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Monday, July 16, 2012

Cattail: A Survival Plant




          When surviving out in the wild the smallest things can make the difference between life and death, such as knowing the right plants and how to use them.  Whether your just a regular hiker or camper, a naturalist, or learning skills for survival, catnip is a plant to know.  This is because not only is it edible but it has plenty of other uses as well. 




      Scientifically it is known as the Typha latifolia, but most will know this plant as the cattail. Cattails are found almost everywhere in the world. They grow in full sun along the banks of lakes, streams, canals, rivers and brackish water. Cattails are important for those going out into the wilderness because you can eat some part of it at pretty much anytime in the year and you can use it for many other purposes as well.

Cattail shoots.

      One of the most imporant aspects of the cattail is that it is edible, and can be found and eaten in pretty much every season of the year. Also there isn't any other plant out there that looks like a cattail that would be poisonous. This makes the cattail a fairly safe plant to eat if your trying to survive in the wilderness. In spring new, tender shoots will pop up from the mud, and can easily be cut. Once rinsed off these tips can be eaten raw or cooked.

      In the summer cattail is edible in quite a few different ways. The first part that it is edible is the stems of the cattail. Several inches of the lower stalk will be white and ready to eat. YOu simply pull slowly and the cattail will likely come loose at the base. Just like the spring shoots these can also be eaten raw or cooked. When raw the catnip tends to taste like cucumber and when cooked the taste is more like corn.
Cattail with pollen

      In summer the cattail will also develop flower heads. The green flower head can be cooked and eaten like corn on the cob. Meanwhile by mid-summer the flowers will have matured and there will be a yellow pollen following from the flower heads. This can be shaken into a container of some kind and used with flour to make bread or for thickening soups.

      In the fall to locate cattails you should look for the old stalks and you can dig up the cattail roots. These can be cleaned and then mashed and put to sit in water. After a few hours you pour off the water which leaves a gooey starch in your container. Just like the pollen this can be used to make a bread or for soups. These roots can also be found in the winter if the ground hasn't frozen and you can get to them.

       Even though cattails are edible, they also have many other uses as well. The most obvious of these is likely the cattail fluff. This fluff is very similar to cotton and works perfectly as extra insulation if it gets cold out, and can also be used for tinder to start fires. Even if it rains, you should look for tight catnip heads because they are often dry inside even after a rain.

      The second obvious use of cattail is the use of it's leaves for weaving and making cordage. Catnip leaves can easily be used to weave simple mats or even baskets. The leaves can also be torn into small strips that can easily be used to create cordage.

      A third use that cattail can serve is as a source of material for a fire. Cattail will burn well, especially dried cattail. Even better, dried cattail, when it is burned, will also act as an effect insect repellent.

      Cattail is a very useful plant in the wild. It is edible, and can also be used for cordage, and fire as well. It is easy to identify and widely found. Because of these reasons this plant is perhaps the best plant to be able to identify when going out in the wilderness because of all the plants out there, it is perhaps one of the most useful plants a person could use.

      For those of you who are interested in how to make cordage using cattail stay tuned here at the Paracord Project. There will be an upcoming post on how to do exactly that.

~Sara

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