Because of its brilliant purple color, thistle, Cirsium sp., is one of my favorite wild flowers. Thistles are popping up all around town right now in Portland, especially next to roadsides and in vacant lots and other disturbed areas in direct sunlight. The whole plant is edible and my favorite part is that vein that runs down the middle of each leaf, the “midrib”, because they taste a lot like celery, except not stringy.
Those thorns are formidable and usually dissuade me from eating thistles, but if I have gloves handy, or am hanging out with a friend who is good with a knife, it’s worth the trouble of slicing the leafy and thorny parts off to get to the good stuff.
In terms of survival food, the roots are also edible and palatable, but they’re often pinky-thin and not really worth the trouble otherwise. (Some people may disagree with me).
The stalks (central stems) of thistle are said to tasty and worth harvesting in early spring, before the plant flowers, then peeled and cooked.
There are a number of Cirsiums in the region. This one is Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare, a European immigrant. Other common kinds include Indian Thistle, Cirsium brevistylum, and Canada thistle, Cirsium arvense. None of these kinds is closely related to the similarly named sow thistle or milk thistle.
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