How To Use The Common Cattail For Survival

By on January 17, 2013
cat tails

It doesn’t matter if you are caught in the wild or even in the city; there is one plant that, if you can find it, will provide you with an entire pantry’s worth of supplies.

Archeologists have found samples of this plant on ancient grinding stones dating back nearly 30,000 years.  Can you guess what it is?

It is the simple cattail.

So many people walk right past a stand of cattails, never even giving them a thought but with a little know-how it can easily save your life.

The “fluff” from the mature brown cattail heads can be used for:

  • Tinder
  • Insulation for both clothing and mattresses, so if you’re caught outside in the winter, you can add cattail fluff for added insulation.
  • Absorbent padding, such as in diapers or menstrual pads.
  • In the spring the new tender shoots off the main root can be peeled and eaten.  The tender base of the stalks is also edible. It tastes like the tender white base of a spear of grass.
  • When the shoots reach about two or three feet above the water, these also can be peeled and eaten.

 

They may be misidentified with a poisonous look-alike in the spring when new growth appears.  If they are right next to last year’s easily identifiable stalks, they are probably the right ones but if you are unsure at all there are two quick techniques that can be used to positively identify a plant as a cattail:

(1) the stalks are oval at the base, not flat, and (2) they do not have an aromatic scent.

Summer or winter, the root is a prime source of starch.

When dried, the starch can be used as flour. It also contains gluten and can be used to make primitive bread.

  • You can wash off the dirt then roast it for an immediate source of food.  Roast it until the outside is black and chew the inside for the starch.  Do not eat the fibers.  Your body will not be able to digest them.
  • You can peel the freshly harvested and washed root, then dry it, and pound out the starch, separating the starch from the fibers.  Again, the fibers cannot be digested.
  • Another way to get to the starch is to take the washed and peeled root and break it apart in fresh, clean water.  The fiber begins to pull away from the starch.
  • Once the fibers are out and all you have left is water on top and slurry on the bottom of your bowl, pour off the water and dry your slurry in the sun or near your fire.

The benefits of cattails do not stop with food.  They have a myriad of other uses.

  1. There is a grub that lives in cattail stalks.  When you find one, use it for fish bait.  Fish love them.  I suppose people can eat them too, although I never have.
  2. Later in the summer, the green female bloom spikes and the male pollen spikes can both be eaten.  Just boil and eat like corn on the cob.  The pollen can be harvested and added to your flour as well.  Just shake it off into a container.
  3. The dry stalks are tough enough to use as arrow shafts and hand drills.
  4. The leaves can be woven into chair backs, matting, baskets, shelters, whatever you need a woven tough fabric to do for you.
  5. The dried seed heads on their stalks can be dipped into animal fat and burned like torches.

Check out this infographic from my friends over at prepforshtf.com for even more uses of the common cattail:

Cattail Survival Uses

Also, be sure to check out their article on cattails by clicking here.

You can find cattails all over the United States, so if you’re ever caught outside, for whatever reason, once you find a marsh or pond with cattails, you have just about all you need to survive.

You can consider them the Survival Superstore.

Have any other suggestions?

Leave a comment below!

About Patricia Scholes

When her husband became disabled, Patricia Renard Scholes realized she had no marketable skills. She had always loved working at home, becoming an excellent baker, seamstress, gardener, creative needle craft arts, plus various "survival" skills such as candle making. But none of those things brought in much income. And then the economy crashed. Jobs became scarce, a real income even scarcer. . But Scholes was a survivor. She realized that there were now two generations who had not learned the skills she had learned when her children were young. She wrote and published, "Surviving Hard Times - A Living book" She now writes full time. She has three books all available through Amazon.com, and four more planned. All those years of writing part time have now found an outlet. Readers, enjoy!

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17 Comments

  1. Chuck C

    One of the major concerns in survival is disease from human waste. Transplant catails near where your make shift septic tank, leach field, or run off are. The catails will absorb the waste and turn it into oxygen.

  2. Dick

    I have pulled the roots in the rearly Spring and after washing cut them into a salad, ” Cossack Padishes”

  3. Art

    When we were kids we use to get them when they dry. Catch the end on fire . It will burn as an ember.But it sure kept the mosquitoes away from us when we were camping.

  4. Mac

    Avoid cat tails near railroad tracks, highways, industrial plants, as they are often sprayed with chemicals that may be toxic. You can use them for the other things , just don’t eat them. Happy harvesting!

  5. charles

    one can also eat the root of “skunk cabbage”, another marsh/swamp plant. the root bulb can be boiled kind of like fennel. never had it but it is said it does not taske like the leaves which do smell like skunk.

