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Cattails Typha latifolia)
 
(Common names include: bullrush, reedmace, catninetail, punks, corn dog grass and bulrush)
 
I have heard more than once that cattail is a "veritable grocery store". This plant has a lot to offer and is a good basic to understand. There are many parts of the cattail that are edible so it pays to learn how to identify it. It is not a difficult plant to identify if you learn just a few basics. First understand that the leaves alternately wrap around the stalk and the deeper you get as you pull them off the more slime you will find in between them. This is part of the value of the plant. This "slime" can be used as a thickening agent in soup or as a healing assistant for minor cuts. The stock when you get to the middle of it and perhaps the bottom 4-8 inches is a delicious mild food source that can be eaten raw or added to a salad or soup. the root is good for starch and even the flowers before they turn old and brown are edible although it is the top flower and not the bottom one that you will get the benefits from.
My Experience
 
I have eaten many parts of the cattail. I like the stock and would liken the taste to cucumber, sorta. It is different of course but somewhat similar. The root is very fibrous and needs pounding and grinding and perhaps some drying to really make it useful. It is a great source of starch in the wild.
 
It grows along rivers, ditches and in lakes and bonds. I have seen it in parks as well as out in the wild. I think the best part of this plant is the male flower. You have to harvest it before it emerges from the greens. Cook it with a little garlic butter and it is quite a treat. I have to thank Mikhail from Emberlit stoves for treating me to this delicacy. There is not a lot to them but they certainly are delicious.

More details:
This plant is talked of as one of the most versatile in nature because of all the different parts that are useful. Here is a list of useful and edible parts of the cattail.
  • Flower stalks before they emerge can be eaten after cooking (when young in spring)
  • Pollen from male flower can be added to flower for an immunity boost (late spring, early summer)
  • Use the sticky sap between lower leaves as a natural thickener (all year long)
  • Pound or suck the starch from the rhizomes (all year long)
  • Eat the heart of the stock raw or cooked (best when young in spring)
  • Eat the tender white leaf bases similar to the heart
  • Use the leaves for thatching roof material or for making baskets
  • Can be used to make paper
  • You can use the fibers from the stem to make cordage
  • Seed hairs can be used as a fire starter, down for moccasins or for bedding
  • Use the dry flower as a candle after dipping in wax or light it without wax for a slow smoldering "punk"
 
Here is the description from Wikipedia:

Typha leaves are alternate and mostly basal on a simple, jointless stem that bears the flowering spikes. The plants are monoecious, with unisexual flowers that develop in dense racemes. The numerous male flowers form a narrow spike at the top of the vertical stem. Each male (staminate) flower is reduced to a pair of stamens and hairs, and withers once the pollen is shed. Large numbers of tiny female flowers form a dense, sausage-shaped spike on the stem below the male spike. In larger species this can be up to 30 centimetres (12 in) long and 1 to 4 centimetres (0.39 to 1.57 in) thick. The seeds are minute, 0.2 millimetres (0.0079 in) long, and attached to fine hairs. When ripe, the heads disintegrate into a cottony fluff from which the seeds disperse by wind.


Additional info and resources

 


Cattail stock

Detail of cattail stock heart