Edible Scotch Thistle, It’s Uses, and Harvesting and Preparing it

Edible Scotch Thistle, It’s Uses, and Harvesting and Preparing it

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One of the wild herbs we are starting to get into using more of in regular meals, is the Scotch Thistle. This grows all over the barn where we keep my daughter’s horse, and the barn owner regularly tries to get rid of it every year.  Last year, Ashley took some glam shots of some of the really tiny ones that just seemed to have SO much personality! Here is one of them.

As a member of the thistle family, it is really good at supporting one’s liver and contains Silymarin just like the other thistles do. According to a nootropics article on the plant , it is really good for supporting the nervous system and by extension, the cardiovascular system as well.

As a food, it is best to eat the various parts of the plant cooked, such as the leaves and stems. One lady I tripped across a couple years ago would strip the leaves of their spines, leaving only the rib of the leaf, and cook that. So that is what I’ve begun doing this year. So far, they taste great served as a side dish with a little butter and salt. They taste great in noodle dishes alongside mushrooms, onions, garlic, and other spices you may toss in. They taste nice breaded and dipped in your choice of sauce.

They can also be eaten crushed into teas. I stripped an entire load (5 grocery tubs’ worth) of leaves and tossed the unused portions into the yard waste bag before I realized I should be rinsing those and laying them out to dry!!! Talk about throwing away your food and medicine! I have to blanch this first load and get it into the freezer, then start on this second load while getting ready for this weekend’s wellness fair. But this second load’s leaf trimmings will be rinsed and dried, and then crushed for use in teas and medicines around the house!

I’m not adept at gathering thistle flowers as of yet, so I haven’t experimented with gathering or drying the seeds. The nootropic article above suggested that silymarin is highest in the seeds of the thistle plant, regardless of which thistle we are talking about.

So how does one go about prepping this spiny herb for food? Very carefully!

For myself, I use tongs to hold the leaf while I cut with a decently long knife to get my hands and wrists away from the spines. I have however full-on jabbed my finger nails into those spines and I can say first hand, that IF there any repelling secretions in the plant, I did not react to them at all! My two fingers hurt for sure, but only because of the jab, not because of any chemical reaction.

I find the plant, in spite of how big it can get (taller than me here in the Okanagan when it’s really taking off), to be very timid as far as plants go. If you forcibly move a leaf out of the way, it will generally keep it where you put it, without snapping it back at you, although the leaves otherwise feel tough enough that they could snap back at you. Harvesting requires a shovel, protective footgear, and ideally denim or another protective leg wrap, but today in a sundress and hikers, I was able to move leaves out of the way with a foot, then hammer down on the shovel with said foot and dig up the plant. I have to move the shovel around the base of the plant a few times to loosen then pop it out of the soil. If you are careful, you can hold the underside of the rib of a large leaf while using the other hand to grab another leaf by the underside of the rib and rip it off. Or you can old the root ball with one hand, and grab leaf rib undersides to rip leaves free of the stem that way too.

Once at your work surface, take the tongs as mentioned earlier, hold the leaf with the tongs while you cut the rib free of the rest of the leaf. Just run the knife down each side of the rib, separating as you go, then cut off the tip of the rib and toss the spiny leaf bits to one side.

Here are some pics of my efforts today.

Chopping the rib into 1 inch sections allows for use in various cooked dishes that you’d otherwise use green beans for. When you toss them into the pot to cook, the hot water turns them a bright, rich shade of green, completely different than the pale things sitting on the counter! Some of the chlorophyll leeches into the water too, turning it a shade of green as well. Cooking till tender takes around 10-15 minutes depending on how high your element is. For freezer storage, I’m blanching them first, then portioning them into meal-sized packets for freezing. I’m leaving shorter ones long for use in breaded side dishes, (think breaded zucchini, breaded asparagus, etc). Due to how much gets discarded for access to just the rib, I’d need quite a bit to set away a year’s worth of this vegetable! But remembering I don’t have to toss the leaf cast-offs is important! I need to start drying those starting with this next batch!

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