Bull Thistle

The prickly Bull Thistle

Rosette of first year Bull Thistle

Rosette of first year Bull Thistle

This plant is a native of Asia and Europe and is considered an invasive species in North America, where it now is widely spread.

When you are out for a walk, you might find these prickly looking rosettes, from 1 to 2 feet in diameter, where the soil has been disturbed. These are bull thistles in their first year of growth. They are a perennial and in the second year will grow branched stems 2 to 5 feet tall, which bear the flowers and seeds of the plant.

The flowers

look a bit like shaving brushes, 1 to 2 inches in diameter. They are handsome blooms, pink to purple in color.

The leafs

are deeply lobed with stout whitish spines at the ends of the spear shaped lobes. You will want to wear gloves when handling this plant.

The bull thistle has a taproot

up to two feet long. This root is edible and should be harvested in the fall of the first year plant. It is then that they are in the best condition.
Clean and cook like a carrot.

The leafs are also edible but the spines make them awkward to deal with. The easiest way is to cut away the leafy parts together with the spines and just use the center rib.
Rub off the hair and eat raw or cooked.

The young stakes of the 2 year plant can also be used. Pick them when they are about 2 feet tall and the first flowers appear. Cut them as close to the ground as possible, remove the the leafs, peel off the fibrous outer skin and eat the hollow center raw or cooked.

My favorite way to use the bull thistle is to pick the young leafs of both the first and second year plant. I wash them, chop them coarsely, ad some water and grind them up in a blender. After straining out the solids, I process one orange and half a lemon in the blender and ad this to the juice. A bit of honey to taste finish of a very refreshing and nutritious drink.

 Get field guides for this and other edible, wild plants, here.

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