Cattails – flat, upright, smooth leaves arising from wetlands or moist soil, brown “spike” on top


Cattail Reeds {Typhus sp.}

Location Summary:

Habitat:  Cattails are water plants, often standing as the predominant cover in shallow waters and at the edges of lakes, sloughs, and slow-moving streams across North America.

Location:  Every U.S. state in United States & Western Canada, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines

Native:  North & South America, Europe, Eurasia, & Africa

Invasive: Australia & Hawaii

Identification Characteristics:

Description: Characterized by its tall stature (up to 9 feet tall), long narrow leaves, & slender spikelike flower clusters that generally bloom between May & July.

Cattail Reeds:

Cattail Spike – edible in spring:

Richard Lonewolf with Cattail Rhizomes (roots) – can be pounded into flour:

Cattail Down – 96% the efficiency of Goose Down:


     Although the flowering plants are easy to identify, the young shoots closely resemble several unrelated plant species, including toxic members of the Orchid and Lily families.  The forager should carefully monitor a specific stand of plants throughout the growth cycle before gathering young shoots the following year.

     Cattails are commonly found growing in marshy water, which can be polluted.  Choose plants from areas that are relatively clean. To assure purity, sterilize the plant through baking, or if using raw, soak in water with iodine disinfectant (Aqua-pure) or grape-seed extract.

Historical Edible, Medicinal, & Utility Uses:

Edible: The young shoots can be pulled off the rootstalk and peeled in early spring for use as a delicious steamed or stir-fried vegetable. The flavor resembles bamboo shoots. The young flower heads are excellent when prepared and consumed like corn on the cob, or the pollen can be scraped off , dried, and used as an all-purpose flour.  The roots can be peeled and boiled, or dried and made into a flour, although the “pollen flour” is generally favored among wild food connoisseurs. Age and habitat are the primary determining factors in the palatability of this plant. Most people know the flower spikes as smooth, rust-colored “cobs,” but the plant is actually past its culinary prime at this stage. The young, green, pollinating flower heads make the best eating. Plants from stagnant or salty water will often taste like a dirty aquarium, & cattails should be avoided altogether if water pollution is suspected.


Burns or Skin Irritations  Boiling and crushing the roots for use as a poultice.

Diarrhea &/or Digestive Disorders – The flower heads are slightly astringent & can be used as relief.

Utility:  Floor mats & roofing thatch can be made from the leaves, which, with the leaf-sheaths, can also be used as caulking materials in canoes and houses.

Richard Lonewolf on Cattail Uses:

     Video contains additional information on Chufa Nutgrass, & Bulrush:

     Richard Lonewolf on Cattail Uses, from The Forgotten Abundance of America’s Wildlands:

Positive-Impact Harvesting Techniques:

    Cattails generally grow rampantly & very close together.  The rhizomes (root) can be harvested rather simply when there is plenty of moisture in the ground, & if cattail stands are not thinned out through harvesting, they then to dry up the soil, making harvesting difficult.  To harvest is generally to help these plants, but don’t generally harvest too many that are adjacent to one another so as to thin the patches rather than overharvesting.  As always, utilize everything you harvest & don’t be wasteful.

Cattails {Typha sp.} Plant Profile on


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All data used for First Amendment purposes in accordance with the Preamble & Fair Use.

Database Entry: Melanie Dixon & Distance Everheart 5-7-13, 5-18-13, 9-8-17


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