Thistle (Cirsium species)

Thistle flowerThis plant may grow as high as 1.5 meters (5 feet). It has erect stems, typically with spine-tipped wings, and greyish green leaves that are long-pointed, spear-shaped, deeply lobed, and prickly.  Disk flower heads grow at the end of the branches, on an enlarged, green spiny base, and are usually purpose or pinkish red (the yellow variety is poisonous to horses).  Thistle seeds are are 5 millimeter long with a downy structure that allows them to float in the air.

Where to Find: Thistles grow worldwide in dry woods and fields.

Edible Parts: Young leaves are cooked and with prickles removed.  Soak overnight in salt water then cook.  Peel the stalks, cut them into short sections, and steam or boil them before eating. The roots are edible raw or cooked but only on young plants that have not flowered yet.  The roots contain inulin, a starch that cannot be digested by humans.  The starch will pass through the body but may cause flatulence.  The root can be dried and stored for later use.

Note: Some thistle species are poisonous so be careful when selecting them and apply the universal poison test to be safe.

Other Uses: Twist the tough fibers of the stems to make a strong twine.

Thistle plant with flower growing in the wild

Thistle plant

Thistle plant growing in dry conditions

Spiny flower base on a Thistle plant

Thistle plant seeds contain a fluffy structure that allows them to drift in the wind

Thistle leaves

Color drawing of Thistle plant illustrating stem, leaves, and flowers