Thistles, thistles and more thistles I used to think they were just pesky prickly weeds, pretty but not a welcome visitor in my yard, well I’m singing a different tune now I know better, my mouth starts watering when I see their gorgeous succulent variegated crowns exploding out of the earth.
Yes I said variegated for I’m talking about the granddaddy of all the thistles Silybum maranum, heheh makes me laugh every time I use that name sily bum not sure how that came about maybe a silly bum grabbed a hand full and got pricked by their massive spines! No seriously they may have a funny name a mean look but they taste great and are well worth the effort to process as a wild food.
I had looked long and hard at the plain green relative of the variegated thistle, what we here in Tassie call a Bull Thistle (Cirium vulgare) as after hearing they were edible I just couldn’t get my head around eating them but driving through my home town one day out of the corner of my eye down a deserted road three streets before my house I spotted a massive bunch of lush greenness. I had to go investigate, I pulled up got out and stood in awe of the painted picture in front of me, they were nearly as tall as me and still young, I had had small variegated thistles come up in my yard on the rare occasion but I ripped them out before they had a chance to show me their full beauty. Here in front of me was something I thought I could definitely have a crack at eating, these guys dwarfed the Bull Thistles by a long shot!
After walking around the what seemed like a grove of thistles I headed to the car to grab my trusty secateurs and leather gloves that I never go anywhere with out these days and I was grateful I can tell ya, for they didn’t just look mean they were mean. I carefully picked a bunch of the best looking leaves but as I cut through their fat juicy stems I thought I must be able to eat them too so I ended up just picking whole plants.
I looked around to see if anyone was watching as I’m sure everyone in town already think I’m some sort of witch or just a plain weed munching freak and jumped back into the car exited about my prickly bounty.
At home I set myself up at the sink to start the task of de thorning the leaves, it wasn’t to bad as they are so massive in no time flat I had dissected the thistles, they didn’t look so mean now!
When I first try something I like to try it plain with just some salt and pepper to experience their pure flavor, then I start experimenting with recipes.
So I steamed the leaves long enough to be just wilted and the stems until tender, once plated up I sat and savored the subtle artichokey flavor of the stems and the leaves were one of the best wild greens I have found so far.
I don’t always like to relay a flavor comparison as I think it detracts from the plants individual flavor and the mind clings to the description and is disappointed when it doesn’t fulfill that description, so I will just say It is definitely on my menu every chance I get.
I was pretty exited about seeing the flowers to see if they were going to be big enough to process but on seeing I was disappointed at how small they were in comparison to the leaves they weren’t much bigger than the Bull Thistles really but I took a few home to try and it was a nightmare trying to de-thorn them and the few I did just weren’t worth the effort but they are very pretty and I’m sure all the insects in the district were there enjoying their fluffy pinkness so I was satisfied with that.
Here on this plate I have the cooked thistle leaves, brassica flowers, wallaby burgers and a pickled egg toped of with rose hip chilly sauce!
Note- here in Tasmania they have flowered, seeded and are dying as I write this, I harvested these in early spring it is summer now just so you know. I just couldn’t wait until next season to share the scrumptious delights of the variegated thistle.
Also they bolt and flower pretty quickly too so if you wanted a longer harvesting period I would collect seeds and sow at one week intervals so you have a longer harvesting time but if you don’t want them in your yard the leaves on a one minute blanch freeze well. I didn’t get to try freezing the stems I eat them all….. 🙂