So, Did You Know …….(and I love these plants – every time I see them growing in a ditch, I am annoyed that I have no rubber boots or shovel)
Typha latifolia, also known as cattails, or punks or bulrush or reedmace, is a wetland or bog plant and has many uses including being edible. You can boil or eat raw the rootstock, the stem, the leaves (boil like spinach), and the flower (that’s the corn dog looking thing on the tall stem). The young flower can actually be broken off and eaten like corn on the cob. And, according to those people that go around, eating wild herbs, it tastes very much like corn.
Medicinally you can use cattail roots, split and bruised as a poultice on cuts, wounds, burns, stings, and bruises. The ash of the burned cattail leaves can be used as an antiseptic or styptic for wounds. Plus, you can chew the starchy heart of the cattail for snakebite. And what more could you want!
And then you can dry the stalks for use as hand drills or arrow shafts. The seed heads and dried leaves can be used for fire tinder. The seed head fluff can be used for pillow and bedding stuffing or as a down-like insulation in clothing. In fact, during WWII, before the age of man-made fillers, the US Navy used the cattail fluff for life jackets.
The leaves can be used for construction of shelters or for woven seats and backs of chairs, and you can make baskets, hats, mats, and beds. The dried seed heads attached to their stalks can be dipped into melted animal fat or oil and used as torches.
Among some cultures, cattail is known as a vampire deterrent (not as smelly as garlic; easier to get ahold of than holy water). And, its considered an inducement for lust – not going any further with that.
All in all, cattails, which grow all over North America, except for the really cold parts, are a good plant to know. So, tuck this one into the part of your brain for those “omigod, lost in the wilderness, need food, shelter, and warmth” times.