The cattail is one of the most important and common wild foods. It is found throughout North America, generally in an around ditches, ponds, swamps, lakes, rivers and marshlands. It has a variety of uses at different times of the year.
Cattails are tall, stiff plants, growing about six feet tall. The leaves look like giant blades of grass, about one inch wide. The flower has two parts; a brown fuzzy cylinder (the female part), and a yellow spike (the male part).
The cattail has many uses. The roots, young shoots, seed heads, and pollen are all edible. The roots can be eaten all year long. They can be peeled and eaten raw or dried and made into flour for bread.
The new shoots can be eaten raw or cooked like asparagus. The centers of the older shoots can be eaten but are tougher.
In the spring to early summer, the spikes at the top of the cylinder shaped flower form yellow clusters of pollen. This can be gathered and used as flour for bread. In the spring before the pollen forms, the green heads can be gathered, boiled and eaten like corn on the cob.
The fuzz from the heads makes a good insulation. It can be sewn into clothes or between two blankets to provide warmth.
The leaves are strong and can be woven into baskets, ponchos and other shelters.
This is a plant you should learn to recognize and use. As with any wild plant be sure of its identity prior to use.