Cattail – Wild Edibles Series

The "Super Market" of wild edibles.

Cattail – Wild Edibles Series

In a survival situation, if you come across the Cattail plant, chances are you have the four basic necessities needed to survive readily available near you: Food, shelter, water and a source of fuel for heat!
If you find yourself roughing it in the wilderness in early summer, and happen upon the Cat O’ Nine tail plant, you can harvest it for a multitude of items. Often referred to as “the supermarket of the plant world” the cattail plant has a great many uses! This article breaks down the survival usage of this plant.

Surviving At a Glance:

Cattail Head (Green)

Edible food source. (roasted over open fire)

  • Cattail Head (Brown)
    • Tinder
    • Torch
    • Insulation
    • Leaves & Stalk
  • Stalk: Food Source (Peel & eat, or boil)
    • Survival arrow shaft
    • Shelter supports
    • Weaving supplies for shelter roof / baskets
  • Roots
    • Food Source (Peel & eat, or boil)
    • Antiseptic properties
    • Flour for survival hardtack / bread

Food Source

In early summer, the stems can be harvested to eat. By this time of the year, the stems should be nice and tender. You can peel the stems and eat them raw, or can boil them at eat them. Do not just cut the stem at the base, for if you do, you will be missing out on the roots of the plant, which are also edible. Run your hand down the stem, to the base. Gentle dig your fingers into the watery marsh, until you find the roots. Gently massage the roots, until the loosen, then slowly tub on the base of the stem until the entire plant, roots and all, emerges from the ground.

To prepare the roots, wash them thoroughly and use your survival knife to peel the outer layer off.  They can be consumed raw, or boiled as well. The Top of the plant in early summer, should be nice and green, and almost resemble something like an ear of corn. You can harvest this, and roast over an open fire to eat. Later in the season, the tops become brown, and dry, which can then be harvested as a fuel source or tinder, which we will cover later.

If you decide not to eat the roots, you can still harvest them to make a flour, which can be turned into a bread or hardtack. Simple harvest as many roots as you can, peel them like you would a potato, to expose the starchy centers. Add the roots to a big bowl of clean water, and begin breaking them apart in the water. As you do this. the water will become a murky white. Continue to break the roots apart as much as you can. Once you have broken them all down, let the bowl sit until the starch settles to the bottom, and the water floats to the top. At this point you can drain the water off, and you are left with a white, starchy paste. Remove the paste and sit it on a flat rock next to a fire to dry out. Once dried, it can be ground up into a flour, which can be used for hardtack or survival bread.

Shelter Material and Cordage

The long green leaves of the Cattail plant are perfect for weaving. You can weave large patches together to create a shelter roof, or even woven into long sections to create an impromptu sleeping bag. You can fill the two long pieces with soft pine boughs for additional cushion and warmth. You can take a few of the long leaves, and peel them into even thinner sections. Once you have enough small peels, you can braid them together to make cordage to secure your shelter together, or if you make them thin enough, you can use as a fishing line.

Medicinal Use

The roots of the Cattail plant can be split and mashed to make a slurry, or poultice which can then be wrapped around bruises, or other injured areas of your body. If you examine the lower stems of the plant, you may notice an amber sap, which is said to have medicinal, antiseptic properties. It can be used to treat small cuts and wounds.

Fire Starter & Torch

After the head of the cattail has turned brown, it is no longer edible, however that doesn’t mean it is not useful! quite the contrary. Harvest the brown tops, and gently tear them open. You will notice a white “fluff” inside, which makes an excellent tinder, and can easily take a spark. If you need a light source, and not tinder, cut a stalk of the cattail, with a brown head, about half a foot or so in length. You can make an field torch, by lighting the brown top on fire. To ensure that the top burns longer, you can roll it in some pine resin prior to lighting it. This will hold the burn longer, and ensure a good light every time!