Cattail (Typha latifolia)
Cattails (also known as Bulrush, Common Bulrush, Broadleaf Cattail, Common Cattail, Great Reedmace, Cooper’s reed,Cumbungi) are grass-like 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. They are very densely packed with stiff, strap-like, grayish-green leaves that are rounded on the back and flat on the top (“D” shaped). The plants are connected to each other underground by thick rootstocks called rhizomes. Leaves are typically straight at the bottom half but twisted and spiral in the top half. 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.
Where to Find: 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, peeled stems, and leaf bases are edible raw or cooked. The rhizome is often very tough but is a rich source of starch and edible after cooking and removing the skin. 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.
Note: It is not advisable to eat specimens derived from polluted water as the plant absorbs the pollutants. Do not eat them if they taste very bitter or spicy.
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