Bushcraft expert Ray Mears harvests and prepares cattail for food in two different ways.
In spite of Mears’ proper admonition that cattails are called “greater reedmace,” I know not a single person who does not refer to them as cattails. But Mears is also quite correct in identifying cattails as a good source of starchy food.
The great naturalist and wild food icon Euell Gibbons also referred to the reeds as nature’s “supermarket of the swamp.”
Mears shows what to look for and how to harvest the underwater rhizomes. He and a friend then partner to process the cattails tubers into a starchy paste, which can then be dried, stored and used in a number of ways.
Additionally, he prepares the plants for immediate consumption by roasting directly over the fire and then extracting the starch by the mouthful. Mears likens the flavor to a cross between roasted potato and water chestnuts.
The beauty of cattails as a survival food, or as a wild edible, is that the edible aspects of the plant can often be harvested year-round.
Also, cattail offers other uses in addition to its edibility, which Mears touches on here, that make it a multi-purpose plant. Gibbons’ “supermarket” description may be a bit of hyperbole, but not by much.