Located on the Solel Congregation property, thistles found across Canada and the rest of North America hold a rich history.
These plants are native to Eurasia and are known to be an invasive species in gardens. However, we will explore not only edible uses and spiritual beliefs- but also how to maintain control of your garden when thistles are present.
- Spines along leaf margins
- pink-purple flower heads (clustered)
- surrounded by spiny bracts
Thistles spread via roots, and so controlling strategies for thistles must acknowledge the roots and seedlings. Seedlings requires sunlight and roots can go deep. Strategies for control are below:
- Hand-pulling (ideally clipped above ground)- must be repeated every 10–15 days in growing season for 2 years to successfully remove underground stems.
- Cutting in early bud stage.
- Introducing beetles for biological control via defoliating.
- Smother plants (most common choice- alfalfa).
- Vinegar spray (5–10%). Spray solution on thistles above ground repeatedly. If the vinegar solution is over 5% wear gloves to avoid skin burning.
- Shading. Shading reduces light exposure to roughly 20%. Because seedling require sunlight, shading your thistles may be an effective way to prevent new sprouts.
- Striving for total elimination is ideal with thistles considering the invasive nature. This is done through root elimination and above ground control.
Though thistles are known for their defenses, they can actually be quite tasty and nutritous.
- Thistle root can be cut and washed. It is said to taste like burdock root, only not as bitter.
- Thistle leaves are edible. However, the spines need to be removed first. Always use gloves when removing spines. The mid-rib of the leaf is known to taste mildly sweet.
- Thistle stalk is edible, but all leaves need to be removed first. After removing leaved, skin the thistle stalk until there are no longer any spines. The thistle stalk tastes like a bitter celery and can be added into stews.
- Thistle flower buds are meant to be harvested before they fully bloom. The bristles guarding the flower can be peeled back. These resemble and taste similar to artichoke.
Thistle leaves are a clean source of water. This can be used when scavenging if you have limited access to clean water.
In medieval times thistles (without spines) were consumed during famine and used to stuff pillows and mattresses.
- Treats swollen joints and tendons
- Used to treat rheumatoid arthritis in children
- Used to treat inflammatory bowel syndrome
- Thistle is used to treat these conditions through making tea from thistle leaves and consuming.
Spiritual Beliefs (England, Ireland, Scotland)
- Thistles were blessed to counteract poisoning, dog bites, and to ward off plague.
- Thistles were scattered in grain fields to drive away demons.
- Seeds were burned to cure illness believed to be caused by evil spirits.
- Thistle flowers were carried in pockets to avoid melancholy.
- Thistles were considered faery plants in Ireland. It was believed pixies used thistle spines as spears and swords.
- In England, a potion was made of thistle and St. John’s wart was used on women on trial for witchcraft. It was believed to make them tell the truth.
- Hold a thistle flower about to seed and some thistledown in the palm of your hand. Make a wish, and blow it into the wind.
- It is believed thistle helps with releasing anything unwanted from your life.