Thursday, March 12, 2009

Eating Thistles

The first picture is a thistle. It's really a very beautiful "weed". Around here people work diligently to eradicate them from their lawns. I on the other hand am constantly scandalizing my Father-In-Law and neighbors with my shoddy lawn maintenance! I happen to think clover is prettier than foreign lawn grass.

I'm a little dismayed at the majority's opinion on how to keep a yard. For many many years my Father-In-Law has kept seven acres of land in pristine lawn condition. He would often cut the grass twice a week in the summer to keep it in it's most tidy condition. Every year he would weed and feed, spread ant poison and round-up the ditch and the driveway edges. To him it was a great feat of dedication and labor worthy to be commended. To me it is a waste of precious time and money.

Admittedly, keeping the lawn as I do subjects me to a few askance glances from the more serious lawn keepers that may occasionally drop by, but most run straight to the chickens or garden and hardly notice the huge mounds of clover, thistle and various wild flowers swaying in the field.

It's not as if I live in a neighborhood were wanton seeds may blow over and desecrate the virgin lawns of the diligent urban grass keeper. I live in an area that is zoned AGRICULTURE! Therefore I do not feel compelled to spend hours of my time weekly tending an unused golf course. Land shouldn't cost you. It should give to you. Wild thistles is one of the many fringe benefits of not keeping a golf course.
My husband has lived in Louisiana all his life and has never noticed a thistle. Most likely because of his Father's fastidious lawn grooming. Since we recently took over the care of several acres of land, he noticed a large perfect rosette of leaves with thorns in the side field. Excitedly he called me over, "What is this?" "It's a thistle" Byron has dutifully tended to his thistle plant since it's discovery. These are pics of "Byron's thistle". The girls even yell, "We're going to look at Daddy's thistle!"

Besides being a simply beautiful plant, you can eat thistles. The thistle stalks pictured in the salad bowl below were gathered from an empty field that was to be a housing development before Katrina. I can't say I'm sad it's not filled with houses.

Once you identify the thistle, which is fairly easy, you cut the stalk, remove all leaves and buds, and then peel the medium green outer layer off. Inside will be a pale green hollow stalk that tastes fresh, cool and crisp. Somewhat like celery. You can eat them plain, with salt and pepper, with vinegar, with peanut butter, or in a salad!

We ate ours in all of the above ways, but we especially enjoyed it with our fresh picked salad.
My last bottle of blackberry balsamic vinaigrette was dropped broken by one of my daughters, so I threw together some ingredients in an effort to create my own and was thrilled by the results. Here is the basic recipe:
Blackberry Balsamic Vinaigrette
Balsamic Vinegar 1/3's (about 2/3 cup)
Olive Oil 2/3's (about 1 and 1/3 cup)
Minced garlic (around 2 cloves)
Dried Parsley (1/2 teaspoon)
Black Pepper (1/4 teaspoon)
Salt (1/2 teaspoon)
Sugar (1 heaping teaspoon)
Blackberry preserves (about 2 heaping teaspoons)
Mix all together in jar, seal and shake.


Laurie said...

I had forgotten about thistles. I grew up on the bayous. My mom used to take us out into the pastures surrounding our home to cut thistles. Then we ate them! It was a great family outing. Thanks for conjuring up a good memory for me.

Anonymous said...

My goodness! I thought I was the only one who thought thistles were pretty; didn't know you could eat them though.

Tipper said...

Love your thoughts on "yards" I so agree!

Egghead said...

I agree with the yard view. We never do anything but mow. It is mostly field grass, clover and dandelions. Yes we have tons of thistle here but I have never tried to eat them. Hmmm! Another new thing Kristi is teaching me.

Preparing for 2012 said...

It's not just the roots that you can eat. 1st year basal growth leaves can be boiled and used as greens and if you have the patience you can pluck away at the flower to reveal at the base of it what's known as the thistle nut. Think globe artichoke.

Of course something like the bull thistle is going to give you more of a thistle nut than cotton thistle.

and good to see that I am not the only one who believes in edible lawns.

Anonymous said...

i never knew thistles could be so good

Anonymous said...

The pasture we just took on is full of thistles, i've been knocking them over so we can get a little more room for grass fir the livestock- but now we can eat them :)
great post!
Our blog about a 300yr old smallholding is here:
(we've only had 30 views!)

jorani said...

do you also eat the nuts inside the head?

link to some forum i found


Milt Reynolds said...

I am SO excited! I can't sleep! Yesterday I shattered all expectations of my wife and hopped on my bicycle after work. I NEVER exercise after work! But I had a mission: I wanted to photograph some king-sized thistles I'd seen earlier in a vacant lot. I had a hidden desire to eat them! But I lacked courage. The flowers are beautiful, but the spiny, rough leaves are so intimidating. These were big, perhaps three feet high. The sharp, prickly leaves gave me such a feeling of danger, of poison. How can anyone eat of this plant? But my few field guides assured me that this was a bull thistle, and the peeled stem and root could be eaten. But still...

And then I found your blog! Thank you. I'm inspired and confident. Peeled thistle stem, here I come!

Val said...

Are there any Thistles that you CANNOT eat? And how do you determine what type of Thistles are growing in your yard? I live in the Northeast. Love your Blog Kristi!

SimpleTruth said...

One thing I really enjoy is tea, and guess what! Thistle tea is one of my favorites :)If you take the bloom, especially when new and pungent, and boil it (whole), you will get a lovely purple-brown tea that is actually quite sweet! Then if you pull out the little petals gently (think of pulling out clover petals), the ends of the petals are now edible! The Thistle is actually very closely related to the artichoke :)

Anonymous said...

Huh! My husband and I just bought 10-acres of land, with a house of sorts. We are hoping to be able to live in it some day... after we fix the water leaks, mold and peeling asbestos laden popcorn ceiling problems. Right now, we are just using the land. The land is full of thistle. I got here trying to find out if chickens will eat thistle. Never, ever thought that I could.

Doug said...

Having grown up on a rice and cattle farm in southwestern Louisiana, I was exposed to thistles in our pastures as a boy. When I learned that they were edible, as kids, we used to harvest them and eat them freely because it was cool. No, I learn that they are used as prostate cancer therapy and for recovery from the poison of chemotherapy. Who would have known it?

Anonymous said...

Been interested in thistles for over 40 years, since visiting Castroville, the US Artichoke Capital. Purchased the Thistle eater's guide and have bee an artichoke fan ever since. With a subsequent marriage to a native Scot, I have become more aware of other varieties of the plant. It takes a hearty folk to dub the thistle as their national flower! Try to pick one and you will understand! Even welding gloves are not 100% protection. Since our move to rural Louisiana some 20 years ago I began to sample some of the wild plants which proliferate but do not over run the pastures. Preparation and eating raw as above, but more recently adding them to stir fry dishes and homemade soup (cream of wild artichoke, leek and shitakii. I will be also canning several jars as an experiment as well as press juicing to make some thistle wine (will call it wild artichoke wine).
I also recognize the symmetrical beauty of the plant and regard it as an art form disregarded by most. I have made numerous sketches, one of which comprises my tattoo.

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