Eating thistles

British author and blogger Tom Cox has gone a bit Tiggerish on a forage and tried eating a thistle.

There can be a tendency to force your mind open when you eat a thistle, prepare yourself for it tasting surprisingly different to your preconceptions, but what it actually tastes like is a thistle. At best, you might say it tasted like a fibrous, angry cucumber, which doesn’t really work for me as someone who’s always believed cucumber to be redolent of many of the most disappointing parts of British life.

Read the rest of the yarn here. It sent me happily back to the bookshelf to hunt out one of my favourite authors, A. A. Milne and the Pooh story In Which Tigger Comes to the Forest and Has Breakfast. Pooh, who meets Tigger first, kindly offers him some honey and tries to be Sad and Regretful when Tigger decides he doesn’t like honey.

After going to Piglet’s and trying haycorns they set off for Eeyore’s patch of the woods … So he took a large mouthful, and he gave a large crunch.
Ow!” said Tigger.
He sat down and put his paw in his mouth.
“What’s the matter?” asked Pooh.
Hot,” mumbled Tigger.
“Your friend,” said Eeyore, “appears to have bitten on a bee.”
Pooh’s friend stopped shaking his head to get the prickles out, and explained that Tiggers didn’t like thistles.
“Then why bend a perfectly good one?” asked Eeyore.


 The flower of the Carduus acanthoides (welted thistle). Photo: © David Pérez (DPC), Wikimedia Commons, License cc-by-sa-4.0

On her Saveur blog, Mirielle Johnston recalls the delights and traditions of eating cardoon, a thistle relative, in Provence:

“The cardoon, Cynara cardunculus, a member of the thistle family … is also the ancestor of the globe artichoke … Food scholar Clifford Wright, among others, believes the artichoke is merely a cultivated cardoon that debuted in Europe in the 15th century.

“The cardoon itself apparently became domesticated around the same time, in Italy. In its cultivated form, it grew to a height of as much as seven feet (wild, the plant was rarely more than three feet high) and had fewer thorns but fleshier leaves and stalks. Legend has it that all of these improvements were achieved by early agriculturalists simply soaking cardoon seeds in a mixture of rosewater and lavender and bay oils. Experimental gardeners were able to refine the vegetable still further by tying the plant at the top and shielding it from the sun for several weeks, thereby obtaining more delicate white centre stalks.”

Here’s some information about Cynara cardunculus, also the cardoon eaten in Sicily. The Libaliano Kitchen blog shares information and a recipe for a’kkoub (Gundelia tournefortii),  a prickly plant and another in the sunflower family, that is consumed in Lebanon, while the Backyard Farmer blog (NZ) shares cardoon experiences – good and not so great.

An interesting footnote about Gundelia tournefortii is that its pollen was discovered on the Shroud of Turin in 1998, leading to speculation that this was the Crown of Thorns plant.

Chris Hope has written an article about the edible thistles of Britain (all of them, apparently). Read it here.