Nodding Nodding Thistles: Friend, Foe, orThistles: Friend, Foe, or Food? Food?

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photo by Susan Michaud

by Susan Michaud
If you’ve tried to control Nodding thistles on your property, or even tried to touch one, you would agree that they are not friendly! They are considered an invasive species in Colorado, and counties–including Grand County– encourage their eradication. If you’ve driven through parts of Old Park, there are entire lots covered with these beautiful, purple nodding flowers, but nearby homeowners will agree that they are not the sort of neighbors you want if you live downwind.

Carduus nutans, the Nodding thistle, is most likely foe for many. We’ve spent six summers working on ridding our meadow of them and are now, finally, in the maintenance phase. However, anytime we disturb the soil, we can expect to yield a bumper crop the following spring. Although the plant itself only lives for two years, the plethora of seeds one plant can produce will populate acres, and they can remain dormant for up to a decade.

Defeating the Thistle
How did we defeat the Nodding thistle in our meadow? It wasn’t easy. Taking the advice of a neighbor, we got a recommended herbicide. Then, to make sure that the flowers didn’t mature, spreading their dandelion-type seeds, we physically cut them off and put them in a garbage bag to take to the dump or burn when possible. After removing the flower, we sprayed each plant with the herbicide so it wouldn’t create more flowers that season. The first few summers were miserable. We plucked and sprayed an unimaginable amount of thistle. Had I known then what I know now, I would have looked for them a little earlier, although they are harder to find without the purple flowers. Spraying before the flowers formed might have reduced some of the tedious work we endured.

Last year, we worked on some culverts on our road and disturbed an area of the meadow. Of course, those pesky, dormant seeds took advantage, and I’m seeing a greater number of plants this year. Now I have some choices to make. I can go out with my trusty herbicide and garbage bag, and I probably will for many of them. Or I can prepare them for supper!

Foraging the Thistle Yes, many have seen their horses or livestock feast on thistles, perhaps after they’ve been
cut to prevent a poke in the nose. But I’ve researched and found that “some parts are edible” to quote Euell Gibbons.

The young taproot can be eaten like a potato or carrot; older, tougher taproots can be cut, dried, and used for tea. The leaves and midrib can be eaten like greens after removing the sharp spines, and the stalks that produce the flowers can be peeled and eaten raw or sautéed like asparagus.

The best time to harvest Nodding thistles for food is before they flower when the stalks are tender and juicy. As you cut them, leave a little piece of the outer layer and pull creating a tear up the stem, then they should peel like a banana. Don’t forget your gloves! After you’ve peeled the stems, they can be sautéed or diced and used like celery in chicken or tuna salads. It’s a bit too late in the year to find those tender stalks, but I cut a few for demonstration and ate them raw to see how they tasted. They were slightly sweet and not as juicy as celery, but as I’ve mentioned, I’m a little late in harvesting them.

Free Herbicide Available
If Nodding thistle isn’t your idea of tonight’s side dish, Grand County Natural Resources is providing
free herbicide. You can get it at the Fairgrounds in Kremmling (Road and Bridge shop) every other Friday from 9 am to noon. The final six dates scheduled are 7/17 (1-4 pm on this day only), 7/31, 8/14, 8/28, 9/11, and 9/25. You must bring a handheld sprayer (they will not fill jugs, buckets, gas cans, etc.), and you can receive up to 4 gallons. Their phone number is 970-887-0745.

And for those who prefer to use a more natural weed killer, here is a DYI recipe recommended by a friend.

Natural, DIY Weed Killer
1 gallon white vinegar
2 cups Epsom salt
¼ cup Dawn dishwashing soap Instructions
Pour the vinegar, dish soap,

and Epsom salt into a sprayer. Shake until combined.
Let settle for 2 minutes then spray the weeds. Make sure you soak the entire weed with the formula.
NOTE: It is best to spray in the afternoon when the weeds are not damp from dew. You should find them dead the next day. (I would add that you will need to find a
day where you’re not likely to get an afternoon thunderstorm.)
So, friend, foe, or food?

Friend may be a strong word for this prickly squatter, but I definitely plan on adding thistle to my foraging menu and making peace with this foe.

Resources
Here are some websites with more information and thistle recipes:
https://www.juliasedibleweeds. com/general/thoughts-on-thistle/
https://wildfoodgirl.
com/2019/eating-nodding-thistle-stalks/#:~:text=The%20 result%20is%20a%20thick,to%20 soups%E2%80%94you%20 name%20it.

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