Cattails were important to Indians in Nevada, most especially the Paiute. Cattails exist in several species. However, the most common species in Nevada seems to be the Typha latifolia, also known as the broadleaf cattail.

Cattails were widely used by Nevada Indians in the form of foods, medicines, and cultural materials. Some of the items made from cattail leaves included thatch for roofing material, and weaving material for mats. The stems were used for weaving items such as baskets, bedding, boats, mats, rope, paper and sandals. The fluff from the cattails flower could be used to insulate footwear in the winter or to pad a baby’s cradleboard.

Cattails provided several options as a food source. For instance, the plant pollen can be eaten raw, and the roots can be ground into flour or eaten as cooked vegetables. The flour was used to make sweet cakes or bread. The young shoots and stems are also able to be eaten cooked, roasted or raw and are considered delicacies. However, after the brown "cattail" flower matures, the plant becomes tough and inedible. There is a sticky sap-like substance at the base of the leaves, which is an excellent starch and can be used to thicken soups and broths.

Medicinal treatments were made from various parts of the plant. The pollen of the cattail is astringent and can be made into a poultice to be used on cuts to control bleeding, or on blisters and stings. The starch from the leaves is an antiseptic and the root flour and young flower heads could be eaten to treat diarrhea and dysentery.

Most often found in elevations below 5000 feet, the cattail thrives in swamp or marshy environments, found at the edges of lakes, ponds and streams. Cattails are also used by area animals and waterfowl for food and shelter.

Cattails are a perennial plant that grows between 1 and 3 meters tall. The plant itself has long, green, grassy leaves and the flower is what the plant has come to be known for. The large, brown, cylindrical “flower” on the top of its long stem has a fuzzy appearance, and is easily identifiable as the “cattail.”

The earliest documentation recording a cattail as native to North America is in 1836, but by 1888, the cattail was widely known throughout the country. In recent years, it has been proposed as a biomass crop for renewable energy.

Article Locations

Related Articles

Further Reading

None at this time.