What about thistle?

topic posted Mon, July 18, 2005 - 5:48 AM by  Rick
I live in beautiful West Virginia and have been scavenging about lately for blackberries. They are just starting to ripen this time of year and I am addicted to my great-grandmaw's blackberry cobbler recipe.

Anyway, while gathering this juicy morsels I've noticed a lot of thistle around this year and was just curious if anyone could expound on whether there is any food or medicinal benefit in these prickly plants?

Include recipes if you got 'em!
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  • Re: What about thistle?

    Mon, July 18, 2005 - 8:28 AM
    Depends on what kind of thistle it is as to what its used for.

    Most thistle fibers are tough enough to make clothing, baskets etc out of it one has the patience to do so..

    The indiginous ppls in this area pealed the bulb under the flower of the Elk thistle to eat something like a sweet treat..

    Milk thistle is used with nursing mothers

    Blessed thistle has medicinal purposes as well

    If you could identify the type of thistle it would be beneficial.

    Will post more on the value of thistle when I get time.. right now have to go to work.. ..

    • Re: What about thistle?

      Mon, July 18, 2005 - 10:50 PM
      the seeds of milk thistle (the tall real prickly purle one that dries to blonde) are an excellent liver tonic. we chew 'em frequently! i have yet to harvest them, though... maybe someone knows how that would go. seems it shouldn't be too hard.
  • Re: What about thistle?

    Tue, July 19, 2005 - 3:42 AM
    Hey Rick,

    I am in SE Ohio, not far from you and I notice a lot of them this year too.

    I have over an acre of tightly packed milk thistle that took over a garden section in no time. They are about 7 feet tall and so thick together that nothing else can grow and they are all very straight and spindly. They fall over when it rains hard.

    I am clearing them out with a machete.
    • Re: What about thistle?

      Tue, July 19, 2005 - 4:28 AM
      Well James, with the rain we've been getting lately you ought to be able to put that machete away!
      • Re: What about thistle?

        Tue, July 19, 2005 - 9:42 AM
        The inner (peeled) stem of true thistles and milk thistle (in the genera 'Circium' and 'Siliybum') can be eaten somewhat like celery. Milk thistle leaves can also be eaten cooked or raw (after the prickly edges have been taken off). These other plant parts of milk thistle also have some of the liver benefiting compounds. Italian thistle loooks a bit like it so you might want to take note of the differences (the white spots are in different places on the leaves and milk thistle leaves are smooth and glossy in the middle, not with hairs or spines).The seeds are considered digestive as well as helping milk production and liver function. Sow thistles ('Sonchus') are different and taste more bitter, they have some medicinal qualities though. Here's some info on these I've collected:

        Milk thistle
        Scientific name: Silybum marianum (Family Asteraceae)

        Milk thistle (also called blessed milk thistle) is a common summer annual or biannual broadleaf. Seedlings have thick, succulent seed leaves, oval and 0.75 to 1 inch (19 - 25 mm) long. The first true leaves are spiny and mottled white around the veins. Mature plants are stiff, two to six feet tall, and sparsely branched. Lower leaves are up to 2 feet (60 cm) long, with leaf size diminishing towards the top of the plant. Leaves are spiny and deeply lobed with leaf bases that wrap around the stem. All leaves show a characteristic white mottling or marbling around veins that distinguishes milkthistle from other related weedy species such as prickly lettuce, annual sowthistle, Canada thistle, and bull thistle. Flowers are nearly spherical, reddish purple to purple, and shiny. Flower bracts sport spines up to 2 inches (5 cm) long. The smooth, flat fruit are one-seeded, 0.25 inch (6 mm) long, and shiny with several finely hooked bristles. The fruit are linked at the base and detach as a unit at maturity.

        Edible Uses
        Root - raw or cooked. A mild flavour and somewhat mucilaginous texture. When boiled, the roots resemble salsify (Tragopogon hispanicus).
        Leaves - raw or cooked. The very sharp leaf-spines must be removed first, which is quite a fiddly operation. The leaves are quite thick and have a mild flavour when young, at this time they are quite an acceptable ingredient of mixed salads, though they can become bitter in hot dry weather. When cooked they make an acceptable spinach substitute. It is possible to have leaves available all year round from successional sowings.
        Flower buds - cooked. A globe artichoke substitute, they are used before the flowers open.
        Stems - raw or cooked. They are best peeled and can be soaked to reduce the bitterness. Palatable and nutritious, they can be used like asparagus or rhubarbor added to salads. They are best used in spring when they are young.
        A good quality oil is obtained from the seeds.
        The roasted seed is a coffee substitute.

        Medicinal Uses
        Astringent; Bitter; Cholagogue; Diaphoretic; Diuretic; Emetic; Emmenagogue; Hepatic; Homeopathy; Stimulant; Stomachic; Tonic.
        Milk thistle has a long history of use in the West as a remedy for depression and liver problems. Recent research has confirmed that it has a remarkable ability to protect the liver from damage resulting from alcoholic and other types of poisoning.
        The whole plant is astringent, bitter, cholagogue, diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, emmenagogue, hepatic, stimulant, stomachic and tonic. It is used internally in the treatment of liver and gall bladder diseases, jaundice, cirrhosis, hepatitis and poisoning. The plant is harvested when in flower and dried for later use.
        Silymarin, an extract from the seed, acts on the membranes of the liver cells preventing the entry of virus toxins and other toxic compounds and thus preventing damage to the cells. It also dramatically improves liver regeneration in hepatitis, cirrhosis, mushroom poisoning and other diseases of the liver. German research suggests that silybin (a flavonoid component of the seed) is clinically useful in the treatment of severe poisoning by Amanita mushrooms. Seed extracts are produced commercially in Europe. Regeneration of the liver is particularly important in the treatment of cancer since this disease is always characterized by a severely compromised and often partially destroyed liver.
        A homeopathic remedy is obtained from equal parts of the root and the seed with its hulls still attached. It is used in the treatment of liver and abdominal disorders.

