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Cattail plant

Typha latifolia


Cattails are grasslike plants with strap-shaped leaves 1 to 5 centimeters wide and growing up to 1.8 meters tall. The male flowers are borne in a dense mass above the female flowers. These last only a short time, leaving the female flowers that develop into the brown cattail. Pollen from the male flowers is often abundant and bright yellow.

Habitat and Distribution

Cattails are found throughout most of the world. Look for them in full sun areas at the margins of lakes, streams, canals, rivers, and brackish water.

Edible Parts

The young tender shoots are edible raw or cooked. The rhizome is often very tough but is a rich source of starch. Pound the rhizome to remove the starch and use as a flour. The pollen is also an exceptional source of starch. When the cattail is immature and still green, you can boil the female portion and eat it like corn on the cob.

Other Uses

The dried leaves are an excellent source of weaving material you can use to make floats and rafts. The cottony seeds make good pillow stuffing and insulation. The fluff makes excellent tinder. Dried cattails are effective insect repellents when burned.

Steve's notes:

If you learn only one wild plant, make this the one. Cattails are about the most useful plants you could have. This is partly because cattails have so many edible and useful parts, but also because it is so widespread, and often grows in large patches.

The young shoots can be eaten raw or cooked.

The tender white bottom part of the stems taste a bit like cucumbers raw, and closer to corn when cooked.

The young seed heads, while still green (as in the photo) can be boiled and eaten like corn-on-the-cob.

The pollen spikes can be shaken into a paper or plastic bag to provide protein-rich soup-thickener or flour.

The rope-like rhizomes can be mashed and pounded in water, and the starch that settles out can be added to soups, or cooked as patties.

The roots were also pounded into a paste, to apply to and treat wounds, burns, rashes, and sores.

The leaves have been woven together to make everything from temporary clothing to floor mats and baskets of all sorts.

The seed head fluff was once used to stuff life-preservers, and is a great insulator. In an emergency, you can stuff the the inside of your jacket full of it, effectively turning a light jacket into a winter coat.

Cattail "fluff" also lights easily from a spark, making it great emergency tinder.


The Ultralight Backpacking Site | Cattail