In the Southwest There are two varieties of cattail, narrow leaf (Typha angustifolia) and common or broad leaf (Typha latifolia). Narrow leaf grows at an elevation of 1,000 to 5,500 feet, the common grows from 3,500 to 7,500 feet. These are perennial herbs that grow abundantly in wetlands. The biggest difference between the two species are the leaves. The common cattail has broader strap like leaves that grow to 9 feet long and up to 2 inches in width. The narrow leaf has strap like leaves that grow to 6 feet long and a ½ inch wide.
These plant can be mistaken for other poisonous plants in early season. You will usually see the remnants of last years fluff and spike amongst the new growth. This will be a sure sign that you have the right plant.
This is one of the most important plants to know in a survival situation. The cattail has so many uses it is no wonder the Native Americans held it at such high regard. The shoots provide a vegetable that is extremely nutritious. Just peel away the outer leaves till you reach the inner white heart. This can be eaten raw or added to soups and stews. You will notice a clear jelly like material inside the plant. This will thicken the stew the same manner as okra. The young pollen head produces pollen that can be collected and added to foods or flour to make bread or pancakes. The young spike can be picked while green and eaten as corn on the cob. The roots of the cattail are edible cooked. Peel the roots and eat them like spaghetti. A flour can be made by drying and pounding the roots. The roots are then soaked in water and the carbohydrates are leeched out. The flour will then dry and can be used for cooking.
There are also several other uses for the cattail. The leaves can be made into a cord or rope. The resulting cord is not as strong as agave or yucca cord but will work well for many needs as long as these needs are not for heavy or hard demanding tasks. The leaves can also be used in shelter construction and waving mats and baskets. The dried stems from the pollen spikes make great arrows for hunting. You remember that jelly like substance I mentioned earlier? That jelly makes a great salve burns, scrapes, cuts, and boils.