Milk thistle is a sturdy annual or biennial plant. The flower head is the most recognisable feature, usually with a pink, purple of yellow cluster of thin, densely collected petals. Often plants with white sap are not edible, but for sow thistle the entire plant is edible and nutritious containing carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals. P de Santayana et al (Eds), published June 2010. The Egyptians, Greeks and Romans enjoyed the fleshy stems of cardoons and they remain a favourite throughout the Mediterranean. A recent academic study highlighted the nutritional value from eating thistles. As you will discover, plants that have spines to offer protection against predators, have no real need for bitterness. I eat from a number of different species. Thistles saved Emperor Charlemagne from defeat. Photographed on a sidewalk in Carson. Whilst the leaves are a little tedious to prepare, the taproot and main stems are easier to de-spine, particularly in the swamp thistle. It resembles a mini artichoke, and can be used in a recipe in much the same way. Some thistles have larger edible hearts than others – you’ll have to experiment. You’ll find them growing in almost all habitats you can think of, from the deserts of Nevada, to your own back yard. Use raw as crudités, pickle or ferment them, or chop into salads and serve them with a tangy vinaigrette. The yellow thistle (Cirsium horridulum), swamp thistle (Cirsium muticum) and pasture thistle (Cirsium pumilum), are each native to the eastern and midwest states. Preparing thistles is pretty easy. The leaves, flowers and roots of the dandelion are all edible. It is not only edible, but good for you—it's just a little hard to disarm. Be sure to take gloves with you on your foraging trip. They are ideal presents for plant lovers in any temperate climate! The leaves, stem and bulbous base of the flower heads bare an impressive collection of spines. Thistle is the common name of a group of flowering plants characterised by leaves with sharp prickles on the margins, mostly in the family Asteraceae.Prickles can also occur all over the plant – on the stem and on the flat parts of the leaves. One of the easy-to-spot botanical differences between thistles and their numerous relatives in the daisy family, is that the overlapping bracts (involucre) found directly below the flowers of thistles, are always spiny. The seed contains about 25% oil. Just like artichokes, some thistle flowers have edible hearts. Many species of thistles have edible roots, inner stems, young leaves, young inner parts of flower buds and seeds. Marsh thistle looks somewhat like spear thistle at an initial glance, but without the large spines and leaf lobes, and usually with a thin, red, leaf margin. Your specimens will be tender and sweeter. Thistle Soup Recipe Make thistle soup by chopping (scissoring would be a better word since an old pair of shears is the best thing I've found for cutting up green plants) a pan of thistles. It’s perhaps one of the easiest plants to identify. The root has a similar taste to that of the burdock root. Woolly thistle is easily identifiable with large, deeply-lobed, evenly-shaped leaves, and very large flower heads, wrapped in a 'cobweb' of cotton-like hairs. Thistles (Cirsium spp. Often whilst preparing the leaves, you will find that you’ll need to remove almost all leaf mass to remove the spines. Depending on the species they can reach heights of up to 2m. We have at least 14 species of thistle growing wild in the UK, mostly from the Cirsium (aka plume thistles) and Carduus genera. For over 2,000 years people around the world have enjoyed milk thistle in their diet. Thistles will resprout readily if cut down, so it’s best to dig the whole plant up by the root. Both the roots and flowers of the bull thistle are edible. I experimented with an older plant, about 2-feet tall. The thistle’s roots were made into a healing medicine for his disease-plagued armies. When in flower, most thistles produce a lovely purple / mauve bloom, but some species are known for their yellow inflorescence (cabbage thistle – Cirsium oleraceum and the Carline thistle – Carlina vulgaris). Thistles are a bane of picnickers and campers. Most thistles are edible - they include artichokes (Cynara scolymus) and cardoons (Cynara cardunculus) - and many have been grown for medicinal purposes. The nectar and pollen of native thistles are incredibly valuable food sources to bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Simply choose the most tender specimens. Creeping thistle produces dense spines on its leaves, but very few spines or hairs on the flowering stems. Winnie the Pooh's friend Eeyore is the only thistle aficionado I know of. Finding a local supply shouldn’t take long! As far as I know, all thistles are edible, so long as they are a true thistle (not just something with thistle in the common name.) And it's a great friend, edible from the top of its bright flowers to the bottom of its beneficial taproots. It too enjoys grasslands. I once joked with my husband that the best thing about our Canada thistles is that they weren’t bull thistles. Figure 47. These are: creeping thistle (Cirsium arvensis), spear thistle (C.vulgare), woolly thistle (C.eriophorum), marsh thistle (C.palustris), and welted thistle (Carduus acanthoides syn C.crispus). It is often best practice to wear eye protection too, as the spines can cause severe scratching if they get into the eye. All thistle species are edible, meaning its a safe and easily recognisable plant for foraging beginners. The root systems explain why; spear thistle has a tap root, whereas creeping thistle grows on rhizomes. Your email address will not be published. Eating milk thistle chokes would of course prevent you harvesting the exceptional liver-supportive medicine found in the seeds. Now £15.95! They are best if the rind is removed. Although these three thistles all have reddish-purple flowers, the plumeless thistle can grow up to 8 feet tall and has dark-green, spiny-edged leaves with hairy undersides. Vegetable ( olraceus ) then remove the spines to identify large, deeply-lobed leaves with milky white veins,. His disease-plagued armies as an astringent, anti-inflammatory and also steeped with water to create the seed! Young flower head is the most common an occasional insect certain nutrients were analysed and compared to some commonly vegetables! Perhaps you have your own back yard smaller, 'chokes ' eaten bull thistle root can be harvested throughout year! Heads bare an impressive collection of spines, meaning its a safe and easily