fall though? Any suggestions?

  • April 7, 2011 at 9:28 am

    Cattail pollen is hydrophobic. To make much with it you have to mix it with other flour. That said – its a vegetable. Until digestive enzymes came on the market, I had no clue as to why people considered vegetables food. My wife and daughter enjoyed cattail pollen pancakes and noodles. For me, they were an upcoming and outgoing offering to the porcelain Goddess. What I really want to know is whether the heavy metals and other toxins that the plant collects ever reach the pollen. If not, the easily collected food available in hungry places goes through the ceiling. Given the elaborate way that cattails handle arsenic, it would be entirely reasonable for the pollen to be clean. I’d like to know for sure.

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  • April 10, 2011 at 10:45 am

    Unfortunately, my question about pollen contamination came back with a “Yes, the pollen does get contaminated with heavy metals” It will take much more work to unleash this food source on the world.

    • April 10, 2011 at 12:32 pm

      Thanks for keeping us up on what you’ve found out! The take home moral is to be sure you are getting your Phragmites from an area you trust to be uncontaminated.

  • May 23, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    i am argentine and a dont understand all of your indications.
    there is this page in spanish?
    thank you!!!!!!!!!

  • May 25, 2011 at 8:51 am

    We do not have a page in spanish at this time, but the website might help you.

    No tenemos una página en español en este momento, pero el sitio web puede ayudarle.

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