        Eksp Klin Farmakol. 2004 Jul-Aug;67(4):77-80.
        [New prospects of using milk thistle (Silybum marianum) preparations]
        [Article in Russian]
        Samigullina LI, Lazareva DN.
        Well-known and newfound properties of milk thistle (Silybum marianum) preparations are considered (including hepatoprotector, immunostimulant, antiproliferative, antisclerotic, etc.) and the ways of their realization are analyzed. Good prospects of further development of the drugs based on this medicinal plant are emphasized and the possibilities of wider clinical use are discussed.
        PMID: 15500055 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

        Annual sowthistle
        Scientific name: Sonchus oleraceus (Family Asteraceae)

        Annual sowthistle is a widespread annual weed. It is commonly found in California's Central Valley and coastal areas where it grows year-round. Its seeds germinate only in the top 1/2 inch (1.2 cm) of soil, so preplant cultivations and deep plowing are effective controls. Seed leaves are stalked and covered with a powdery, gray bloom. They have smooth-edges and are spoon-shaped. True leaves have wavy edges and prickles. Upper leaf bases clasp the stems with clawlike lobes. Mature plant may reach a height of 3 to 6 feet (0.9 - 1.8 m). Yellow flowers mature into white, fluffy seed heads, similar to common groundsel. Hollow stems secrete milky juice when cut or crushed. (

        Edible Uses (somewhat toxic)
        Young leaves - raw or cooked. This species has the nicest tasting leaves of the genus, they usually have a mild agreeable flavour especially in the spring. They can be added to salads, cooked like spinach or used in soups etc., ... . The leaves contain about 30 - 40mg of vitamin C per 100g, 1.2% protein, 0.3% fat, 2.4% carbohydrate, 1.2% ash. It might be best, though it is not essential, to remove the marginal prickles.
        Stems - cooked like asparagus or rhubarb. They are best if the outer skin is removed first.
        Young root - cooked. They are woody and not very acceptable.
        The milky sap has been used as a chewing gum by the Maoris of New Zealand.

        Leaves (Dry weight)
        In grams per 100g weight of food:
        Water: 0 Calories: 265 Protein: 28 Fat: 4.5 Carbohydrate: 45 Fiber: 5.9 Ash: 22
        In milligrams per 100 gm. weight of food:
        Calcium: 1500, Phosphorus: 500, Iron: 45.6, Vitamin A: 35, Thiamine: 1.5,
        Riboflavin: 5, Niacin: 5 Vitamin C: 60

        Medicinal Uses
        Cancer; Emmenagogue; Febrifuge; Hepatic; Hydrogogue; Poultice; Tonic; Warts.
        The plant is emmenagogue and hepatic. An infusion has been used to bring on a tardy menstruation and to treat diarrhoea.
        The latex in the sap is used in the treatment of warts. It is also said to have anticancer activity.
        The stem juice is a powerful hydrogogue and cathartic, it should be used with great caution since it can cause colic and tenesmus. The gum has been used as a cure for the opium habit.
        The leaves are applied as a poultice to inflammatory swellings.
        An infusion of the leaves and roots is febrifuge and tonic. (

        J Physiol Pharmacol. 2005 Mar;56 Suppl 1:115-24.
        Antioxidant properties of Mediterranean food plant extracts: geographical differences.
        Schaffer S, Schmitt-Schillig S, Muller WE, Eckert GP.
        Institute of Pharmacology (ZAFES), Biocenter Niederursel, University of Frankfurt, Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
        Locally grown, wild food plants seasonally contribute a considerable portion of the daily diet in certain Mediterranean areas and it has been suggested that the beneficial effects of the Mediterranean diet on human health partly originate from the antioxidant effect of flavonoid-rich food plants. The nutrient content of most wild plants is higher than that of cultivated ones and may vary depending on the prevailing environmental conditions. Accordingly, three local Mediterranean plant foods (i.e. Cichorium intybus, Sonchus oleraceus, Papaver rhoeas) were collected in Greece (Crete), southern Italy, and southern Spain in order to assess possible differences in their in vitro antioxidant potential. The biological assays revealed diverse intra-plant specific antioxidant effects for the tested extracts ranging from no activity to almost complete protection. Furthermore, substantial differences in the polyphenol content were found for the nutritionally used part of the same plant originating from different locations. However, no clear correlations between the polyphenol content and the extracts' antioxidant activities were found. Taken together, the data suggest that certain local Mediterranean plant foods possess promising antioxidant activity and that the observed biological effects are possibly influenced by the geographically-dependent environmental conditions prevailing during plant growth.
        PMID: 15800389 [PubMed - in process]
      • Re: What about thistle?

        Thu, July 21, 2005 - 7:09 PM
        They seem to not care. It is done for now but I can see it won't belong before I need to do it again. It doesn't make any sense to till and plant it with what is left of the season so I will let them regrow as cover plants to help the soil since I just let them lay when I cut them anyway.

        Good exercise for the sword arm too.
  • Re: What about thistle?

    Thu, July 21, 2005 - 9:30 PM
    this is how i harvest my milk thistle seeds: (which are so effective for liver cleansing that they act as an antidote to poisoning)

    once the autumn comes you will notice that where the flowers once were there are now bulbous heads - these are the seed pods - cut them from the stems and open them (carefully because of the spines) and pull out the seeds. you can either dry them in a place out of the sun and free of humidity, or put them directly into vodka to make a super liver tonic tincture. it is best to harvest the seed pods before they turn completely brown becasue the seeds are no longer "fresh" at that point.

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