You won’t starve in the wilderness if you can find cattails. Every part of the plant is edible. But don’t mistake a toxic look-alike, the poison iris, for the edible plant. Here is how to tell the difference.
by Leon Pantenburg
Cattails have long been called the “survival supermarket,” because all parts are edible. If you look around, chances are you’ll find patches
of cattails in just about any swampy area. Paradoxically, the cattail may be one of the most prolific plants in desert areas. All cattails require is a constant source of moisture.
But there is a dangerous look-alike, called the Iris, which sometimes grows in the same swampy areas. Know the difference before you eat anything.
A rule of thumb is to look for the distinctive cigar-shaped head. The iris don’t have those. If you see a patch of what appears to be cattails, but there are no cigar heads, the plants may be irises.
The iris is a common flowering plant that grows from rhizomes or bulbs, according to rightdiagnosis.com. The rhizomes or bulbs contain a toxic chemical called irisin which can cause various symptoms if ingested.
Irises are considered to have low toxicity and skin irritation upon skin exposure is usually mild. Here are the symptoms of iris poisoning:
- Abdominal pain
- Burning sensation in mouth
- Burning sensation in throat
- Burning skin sensation – skin contact
If you’re lost overnight, chances are you won’t need to forage for food. But if you get to the point where you need to get some sort of sustenance, look for the cattail head. Don’t ingest any plant unless you are positive it is safe.