Cattails are native to North America and grow in marshes, swamps and along waterways. These ten-foot tall narrow-leafed plants are easily identified by their brown seed heads shaped like cigars. Cattails produce clumps of stems from rhizomes that grow in muddy soil. The roots, stems and seed heads are all edible at different times during the year, and some parts can be used for medicinal purposes. When dug up properly, cattails can also be transplanted to home garden.
Check with a local extension office to determine if it is legal to dig up cattails in your state. Gather information about the best place to find and dig up cattails if it is permitted.
Wear old clothing, gloves and waterproof boots when harvesting cattails, since it is a messy job. Locate the stand of cattails in early spring when their shoots have just begun to grow, if you desire to transplant them. Harvest cattail rhizomes in the fall and winter if using them for food purposes.
Use a shovel to dig gently around a clump of cattail shoots 6 to 8 inches from the base of the stalks. Dig into the soil to a depth of 12 to 18 inches in order not to cause damage to the rhizomes. Gently bend the shovel handle backward in lever-like action. Repeat this around the roots to pry them from the surrounding soil.
Lift the root ball carefully from the ground. Remove excess mud and dirt from around the rhizomes by rinsing them in nearby water. Wrap the rhizomes in plastic grocery bags to keep them from drying out when transporting them home.
Remove the rhizomes from the bags once you reach your destination. Transplant the harvested cattails in the desired location by digging holes big enough to house the rhizomes. Place a rhizome in the center of each hole and add loose dirt around them. Tamp the dirt down gently and firmly. Use a garden hose to water the transplanted cattails.