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Wastelander
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Foraging for wild edibles; Cattail / Typha

(See full blog post with pictures here)

Cattails are easily recognized by there brown cigar like shapes on the flower spike. They are one of the most useful plants out there as they can be used for food, building materials, insulation and tinder. Every part of the cattail has a use during different times of the year and because of its abundance doesn’t need to be cultivated. Cattails grow in just about any sort of wetlands, finding cattails is a sure sign of water.
The younger plants can be mistaken for several lookalikes and at least one of them is toxic, so make sure you can properly identify it. An easy way is if you can find the dead growth from the previous year. Also cattails have an oval base whereas others are flattish and cattails don’t have a strong smell and are fairly plain tasting, so if the plant you find is strong tasting or aromatic, you have the wrong plant.

While young, the green cob like flower head can be steamed or simmered for 10 to 15 minutes. It tastes somewhat like corn and even has a cob. It’s best with something on it like butter and salt.
The white inner portion at the base of the stalk is edible and tastes kind of like cucumber with a texture of carrot. Separate the leaves at the base of the plant, then grab the inner stalk and pull it out, remove the outer green portion and the white inner core is edible. You can break that portion off and it will naturally break off where it stops being edible and starts becoming too woody. The shoots contain beta carotene, riboflavin, niacin, potassium, phosphorus, thiamine and vitamins A, B, and C.
The fluffy flower head can be bent over into a bag or container and shaken to collect the pollen. Sift out any other debris and the pollen can be used for a flour, though it won’t rise, so you may just want to add it to existing flours. You can also eat the pollen raw or added into hot cereals or soups.
The new shoots off the main roots are also edible, they look like a bears tooth or pointed hook 2-4 inches long.
Cattails are also one of the best sources for starch. In fact no other green plant produces more per acre. You can even harvest the starch during winter while the main plant is dead, though it would require you being in the water during the coldest time of the year.
To collect the starch pull up the root system of the cattail, it will come up in giant section. Once you gathered your roots give them a quick wash in the water and then peel them. You’ll want to peel them while they are wet because it’s much harder after they dry and then dry them for 3 to 5 days. Once the roots have dried chop them into small 2 to 3 inch pieces. Add your pieces to a contain of clean water and smash them up, then let sit for a few minutes before gathering the fibers out. The water can then be carefully pour off and the remaining powder once dried is your cattail starch and can be used as a flour or added to other flours that lack starch.

The roots can be boiled for 20 minutes and then you can chew the starch out of them (don’t eat the fibers it’ll give you a stomach ache or you can just throw the root onto the fire until the outside is black then peel it open and eat the starch off the fibrous strands. This method is particularly handy when traveling with minimal gear and nothing to cook with.
At the end of the season the dried cattails can be used as a slow burning torch the repels insects or the fluff can be can be taken from the from the flower heads. They make great insulation and tinder. It can even be charred in your charbox for a charred material. If you use the fluff for insulation don’t use it directly against skin as some people skin is irritated by it.

If you find a cattail stalk with a dead leaf, check the base for a grub that is edible or makes a great bait for fishing.
The leaves of cattails are great for building, the are strong when woven and make excellent baskets, seating and backing for furniture or used as thatching for shelter.
 
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