Cattail is wonderful as a fresh vegetable! To harvest, pull straight up and out of its sheath as you would a blade of grass to chew - only with more muscle! The white bit at the bottom is your prize. It tastes like a cross of cucumber/asparagus. Cut or snap it off where it starts getting woody.
I also grew up eating lots of wild foods, and will vouch for cattail being a wonderful choice, offering free sustenance in any season.
But, I do want to share a word of caution, too. As with most plants that grow in water, whatever's in the water is in the plant. You can often spot cattail patches growing in a low spot beside a highway ... but that particular cattail is almost certain to be full of pollutants you don't want to eat. Remember that no one inspects wild plants for safety but you, and think before you harvest. Find (or create) a place where the cattails grow in clean water, get permission from the land's owner before you harvest, and then enjoy!
Cattails flour makes wonderful pan cakes. I grind the cattail in too a fine flour .
Please pass this information on to anyone you know in famine relief. There are literally megatons of this plant going to waste in the famine zones of Africa. They are part of many troubles, and their harvest would help millions.
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