Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Carduus nutans--Musk Thistle
 About the Musk Thistle: The musk thistle is native to southern Europe and western Asia. It was introduced to this continent early in the 1900's, and now it is widespread across the U.S. and Canada. Musk thistle thrives in areas where livestock have lingered, especially bedding areas where stock return to the same spot each day through the growing season. The musk thistle is a biennial, meaning that the plants form a rosette on the ground the first year, then send up a flower stalk and die the second year. Hummingbirds thrive on the nectar of the flowers. 

      Edible/Medicinal Thistles are quite edible, except for the spines. Livestock often eat thistles after the plants are cut, apparently since they can bite into them without getting poked in the nose. Wilting may also make the plants easier to ingest without injury. 

      The musk thistle is an edible wild food for people too, provided it hasn't been sprayed. It is one of my favorite snacks. There is a technique to peeling the stalk while avoiding the stickers. Thistles are only good when the stalks are still fleshy; as summer progresses they become woody and inedible. Carefully grasp the tip of a budding flower and bend the stalk over to see how much of the plant is still succulent and where it has already become woody. With a quick slice of a knife, cut through the stalk taking only the top succulent part. 

      Do not cut all the way through the stalk, but rather, leave the "rind" intact on one side and let the thistle top hang down from that rind. Carefully grab the thistle top and pull it gently away from the parent stalk. This action peels the rind off the side of the stem that is still attached to the main stalk. The peeled side of the stem provides a safe, stickerless place for your fingers. The rest of the process is like peeling a banana. Start at the cut and peel the spiny rind off on each side of the stem. I think you will agree that thistle stalks are delicious!       Medicinally, musk thistle leaves and seeds are useful as a bitter tonic to stimulate liver function.

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