A Thistle Here. A Thistle There. A Spiny Time of the Year.
We were slightly overwhelmed when we went to our place at Junction after being absent from there for a while. Looking out into the grove we realized that we were now the not so proud owners of a thistle field, with some real prize winners towering in at over five feet tall. As we mowed I thought to myself there is bound to be a good use for thistles, but I couldn’t imagine what that might be at the time. I do think thistles are beautiful and always have so I had already taken the photo opportunity to showcase that spiny plant.
As time allowed I began researching thistles because I knew I had heard of thistle milk and my curiosity was up. I was quite surprised at all of the culinary uses for thistles in addition to thistle milk, but I really wasn’t feeling hungry at the moment. It turns out that thistles are very edible, including stalks, leaves, trimmed spines, roots and flower bud bottoms.
I discovered that thistles are in the sunflower family, and a biennial or perennial herb and can be considered invasive. As I’m looking at the jungle I am thinking to myself imagine that, INVASIVE!
Turns out that there are many healthy benefits of thistles. One of the main health reasons is for support of the liver, but it also promotes healthy skin, reduces cholesterol, weight loss, insulin resistance, improves asthma symptoms, limits spread of cancer, supports bone health, improves cognition and boosts the immune system. I kind of like playing with tonics and potions in my spare time so maybe one day I will drag up some of the recipes I found. It was quite interesting but today all I’m thinking about it eradicating all signs of thistles in the grove. They can carry on in the pastures, but not in the grove.
My research made me realize there are many nature benefits as well. Some things that make perfect sense but often overlooked. American Goldfinches rely on thistles because they begin their breeding season later than other finches as well as most other North American birds. They rely on seeds for nutrition and thistles are late bloomers so it is important for them to have thistle seeds to eat. They also use the fluff to line their nest. (if you hang them up to dry the pod will turn in to a near cotton puff)
In addition to birds, the larva of butterflies including American Painted Lady, Black Swallowtail and other swallowtail species, Skippers and many other butterflies need thistles for a food source. So as I looked at the jungle of thistles I tried to remember Mother Nature generally knows what she is doing, but as a human I often question her intentions. Like they say Mother knows best!