Survival foods: Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare)

Posted: March 30, 2014 by Rex Trulove in Other Thoughts, Survival, survival food, wild food
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This plant, sometimes called the common thistle, is considered to be an invasive weed nearly everywhere it grows. That is saying a lot, because it grows almost everywhere in North America except for in a few places in the deep southeast. It is also widespread in Europe.

This is a biennial plant that can grow up to six feet tall in its second year, producing the blossoms on branched stems. The leaves are deeply lobed, with spines at the end of each lobe as well as on the midvein, on the stem and around the flower. The flowers are pink to dark pink or nearly purple in color and they are actually quite attractive. The leaves at the base of the plant form a rosette that can be over a couple feet across.

The herb grows in sunny areas that have from damp to dry dirt. It is sometimes seen in waste areas, roadsides, empty lots, trails, pastures and even occasionally in gardens. The plant has a thick, tapering tap root but propagates by seeds.

Looking at one, a person might easily dismiss it as something not worth eating, even for a survivalist. This would be a mistake, however. It is actually a healthy and good tasting wild plant, with a flavor that is similar to celery, though bland.

A sharp knife can be used to remove the spines from the leaves and the leaves can then be eaten raw, steamed, boiled or added to other foods such as soups and stews. The leaves are best when they are harvested during cooler times of the year, like spring and autumn.

The thick tap root can also be peeled, sliced and either boiled or fried, stir-fry style.

A personal favorite is to collect the flowerheads before they’ve totally opened and to peel off the thorny outer skin. These are then boiled. Once done, the flavor is similar to artichokes (which are also members of the thistle family). I like slicing the cooked flowerheads and dipping them in mayonnaise. The downside is that they aren’t usually very large, so it takes a lot of them to make a meal.

This plant is high in vitamin C, vitamin K, niacin, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, manganese, iron and fiber, which makes it a nutritional powerhouse. It also contains Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, so it has value because of the anti-oxidants.

Medicinally, Asians have used bull thistles for a long time for the treatment of internal bleeding and hemorrhages. American Indians also used the plant to treat bleeding gums, inflammation and stomach ulcers. The plant has properties that help with almost any kind of internal bleeding.

For the survivalist, this is a plant to remember. It is common, healthy and can help sustain a person in the case of an apocalypse or even after a natural disaster. Don’t let the thorny appearance fool you. Just remove the thorns.

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