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Foraging for Cattails

Teresa is from the Southern state of Alabama. Raising a large family on a small budget, she's learned to cook delicious food efficiently.

This article will break down all the basics you need to know to forage and prepare wild cattails.

This article will break down all the basics you need to know to forage and prepare wild cattails.

What Is Foraging?

Foraging is a way to reconnect with nature by searching for wild food resources like medicinal herbs and edible plants. By foraging for foods and medicines, we utilize our renewable resources, learn deeper respect for nature, and lessen the impact on our financial resources.

In this article, I will be sharing information on how to correctly identify and forage for cattails, as well as how to properly prepare and cook them.

Patch of Cattails

Patch of Cattails

The Highly Versatile Cattail

Cattails are also known as punks in North America, as well as bull rush and reedmace in England.

The plants are very versatile. The rushes or leaves are used to weave and make roofing and furniture. The down can be used to line diapers, pillows, and vests. In fact, the down was used in WWII to fill the pilots' vests and kept their buoyant properties, even when immersed 100 times or more.

Leaves of the Cattails

Leaves of the Cattails

Identifying the Plant

The leaves of the cattail are flat, on long rushes. The head of the cattail resembles a corn dog. When the head ripens, the interior is filled with a cotton-like fiber that contains the seeds. The fluff around the seeds is very useful to make poultices and absorb moisture.

Flowers of the Cattail

Flowers of the Cattail

How to Harvest Cattails

All parts of the plant are useful, so they can be harvested from the root upwards. Just make sure you are gathering the plants from a non-polluted site. After all, these are being gathered for food.

If you are gathering the young shoots in the spring, you will need to be able to identify the cattail shoots from other water plants that share the waterline. Some wild irises look very similar to cattails. Irises are very poisonous if eaten, however, so be sure to do your research and stay safe.

Stalks of the Cattail

Stalks of the Cattail

Gathering and Preparing the Shoots

Grab ahold of the part of the plant that is close to the ground. Wiggle it in circles and back and forth to loosen it. Then gently pull on the plant. If it doesn't come up easily, then try digging the dirt away from the plant a little and try to pull it up again.

  1. Once the shoots are up, shake and wash off as much of the dirt as you can on the location.
  2. Cut the roots and replant them in the area you pulled them from.
  3. Then remove the outer leaves until you get to the white core.
  4. Wash the shoots well to remove any remaining dirt and sand.
Dirty Roots

Dirty Roots

Cattail Soup Recipe

Cattail shoots can be used as an edible green. It has a spicy flavor even though the texture is somewhat tough.


  • 1 cup cattail shoots, chopped
  • 1/2 cup onions, chopped
  • 2 large potatoes, chopped
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. In a large stockpot, add cattail, salt, and pepper. Cover with water.
  2. Bring this to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer.
  3. Simmer for 30 minutes. Make sure the cattails remain covered with water.
  4. Add onions, potatoes, and more water (covering 2 inches from all vegetables).
  5. Bring this to a boil.
  6. Then turn the heat down to low and cook for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  7. Serve hot with fry bread.
Cup of Cattail Soup

Cup of Cattail Soup

How Other Parts of the Plant Can Be Prepared

The rhizomes (stems growing underground) can be processed into flour. The heads can be steamed and taste like corn. The heart can be peeled and eaten like an artichoke, boiled or raw.

In Europe, they are a delicacy served in the spring and called a "Cossack artichoke." The leaves can be eaten raw, boiled, steamed, or cooked like spinach.

Medicinal Properties

In addition to being a high-protein food, cattails can be used to speed wound healing, prevent infections as an antiseptic, slow bleeding when applied as a poultice, and relieve pain.

The gel-like substance between the young leaves is an antiseptic used to treat wounds and bruising.

The boiled roots can remove arsenic from drinking water. They can also be smashed and used in a poultice to soothe the skin and decrease inflammation.

Chopped Cattails

Chopped Cattails

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.