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Edible Wild Plants – Bull Thistle

March 30, 2011

DISCLAIMER: Don’t believe anything I or anybody else tells you about edible wild plants. Don’t eat edible wild plants based on what you see in a book or on the inter-net. Get a qualified instructor to show you the plants, and don’t eat them until the instructor shows you how to prepare them, and then eats them him or herself. Be aware that you may be allergic to a plant that someone else can eat without harm. Be sure that any plants that you gather have not been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. Pictured below: Bull Thistle

One of the edible plants that appears in the early spring in East Texas is the Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare). Bull thistle is not native to North America and is believed to have been introduced from Europe in colonial times. Bull Thistle is pretty easy to recognize. It pops up, seemingly overnight, out of pastures, fields, and other disturbed areas. It has a round, hollow, green, stem that has ridges on the outside kind of like celery. It has spiney leaves. The stem grows up out of a rosette of these spiney leaves. The stem or stalk can grow up to 7 feet tall, but most of the one’s I see are around 3 or 4 feet. The Bull Thistle will have several flowers on it. The flowers are purple and have the classic thistle shape, and are maybe two inches tall. When the plant is mature the flowers open and release a white down. The down is excellent for fletching blowgun darts, but that will be the subject of another post. If you want to collect some thistle flowers for making blow darts, be sure and collect the flowers before they open and then use a short length of string to tie them shut. Otherwise the flowers will open, and you will have a useless bag of loose down. Pictured below: Bull Thistle flower

The stalk is the edible part of the Bull thistle. It has a pretty good taste; a little bit like sugar cane, a texture kind of like celery, and maybe just a hint of honeydew melon. You want to collect the stalks while they are still young. They become tough and more bitter as they grow older. To harvest the stalk, cut it off just above the bottom rosette of leaves. Be careful, these things will stick you. Trim off the side leaves and the top of the stalk. Pictured below: Trimed stalk

If you turn the stalk up and look at the bottom you will see that there is a dark green outer layer and a light green inner layer to the stalk. The outer layer is very fibrous and needs to be peeled off. Pictured below: End view of Bull Thistle stalk showing outer and inner layers.

Once the outer layer of stalk has been peeled off, you can cut the stalk into strips, wash it off, and eat it. Pictured below: Bull Thistle stalk with outer layer removed and Bull Thistle stalk cut up and ready to eat.

  1. Sarge permalink

    Tea made from the roots is a high powered energy drink. Indians used this tea to stay awake for long battles. It is used in some commercial energy drinks sold on the market today. Sarge

  2. These are really common in the Rockies here. I was wondering if the fibrous outer layer could be processed into cordage?

  3. This plant is really common in the mountains here; I was wondering if the fibrous outer layer could be processed into cordage. Heck, in a month maybe I”l go harvest some and try. This is a really interesting article as normally I avoid thistles because of the stickers.

  4. Donna Putney permalink

    I have eaten it; it is delicious!

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