Prickly Neighbours

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!

The Thistle grove

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.

Massive stems and leaves



Prepared ready to cook










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!

prepared meal using Variegated thistle (Silybum marianum)

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….. 🙂


4 comments on “Prickly Neighbours

  1. fantastic. I tried these once…desperate to get rid of them mostly…but following the only instructions I could find I reduced them to the leaf midrib only. the end result was not worth the drama of the preparation. Now I’m busting to have another go.

  2. Oh no they are totally worth doing, it is fiddly but it only takes me about 1 minute to de-spike each leaf once you get into a rhythm but they are huge so you only need like 6 or 7 leaves for a good feed of greens! better luck next try 🙂

  3. Yer they are a great food source they are the only “thistle” that I bother to eat the leaves off. And food is medicine to me so they are food n medicine n incorporated into the diet they will have the same medicinal effects on the body but more naturally than a supplement or tablet form. I recon anyway. 🙂

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