Thistle: Or, Celery With Thorns

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.

Thistle in its natural habitat.

Share this post!

Explore many more wild plants on the Search Plants! page.

9 thoughts on “Thistle: Or, Celery With Thorns

  1. hiho becky et al, one easy live-food-way to consume (“become one with”) any plant is to juice it. especially thistles. the first plant i juiced with a hand crank “wheat grass juicer” was not wheat grass, but blessed thistle, cnicus beneditus, the big fat leaves. the ‘blood’ was incredibly delicious; yummy super power food. i dried the pulp, powdered it, and used it as a condiment; more super power food. it tasted nothing like the juice. it was mild spicy exotic. another new undiscovered incredible flavor that would capture the taste buds of any gourmand or health-nut. there is a vast whole new world of wild-juices-and-dried-powered-pulp-condiments yet to be discovered. become a wild-kick-ass-juice-condiment-coinsure! the second plant i juiced was the fully opened small flowering blossoms of canadian thistle, cirsium arvense, which is prolific around here in the mount shasta volcano vortex bioregion in the once and future isles of califia. it was pure ambrosial nectar. no need to buy expensive super power pollen from the honey-bee-slave-industry; just consume (“become one with”) the blossoms, like the bees do. (side comment-postulate: one part our holy mother planet’s body is this incredible sacred mystery we call ‘water’. “the water flowing thru the landscape is the life-blood of the community, whatever the species”. so we have thistle blood, celery blood, carrot blood, conifer blood…) will try juicing bull thistle and get back to you. love to one-n-all.

  2. In Kansas thistles are plentiful and invasive, to the point of being labeled a noxious weed. They are perennials, like dandelions, but sometimes behave as annuals. If you grow them intentionally, be aware that many counties can (and will) either ticket you or come and spray a large patch of them without asking you. Then you get a bill for their spray. There is a species in Colorado that can cause serious illness or death in horses if eaten after a freeze, or so the county agent says. It is a great forage plant if you have gloves and a knife, but farmers hate it. Every seed that blows in the wind seems to sprout and grow. Just be aware.

  3. Oh I love the roots of the bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) they are the only part I actually use they taste like artichokes and once dug they just need a bit of a scrape and then cook, yum………. I haven’t tried the stem of these yet either I will give it a go next time I see them with stems. Cheers :)

  4. I have cooked the flower heads in boiling water for a couple minutes, let them cool, and use pliers to pull apart. A lot like artichokes. Very good! Also dry the upper plant and use in cleasning teas, watch out for prickles!

  5. The immature stem of bull thistle, which you peel with a knife, wearing heavy duty work gloves, is quite good, a little like celery or cow-parsnip, albeit labor-intensive. Once in a while I’ve found substantial roots, although I haven’t determined what conditions allow for this. Perhaps well-fertilized pastures (where I know wild carrots get quite large) might be the best places to dig up bull thistle, as long as you manage to avoid the bull!

Leave a Reply