cattail fire
The smoke from a smoldering cattail seed head makes passable insect repellent. Tim MacWelch

The common cattail (Typha latifolia) is a tall marsh plant often growing in dense stands in wetland areas and drainages. Various species of cattail (Typha spp.) are found worldwide, and they all have grass-like erect leaves and stiff stems, which are topped with a sausage-like brown head of seeds. There are many edible and useful parts of these plants, but today we are going to take a look at the uses for the seed head fluff.

1. Tinder
Once torn from the seed head, the cattail fluff expands into a soft and fibrous material – perfect for catching sparks from a ferrocerium rod (or your bow drill kit). Just make sure you blend some other fibers with it. Cattail fluff can burn up very quickly, sometimes too quickly!

2. Char cloth
Char cloth is a burned tinder product that is ideal for fire starting with old fashioned flint and steel sets, or when using the sun’s rays to start a fire with a magnifying glass. To make this handy material, just pack a metal box with cattail fluff. Peirce the box with a nail to make a small hole. Then place the box into a campfire for 5 minutes. Use a stick to move the box out of the fire when the time is up, let it cool, and now you have premium char!

3. Lamp wicks
The Paleoindians were the first people to roam America, and they had many ingenious ways to survive in the harshest version of the New World. One way that they lit their caves and rock shelters was a simple oil lamp. And a pinch of cattail fluff rising up out of the oil made a fine wick. Try it yourself, and if you’re short on mammoth fat, try Crisco with a cattail wick.

4. Insulation
You can use cattail fluff inside your hat, clothes, footwear or any other item of warmth. It’s like a plant based version of feather down.

5. Insect Repellent
The smoke from a smoldering cattail seed head can pass for insect repellent in a pinch. Place the smoking cattail head on a fire safe surface, upwind from your position and the bug repelling smoke will waft over you for 20-30 minutes. You can even leave the seed head attached to the stalk, and stick the stalk in the ground as a stand.

Have you used cattail fluff for any projects? Please tell us what you did by leaving a comment.