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Cat's Tails

Culinary uses

Typha or Cats Tail's Reeds have a wide variety of parts that are edible to humans. The rhizomes, underground lateral stems, are a pleasant nutritious and energy-rich food source that when processed into flour contains 266 kcal per 100 g. They are generally harvested from late autumn to early spring. These are starchy, but also fibrous, so the starch must be scraped or sucked from the tough fibres. The bases of the leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, in late spring when they are young and tender. In early summer the sheath can be removed from the developing green flower spike which can than be boiled and eaten like corn on the cob. In mid-summer, once the male flowers are mature, the pollen can be collected and used as a flour supplement or thickener. Typha has also recently been suggested as a source of oil. However, the plant's airborne seeds have also been known to create skin irritation and can trigger asthma.

Starch grains have been found on grinding stones widely across Europe from 30,000 BC suggesting that Typha plants were a widely used Upper Palaeolithic food.

Other uses

Typha with & without seeds. Seeds used for Futon before cotton.

The disintegrating heads are used by some birds to line their nests. The downy material was also used by some Native American tribes as tinder for starting fires.

Some Native American tribes also used Typha down to line moccasins, and for bedding, diapers, baby powder, and papoose boards. One Native American word for Typha meant "fruit for papoose's bed". Today some people still use Typha down to stuff clothing items and pillows. When using Typha for pillow stuffing, dense batting material is used, as the fluff may cause a skin reaction similar to urticaria.

Typha can be dipped in wax or fat and then lit as a candle, the stem serving as a wick. It can also be lit without the use of wax or fat, and it will smoulder slowly, somewhat like incense, and may repel insects.

The down has been used to fill life vests in the same manner as kapok.

Typha can be used as a source of starch to produce ethanol, instead of cereals. They have the advantage that they do not require much, if any, maintenance.

One informal experiment has indicated that Typha is able to remove the poisonous element arsenic from drinking water. Such a filtration system may be one way to provide cheap water filtration for people in developing nations.

The boiled rootstocks have been used as a diuretic for increasing urination, or used mashed to make a jelly-like paste for sores, boils, wounds, burns, scabs, and smallpox pustules.