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  7. Nonie

    Thanks for this great article. Very useful. I was not aware of most of this info as well as other info posted on the comments.

    I thought that cattails were protected?
    I have heard that there are fines for picking cattails which usually grow in wetland/protected areas. Am I wrong?

    If it came to survival or in an emergency situation I would have not problem with using them anyway.

    • PUNISHER

      YOUR RIGHT. IN CALIFORNIA , IT’S ILLEGAL TO EVEN TOUCH THEM. THE ONES THAT GROW IN THE HILL AREAS OF SO. CAL ARE THE BAD ONES YOU HAVE TO GO NORHT ABOUT 2.5 HOURS WHERE THERES A FEW LAKES THAT HAVE THE NON POISONOUS ONES. TO BAD YOU CAN’T USE THEM AS A WASH BRUSH LIKE DAFFY DUCK DOES.LOL!WHEN I WAS YOUNG , WE WENT QUIAL HUNTING IN THE ORANGE GROVES IN FILMORE. THEY HAD A BIG STREAM FULL OF DUCKS AND CATTAILS. NEVER HAVE TASTED ONE, BUT THE STOCKS ARE GOOD TO CHEW ON, LIKE A TALL WEED. I HAD A MARLIN 22LR WITH A 10 ROUND MAG. WE USE TO SEE HOW MANY SHOTS IT WOULD TAKE TO SHOOT ONE OFF THE STALK. THAT WAS IN THE 60′S.THESES DAYS , NO ONE ALLOWS ANYONE TO HUNT ON THERE LAND, UNLESS THERE A SPORTING CLUB. WHERE THEY PLANT THE GAME FOR YOU AND THEN YOUR GUIDE TAKES YOU WITH HIS DOG TO FLUSH THEM OUT. SICK!THAT’S PUSSY RICH PEOPLES HUNTING.SO IF YOU WANT TO HUNT IN THE WILDERNESS, YOU HAVE DRIVE FOR HOURS INTO THE MOJAVE DESERT.

      • Michele Bernier

        Here in Va. I don’t allow anyone to hunt my property, due to hunters killing babies and pregnant Does, then, never fail, I give One Person permission to hunt, they show up with a truck load of guys, a cooler of Beer, and a tree stand. Now News… Deer that are sick, due to ‘Deer Aids’ which ‘they’ are calling Chronic Wasting Syndrome, will have a White Spot, or, White Spots on the Liver. So Guys ‘n Gals, when you field dress – check that Liver.

  8. Allen

    I just wanted to add that they grow in places other than North America too.

  9. Wayne

    More info on the toxic version of cattails. A little off topic… there’s a nearby stream that has a lot of feral bamboo stands. Is that useful for anything?

    • Chuck

      Is it bamboo or arundo? Arundo is an invasive species that has grown very vigorously in certain areas of California where it was planted for its usefulness but it didn’t develop the commercial uses that were envisioned and now it is an invasive pest.

      • EcoStyx

        Are these different than rivercane? I know that rivercane is pretty common in the states. Just like bamboo( not sure if it actually is a species of bamboo) in looks and how it grows in divided sections. These sections are useful to make water canteens and rain catchers also do great in means of cooking on a fire( boiling wild game,or Flora for vitamin rich teas) you could even use this plant to make traps of sorts, shelters, raised beds etc. Let your imagination do the work for you.

  10. David Fisher

    Great information. Thanks. :)

  11. Chuck

    Arundo is reputed to be related to rattan. If it actually is, then it has useful purposes such as making huts, furniture and makes a very handy walking stick. For a while Cold Steel was selling rattan poles for hiking poles and walking sticks. They are now selling polypropylene in place of the rattan. In India, rattan has been used by the police as clubs for crowd control. The British used it for beating criminals “forty strokes with cane”. I haven’t personally examined arundo to see if it is as close to rattan as it is reputed to be.

    Rattan has a solid core. It actually isn’t solid, but appears to be to the naked eye. It actually is a bundle of fibers which is what makes it light for size and exceptionally strong for size.

    Bamboo has so many uses it would take a book to list them all. Bamboo, of course, is hollow yet light and strong. In the Orient it used to be used for everything. Lashed together, it was used as scaffolding for building construction. Veterans of our Viet Nam exercise have fond memories of pungee sticks (or punji sticks) that the NVA used quite effectively when they didn’t have explosives. Water pipe is a good use. Blow gun; uses are limited only by your imagination.

  12. cda

    i have used all parts of the catail plant i live in south mississippi it grows every where the fluff is so easy to start a fire with i no longer use matches just make sure you fluff it out and strike a spark it lights fast and burns fast put your other tinder on it before you spark it we also have lots of saw palmedow growing so i use it for shelters

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