Shoots, stalks, pollen, immature flower spikes, roots
Habitat: Widespread throughout, swampy or wet areas
Description: erect sword-like leaves; sausage like flower heads; grows green then turns brown; stiff un-branched stems; male flowers are golden when full of pollen and then wither away later; male flowers on top and female seed head on bottom; usually growing in thick stands;
Harvest: Flowers May-July; Harvest all year round
Dangers: Young shoots look similar to calamus, daffodil, and iris, all are poisonous.
Preparation: Supermarket of the wilderness, top 3 most useful; shoots can be peeled and bottom portion eaten raw; clip immature green flower head and cook; male flower produces great amounts of pollen in summer, bend head over and shake into bag to collect, dry out pollen and use as flour extender, soup thickener; root stock can be peeled, crushed in water, allow starch to settle, drain water off and dry starchy content, repeat if necessary; rootstock cooked like potatoes, but usually very fibrous; flour can be added to pemmican; lateral rhizomes can be dug up late summer to early fall and cooked like a vegetable or eaten raw 1” thick by 3-14” long.
Medicinal: mucilaginous gel at base of leaves can be applied to wounds, boils, external inflammations, and tooth aches to sooth pain; astringent; young flower heads eaten for diarrhea.
Other Uses: Cattail heads soaked in tallow (rendered fat) or pitch make excellent torches, burning torches makes good smudge fire to get rid of insects; cattail down makes great insulation; down makes great tinder; cloth and blankets can be sewn together to make sleeping bags filled with cattail down; leaves can be woven for mats, blankets, roofs, doors for shelter, etc; hardened stalk for toothbrush; used to make rafts.