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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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The dry stalks are tough enough to use as arrow shafts and hand drills.
- The leaves can be woven into chair backs, matting, baskets, shelters, whatever you need a woven tough fabric to do for you.
- The dried seed heads on their stalks can be dipped into animal fat and burned like torches.
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.