Cattails nature's multipurpose edible!
pišłp (leaves) sq̓ʷástqin (spike)
Cattails are probably one of the most noticeable and usable edible plants in North America. Not only are they plentiful, but they have many uses beyond just food. Many tribes in Montana had multiple uses for cattails including for tools, material goods, and medicines.
The fleshy rootstocks, spike, and pollen are the edible portions of the cattail all eaten at different times in the season.
Rootstocks: Now is the time! Spring is when the new shoots are tender and delicious. Many of the cattails will not have a spike (their flower) so you will have to identify by the young leaves. If there are more mature cattails with spikes in the area (above) then there are usually young shoots and leaves as well. Pull the shoots from the ground and peel the outer layers to reveal a soft tubular inner core (below) The core resembles hearts of palm which you might have seen in your grocery store. The tender shoots can be eaten raw. However, if harvested later on in the season (when the starch content is higher) you can boil, bake or dry the core and pound into flour.
Spike: Botanically the spike is the flower stock where many flowers are housed. This is the portion of the plant that is brown and thick and resembles a corndog. You can boil the spike and eat the outer flowers sort of like a corn on the cob.
Pollen: Later in the season, yellow pollen will cover the spike and it can be mixed with flour to use in baking. There are many webpages that talk more in depth about using cattail pollen for food!
Other Tribal Uses: The fluffy down that appears later in the season are the fruits of the cattail plant and were used in wrappings or diapers.
Cattail leaves are woven to make mats and is still a practice we have today.
Cattails range from 3-8ft in height with long linear leaves descending from underground rootstocks. Small brown flowers line the spike and form a spongy stem. They can be found in marshes, wetlands, swamps and along roadside ditches.