Cattails can be a good food source if one knows where to look and what to do. Cattails grow in marshy and swampy areas all over North America and are easy to identify. As with all wild food gathering, plants growing in areas of high pollution should not be used for food.
The tubers or roots of the Cattail plant may be gathered and used like potatoes or the starch can be processed from the roots to make a flour that is used in cooking. The best time of the year to gather the roots is in the early spring, as the tubers become tough and stringy later in the year.
The leaves or fronds of the Cattail plant can be gathered as well and eaten raw, like celery, or cooked as a green vegetable. The greens should be gathered before the plant reaches two feet tall, as the leaves tend to become tough after that.
The flower spikes, or the distinctive part of the plant that gives it it's name can be gathered and used as food in several ways. The buds can be gathered in early spring and cooked and eaten like corn on the cob. The seeds from the lower half of the flower can be collected and made into flour. The pollen from the Cattail plant, which is found in the top part of the flower, can be gathered in the spring and eaten raw, used as a thickener in soups, or cooked as a hot cereal. The pollen is very high in protein.
When gathering wild plants to be used as food, one should always attempt to leave enough of the plant growing so as to ensure the viability of the plant. Never take an entire plant, and always try to leave the remainder as little damaged as possible.