The Bull Thistle, or Cirsium horridulum, is one of those wild edibles that you pass by every day, and would never think about eating until you’ve had a chance to taste one. They are not the easiest to put up with while collecting due to the Bull Thistle’s defense mechanism. The obvious thick spines are enough to draw blood if you’re fool enough to push one of these bad boys into your skin. If you’ve ever stepped on on of the spikey basal rosettes barefooted, then you’ve discovered (after sending out a string of profanities in multiple languages in none of which you are fluent) that this plant put the “horrid” in horridulum!
Horridulum actually translates in Latin to “somewhat rough,” which means that this plant was named by Chuck Norris after he used it as toilet paper, because us regular mortals would have described the spines with slightly more forceful language than “somewhat rough.”
Anyway, the good news is that if you have a little patience, and a thick pair or leather gloves, you have lots of edible parts that are actually pretty tasty. After you’ve removed spines that would make the devil’s mother-in-law jealous, the Bull Thistle sports edible leaves, stalk, roots, and unopened flower buds. Another awesome trait is that they are pretty darn easy to identify. To my knowledge, every thistle in the Cirsium genus is edible by humans. Thistles also grow all over the world, so they’re easy to find. They pop up in most of the United States, and other parts of the globe. They even grow above the arctic circle.
In the late fall, and early spring you’ll notice their dark green prickly rosettes standing out against the sparse gray-dead color of just about everything else that time of year. I see them in fallow fields, pastures (because cattle will eat just about anything, but can’t get around the spines on these prickly little dudes), and forested edges or openings. The first year growth will be the spine covered basal rosette as pictured below. The second year plant sends up a stalk, that sports thistle buds on the top. The buds open during the first of the warm weather skeeting thistle down all over the place like Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz.
The only parts that I usually eat from the Bull Thistle (after pokey part removal) are the younger leaves, and the stalks that are shorter than 18 inches. The thistles with the taller stalks are too stringy and tough.
My method of collection for the stalks is to (very carefully) bend the stalk over, and cut it just above the rosette with a sharp long bladed knife, so I don’t have to get my cutting hand close to the spines. Then while carefully holding the stalk upside down, I cut the leaves off, and any residual spines, and such. You can easily carry it home at that point without further injury. After that you’ll want to peel away or scrape away any portion of the outside of the stalk that’s tough. It should be roughly the consistency of celery at this point.
Then, I usually chop up the stalks into whatever size pieces looks good for whatever dish I’m serving it in, and cook appropriately. Once properly cleaned, the stalks can be eaten raw, but I rarely do. I prefer them smothered, steamed, or boiled.
Below is a picture of the Bull Thistle stalks smothered. If you want to see this simple and delicious recipe, click here to see my Smothered Bull Thistle recipe.
For collecting the leaves off of the younger plants, I clip them off of the plant with a sturdy pair of scissors. Then I trim off the spiny parts with the scissors. They can also be eaten raw, or cooked like any other green. The roots, and the bases of the unopened flower buds can be eaten as well, but I’ve never tried them. The way I look at it, I can gather, and clean a heck of a lot of stalks and/or leaves in the same amount of time and effort that it takes to get one root, or a few prickly buds.
AS WITH ANY OF THE INFORMATION CONTAINED ON THIS WEBSITE, DO NOT USE THE INFORMATION CONTAINED HEREIN FOR IDENTIFICATION OF ANY WILD PLANT OR OTHER MATERIAL. IT IS FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY, AND YOU SHOULD CONSULT WITH A QUALIFIED EXPERT BEFORE YOU CONSUME ANY PART OF A WILD PLANT. A MISTAKE CAN BE FATAL. DON’T BE A MORON.
DON’T CONSUME ANYTHING TO TREAT THE BODY IN ANY WAY WITHOUT FIRST CONSULTING WITH A PHYSICIAN. AGAIN, DON’T BE A MORON.