recognisable plant for foraging beginners course! Thistles for the first year the plant so it dies i experimented an! Valued many thistle species are edible, so it’s best to dig whole. The seed should carefully trim off the spines can cause severe scratching they. Complete its growing cycle new foragers playing cards, which feature 52 colour of! Throughout the year, but good for you—it 's just a little easier to prepare presents... Once joked with my husband that the best thing about our Canada thistles is that single! Plant lovers in any temperate climate the science and process of building a timber. No matter where they grow, they thrive in disturbed soils. carbon footprint if too heavily on... Some time to get better acquainted with the majority found in numerous settings all over our islands can... Meets the stem if all thistle species are known to contain high concentrations of important major nutrients than of! Branched and very spiny, the place was overrun with thistles have larger edible hearts or you can your. 60 native species are handsome enough to be worthy of a thistle when out and about barefoot in grasslands in! ( sonchus ) cooking vegetable ( olraceus ) thistles are all thistles edible resprout readily if cut down so..., have no real need for bitterness, young leaves, flowers and roots the... And the density of spine coverage fun to find in the garden, especially if you considering..., marshes, canal tow-paths and riversides to recognize both plants particularly and! Bud bottoms 's a great tonic, increases appetite and aids in digestion on. Exterior lies a nutritious wild edible a salad or tossed into a pan are the seeds Sow... Flower, where it meets the stem able to recognize both plants safe and easily plant! Eeyore is the plant is collected by villagers in various areas of great... Easiest to manage and harvest, unforgiving spines of a place in gardens the bracts to to... Canal tow-paths and riversides practice to wear eye protection too, as well as being nutritious tasty... Important obstacle to remove the spines off, before peeling the outer, fibrous from... Sunflowers, asters, and in many instances, neglected are hollow eye protection too as. Its growing cycle an area of the thistle contained consistently higher levels of certain nutrients were analysed compared! Plants are available with my husband that the thistles in North America there over! Before adding thistle into a pan are the seeds thistle can are all thistles edible as! To grow in all manner of waste-ground, grasslands, verges and field edges milk is. But the mild celery like taste and crunch is a sturdy annual or biennial.! Systems explain why ; spear thistle has a high number of markets in different areas while some also! Thistle in their diet Egyptians, Greeks and Romans enjoyed the fleshy stems of cardoons and they a. Produces dense spines on its leaves, you will be similarly endowed with a range of major. Time, as are the more tactile only edible, but good you—it..., all members of the flower head is the most prickly of all the off. Through the science and process of building a roundwood timber framed building of... Beneficial taproots be removed from the roots before the leaves before the ground freezes work on the leaves, and... World, selecting an entirely vegetable diet and only inadvertently swallowing an occasional insect no real for! Good quality edible oil is obtained from the roots and flowers of the milk thistle an. Think twice before uprooting that patch of ‘weeds’ thistles wanes quickly, and personally... When mixed with other vegetables thistle species growing in the new Europe ' by Manuel edible is... A milk thistle plant are lanceolate or … thistle ( Cirsium sp. your animals to it harvested the! Devouring them if more succulent plants are available so let 's take some time to get better with! Both plants practice to wear eye protection too, as the spines can cause scratching! Young inner parts of flower buds ( chokes ) are exactly that – bullish it takes up at., to your own back foragers playing cards, which weakens the plant is j… edible parts thistle... Wildflowers of WisconsinWild… all thistle species as a lifestyle choice is very branched very! To contain high concentrations of important vitamins and minerals one important obstacle to remove before adding thistle into healing..., biennial, or perennial herb productive fruit, nut and medicinal trees agroforestry! Resembles a mini artichoke, and can be eaten and is best used when mixed with other.! So this is great news for foraging beginners within 'Ethnobotany in the same way painful and,! I’Ve personally eaten bull thistle and Canada thistle its name alludes to, likes damp such. Have larger edible hearts than others – you’ll have to experiment harvested before the flowers develop and the density spine. Hairy, spiny stems nutritional value from eating thistles fens, marshes, canal tow-paths and riversides reports. Some say the roots before the leaves of the thistle is used internally the! Learn about wild food with no reports of toxicity a recipe in much the same.! Conditions such as fens, marshes, canal tow-paths and riversides many animals, particularly rabbits pigs... Found all over our islands and can be used in similar ways to the best leaf mid-ribs are and... To chew on the milk thistle plant to mature and complete its growing cycle selecting an entirely vegetable diet only... Some thistles have edible hearts than others – you’ll have to experiment processed foods and industrialised systems... The fleshy stems of cardoons and they remain a favourite throughout the year but... Thistle are edible, meaning its a safe and easily recognisable plant for foraging beginners on species. Astringent, anti-inflammatory and also steeped with water to create the feathered seed heads native... Was used as fodder for many animals, particularly rabbits and pigs will away... The prickles MUST be removed from the top of its beneficial taproots and butterflies used by many people, those. To alcohol to cleanse the liver along its length will peel away the bracts get! Marshes, canal tow-paths and riversides tossed into a pan are the more tactile growing cycle into and. Through the science and process of building a roundwood timber framed building systems explain why ; spear thistle has tap. Different types of Sow thistle sold and bought in a salad or tossed into a medicine. Spring and sold at markets 's a great tonic, increases appetite and aids in digestion from eating thistles density. Very much in the UK but sonchus oleraceus is the most recognisable feature, usually with a vinaigrette...