Bull Thistle-An Aster with a bite.

I’m pretty sure most people don’t think of a thistle as being closely related to the Dandelion, but, in fact, it is. Both are esteemed members of the Asteraceae Family. More commonly known as the Aster or Sunflower Family. It’s all in the flower, or more accurately, the flowers. As with all members of the Aster Family, what appears as a single bloom, is actually numerous blooms of individual flowers within the apparent single bloom.

Bull Thistle bloom-wiki

Bull Thistle of the Aster Family-Photo from Wiki Commons

Cool right? So have a look at a dandelion puff of seeds. Scroll down to the previous post and you will see one. Each one of the seeds with its parachute is actually the result of a small, but complete, with all the parts, individual flower within the flower head. You can see that in the previous post as well when looking at the exploded view of the Dandelion. Do you see all the individual curled Stamens? Each belongs to an individual flower. Even the huge Sun Flower has the same characteristics.


The Bull Thistle is definitely an Aster with a bite. Iv’e heard people say the thorns are as sharp as needles. I disagree. The needle isn’t nearly as sharp as the Thistle. I can attest to that personally.  So, do I recommend leaving the Bull Thistle alone because of its ability to “bite”? No, rather, I bite them back. The center leaf veins and the main stalk is delicious. They really aren’t as hard to harvest as you might expect. Check out the series of pictures below to see how it’s done.

Basically, use a long bladed knife to trim off the leaves.  Peal the main stem as though it were a broccoli stem. Just be a bit careful not to get stabbed. Use leather gloves until you have the hang of it. Trim the leaves at the main vein on the bigger leaves.

Delicious both ways. Thistles are known to be great detoxifiers for the liver and the gall bladder. The flavor is sort of like celery with a touch of cucumber. It should work well in any recipe, raw or cooked that you would use celery in.

As with any wild edible plant, always have a full understanding of it’s sustainability. Just remember that if you remove a plants ability to reproduce or regenerate, you won’t have any to harvest later. Bull Thistle is not a rare plant and can produce large patches, so harvesting some for dinner here and there won’t hurt the population. But keep in mind, the awesome little Goldfinch depends on the Thistle, not just for food, but also the tuft for nest building material.


American Goldfinch. Wiki Commons by Breck22

It is so dependent on the Thistle for that purpose that the Goldfinch waits for the Thistle to go to seed and produce tuft before it nest. It is actually one of the latest nesting birds we have. So keep that in mind and only take what you need without depleting the population. Also consider allowing some Thistle to mature on the skirts of your yard so the Gold Finch has both a home and dinner.

The bottom line is, there is more to the Bull Thistle than a bunch of nasty pickers and thorns. It is delicious, nutritious and a very important species in the environment.

But, if you run into it and it bites you, consider biting it back.

Please click Bull Thistle link for questions and comments.


About Nature's Access

I am a Grandfather of nine and father of three. I have been married for 35 years. I am a veteran of the Army with eight years of service and one combat tour. I have a bachelors degree in History and Military Science. I love the outdoors. I am a proud Christian. I have many interest and love to research anything that I lack knowledge in. Wild edibles/herbal medicines and survival are passions of mine and I love sharing what I know.
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