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Friday, August 14, 2009

PlanTrivia: Thistles

I had a thistle plant growing along my sidewalk and loved the large rhubarb like leaves that grew. They stood out and appeared Jurassic. Loved it. I also had great plans to use the leaves as a mold to create handmade stepping stones. This project will have to wait until next year because once the spikes began regularly grabbing at me as I walked by I decided it had to come down. I expect some pain in the art of gardening (mainly back pain) but when a plant draws blood; it’s time to make hard decisions.

One of my favorite books is in Door County’s Wildflowers, A Field Guide For The Curious by Frances M. Burton and Aurelia M. Stampp. It’s full of wonderful information and I adore the tidbits of historical data. It makes me feel connected to the past and nature. Here is what I learned;

Thistle is an Old Saxon word meaning “to stab”. The thorns are a defensive mechanism as it's nectar is especially sweet, insects and wildlife flock to it. Only flying insects can safely take a taste. Thistles are a favorite of birds too. Goldfinches love the seeds and all birds use the fluffy down that is attached to the seeds to build their nests.

In herbal medicine thistles have been used to treat convulsions and rheumatic joints. Apparently once striped of it's spines the young leaves are edible in salads or cooked. The roots can taste like Jerusalem artichokes. *


Historically American colonists used down from thistle seeds to stuff quilts and woodsmen used it as tinder to start campfires. Fiber obtained from the inner bark of the stem can be used to make paper.

This can be a very useful plant….a plant located much deeper in the garden bed than along the sidewalk that is!

*PLEASE NOTE: this is not a post advocating it’s consumption. Never pick roadside plants for eating and the only plants you should consume are plants you have carefully chosen, are known to be edible and you have personally cared for so you are aware of any chemicals that made have been used in its growth.

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