Description: Cattails are grasslike plants with strap-shaped leaves 1 to 5 centimeters (1/4 to 2 inches) wide and growing up to 1.8 meters (6 feet) tall. The male flowers are borne in a dense mass above the female flowers. The male flowers last only a short time, leaving the female flowers, which 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.
All text and images from the U.S. Army Field Manual 3-05.70: Survival.
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