Cattails are one of the most versatile and wide spread wild edible plants that there are. They grow in desert water holes, mountain ponds, roadside ditches, northern swamps. The two main species that grow in America are Typha latifolia and T. agustifolia. I have scanned the less common T. agustifolia because I can get reasonable amounts of it on my scanner. The T. latifolia is much larger (3 to 5 meters tall [10 to 15 feet]) I understand that a species even grows in Australia. Let us explore some of the parts of this incredible plant.
At the very top is the stamenate or pollen part of the cattail. It is good eating. Further down there is a distinct break and the undeveloped seed or fluff part. The lower part is good before it turns any brown. After any part of it turns brown it is tough and fibrous. You can cook both parts as you would cook corn on the cob. Some say it tastes like the cob. When they are at this stage, some people call them kittens tails.
To collect some pollen, cover the cattail with a large plastic bag and beating the pollen out of the stamenate. After beating the pollen out, you can cut the cattail because the lower part is good for cooking yet. Often they break while beating them.
You can make a better harvester with a 3 liter pop bottel by making
a 1.5 - 2 inch hole just below the curved part of the bottle on the cap
end of the bottle. Put the cap on and insert the pollen laden cattail
flower head through the hole you made. Tap the cattail stem to release
the pollen into the pop bottle. More pollen will be ready to harvest in
a day or two. 2 liter pop bottles work too, but the pollen tends to get
stuck in the neck of the bottle when emptying it.
A little of the pollen can be added to other flour to make bright yellow bread or pancakes. This pollen is high in protein like most pollens.
The shoots of the cattail. can be yanked and eaten raw or cooked. If you eat them raw, I recommend that you sterilize them with Clorox, Potassium permanganate (KMnO4),or other pathogen killer.
Look at the cross section of a root. See the starch laden central core to the root. The outside layer is entirely fiber. To get the starch from the fibrous core; first by peeling off the outside layer and cutting away bruised parts where mud and sand have gotten into the root. Then tease the fibers apart so they release the starch by pounding them in a mortar or by crushing and teasing them in a bowl of water The water becomes ropy and slippery. Let the starch settle out and pour off the water and dry the starch and you have nutritious flower. When living off the land I have just cooked the root cores and chewed the starch out of them.