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 others it is considered a weed that grows wild (see photo). Not native to the USA, it has been naturalized and has since been found to have many benefits.
Below is a Q & A list 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 bull thistle been beneficial?
Used as a warm medicinal tea, the First People used different parts of the plant. The roots were used as an aid to digestion, and to treat stomach cramps. Steam from the warm tea was used to treat muscle stiffness and rheumatism. Leaves were used to treat neuralgia, and the fresh flowers were chewed to cover the medicinal tastes.
Is bull thistle eaten today?
When 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 about for wildlife?
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?
Down from the bull thistle can be used to make tinder, and is easily lit by a spark.
For information on native trees, and more, see links below:
Native Trees and Companion Planting
- Native Trees: The Eastern Redbud
In an effort to grow healthy trees, a viable option is to grow trees native to the area. The Eastern Redbud is a deciduous tree first cultivated in 1811. The Eastern Redbud is native to all of the eastern half...
- Native Trees: The Southern Magnolia
In the effort to grow healthy thriving trees, an option is to grow trees native to the area. The beautiful Southern Magnolia tree is native to the United States and is found mainly in the southwestern region....
- Native Trees: The Henry Hicks Magnolia
Native grown trees and plants are easier to grow in their own natural environment. In my search for native trees, the Henry Hicks Magnolia is yet another one that not only grows well but is beautiful to look...
- Companion Planting for Fruit Trees: Natural Insect R...
While modern agriculture relies heavily on toxic chemicals to raise crops and control insects, home gardeners are reaping the benefits of companion planting; the natural way to attract beneficial insects and...
The Danger of Non-Native Plants
- About the Meyer Lemon Tree
Before purchasing a Meyer lemon plant, I decided to do research - and uncovered an interesting bit of history. And the reason why we shouldn't bring/sneak plants into the U.S. from other countries, and vice...
More by this Author
Rubber plants were often said to bring good luck - so you don't want to destroy it. Be sure to take just a few steps to make sure yours grows well.
The popular hydrangea is not only a native plant that is beautiful to look at, it also has many health benefits. The hydrangea has been used by the Cherokee people and also in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a...
If you are thinking about quality flooring, there are quite a few options available. It pays to be an educated consumer.