The Bull Thistle Plant: Is it Just a Weed?
About the Bull Thistle
Although commonly seen, the bull thistle is a plant with a history that remains unfamiliar to many, and to those who are familiar with the plant, it is often considered a weed. Not native to the United States, it has been naturalized and has since been found to have many benefits.
Below are some commonly asked questions and answers about the bull thistle plant.
What Is the Origin of the Bull Thistle?
Native to Eurasia, the bull thistle is now naturalized in the United States, and is considered an aggressive weed because one mature plant can produce thousands of seeds.
How About a Description?
The prickly bull thistle (cirsium vulgare) is a biennial plant that belongs to the asteraceae (sunflower) family. The bull thistle has pink to purple flowers, with fruit also known as thistledown. The small seeds, which are carried by the wind, are called achene.
Where Does it Grow Wild?
The bull thistle generally grows in pastures, gardens, along trails and roadsides, and in waste areas.
How Has the Bull Thistle Been Beneficial?
The bull thistle plant was used by early humans as a warm medicinal tea. The roots were also used as an aid to digestion, and to treat stomach cramps. Steam from the warm tea was used to treat muscle stiffness and rheumatism. The leaves were used to treat neuralgia, and the fresh flowers were chewed to cover the medicinal tastes.
Is Bull Thistle Eaten Today?
When the bull thistle root is cooked it tastes much like the Jerusalem artichoke. The flower stems and the leaves can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable that is similar to spinach. The leaves can also be used raw in a salad. Flower stalks can be eaten like celery or cooked like asparagus. The seeds are also edible and can be roasted.
What Animals Eat Bull Thistle?
Bull thistle leaves are eaten by the white-tailed deer and eastern cottontails. Nectar from the flower is eaten by bees, butterflies, and the ruby-throated hummingbird. Seeds are eaten by small mammals and many types of birds, including the dark-eyed Junco, and the American goldfinch. Shelter is also provided for animals including the Carolina chickadee.
Additionally, sheep and goats can graze on bull thistles. Horses can eat the flowers before they go to seed.
Any Other Uses?
The bull thistle can be used to make tinder, and is easily lit by a spark.
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