Please remember that Forage Friday is only intended to be a conversation starter and all of the information is presented as trivia.
The first time I read about Thistle as a wild edible was in one of Tom Brown Jr.’s books about wilderness survival. He describes how it was hot and thirsty and his mentor peeled the stem of a Thistle and bit into it. When he did it was so full of water that it sprayed out from the bite. The story goes on to describe how juicy and refreshing raw Thistle can be. My own experience was a little less satisfactory. First of all the Thistle that I tried was bitter and stringy. In those days there was no smartphones and the fledgling internet had little information. Blogging hadn’t really caught on and most websites were nothing more than an online business card with an address and a phone number. Fortunately for me the public library was the best place to access the internet and so it was just as convenient and quick to go to the card catalog and look up a book on the subject. That’s how I learned that not all Thistles are equal. All Thistles are technically edible but they differ in quality. What I had was what is seen in tonight’s feature image. Bull Thistle. Also, part of the problem was that I had waited until they were fully mature and that certainly changes the experience. What was needed was a young plant and not bull Thistle but Milk Thistle. From what I understand Bull Thistle has every benefit of Milk Thistle it’s just not as pleasant flavored.
If you do your foraging in a local supermarket you’ll find Thistle in the form of a commercial standardized extract. In 2018 890 tons Milk Thistle extract was sold into the supplement market and that’s not counting the seeds that are sold as fodder for songbirds. Most people who use any type of Thistle are doing so as an aide to liver function and even the Native Americans used it to support healthy digestion as well as a treatment for arthritis due to it’s anti-inflammatory affect.
Image Titled “Among The Prickles 90820BW” and is available for purchase by the instructions at the bottom of the article.
Of course if we foraging anywhere other than than the local supermarket we’re going to need to deal with the thorns. If you’re very careful all you really need is a good pocket knife. However, I recommend you also have a good set of gloves and maybe even welding gloves that cover the arm as well as the hand. The thorns are fierce enough to cause permanent eye damage so a decent set of safety glasses might be in order as well.
Those mean thorns are really the only part of the Thistle that is not edible. Then entire plant from the roots to the seeds may be consumed. The roots are said to taste like Jerusalem artichoke or Burdock roots. The stem and midrib of the leaves can be eaten raw but are better as a sautee as is the the flowerhead. Be certain to remove all the thorns!
The seeds are collected when the down appears. To remove the down simply rub the seeds between your hands and winnow them in same manner as separating wheat from chaff. It’s suggested by multiple sources to use an electric coffee grinder to coarsely grind the seeds and sprinkle them on other foods.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that Thistle sprouts might be another option if you have enough bulk seed to make it worth the effort. I would recommend sprouting them like any other herb. It can be as simple as placing the seeds between damp paper towels and leaving them in a warm spot where they can germinate.
Why go to all that trouble? Well, wild plants can be richer in nutrition than even garden veggies. Thistle is high in fiber, protein, calcium, copper, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc. All of this depends on what’s available in the soil of course but presuming the ground is suitable for gardening the Thistle is better able to accumulate these minerals.
We’ve recently seen how fragile the normal supply chain can be. If you’re a person who has been buying supplements in the store then it makes sense to identify alternative resources just in case. All the better if you have a small space to allow some wild plants to flourish. And if nothing else Thistles will attract butterflies and others pollenators with its flowers and songbirds with its seed.
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