grow thistles

Grow thistles in the organic garden

Thistles plant is of Mediterranean origin, is sown in May, and develops in the summer heat, which they love very much, to be harvested just before winter. It is a horticultural plant similar in appearance to celery and in botany to artichoke, known and cultivated since the times of the ancient Romans, today not very widespread and therefore to be rediscovered. As cultivation, it is very simple, which is why it should be recommended for beginners. To have a better vegetable, the horticulturist can carry out the bleaching operation, which strengthens the flavor and makes the ribs tender and fleshy.

The plant. The thistle is of the composite or Asteraceae family, it is a vegetable plant that grows a lot, can exceed 150 cm in height. At the base, it has a robust tap root, from which the leaves depart. The part that is collected and consumed is the rib of the leaves, large and fleshy. The pages of the leaves (flaps or laminae) can be pricked depending on the variety.

How to sow thistles

Climate. The thistle is a garden plant that loves the heat of summer and loves high temperatures, but fears frost and is damaged below minus two degrees.

Suitable soil and fertilization. Thistles require good fertilization, abundant in nitrogen. Maybe after having fertilized before planting it can be strengthened with a second fertilizer distribution in July. Ready compost, earthworm humus, manure pellets, or mature manure can be used. As soil they are very strong plants, so they also adapt to heavy or stony soils, while they do not like drought.

Sow thistles. The thistle can be sown directly in the garden, in this case, Postarelle is made about 80 cm apart (it is a bulky plant that requires space) and three seeds are placed there, to be placed at a shallow depth. Alternatively, you can put the seeds in jars to be transplanted later. The sowing period of the thistle is generally the month of May, let’s say that it can be sown between the end of April and mid-June.

Cultivation in the vegetable garden and bleaching

Grow thistles

Plant growth and cultivation operations. The initial growth of the thistle plant is very slow, during July they always seem to be sown too wide, and the soil must be weeded frequently to prevent weeds from taking over. The leaves vary in color between green, gray, and blue. After this first phase, in the middle of summer, the thistle develops strongly and can reach almost one and a half meters in height.

Irrigation. The thistle requires little water in the initial phase, but the soil must never dry out anyway. From the end of August, the irrigation of the thistle is increased.

Parasites and diseases. Being a very rustic plant, diseases that can compromise its cultivation are rare. As parasites, on the other hand, the mice or voles that gnaw their roots, especially in autumn, and the aphids (the black ones that also affect the broad beans) that block their growth are particularly annoying.

Bleaching. This is an operation that greatly improves the quality of the vegetables obtained: the thistle would be hard and quite bitter, depriving the plant of light results in a more tender, fleshy, and tasty vegetable. At the end of October, the thistle plant must be tied for bleaching. The first binding is done at about 40 cm in height, after about ten days the higher leaves can be tied, leaving only the center of the plant free. When the cold arrives, the thistles must be removed from the garden. The actual bleaching can continue in several ways:

  • Pit bleaching. A one meter deep pit is dug and the thistles are placed vertically, with only a small piece of root at the base. It is then covered with straw.
  • Bleaching in the field. Obviously it can only be done in areas with a mild climate, where it does not freeze. The thistles are left in the garden, covered by wrapping them with sheets.
  • Humpback thistles. The plant is folded to the side, partially removing it from the ground, then covered with earth leaving only the top out and the plant continues to grow by curving.
  • Cell bleaching. Thistle plants are put whole in the cold room.

Collect the thistle and use it in the kitchen

The collection of thistles. As with many vegetables, thistles are also harvested before winter, so that the frosts do not have time to ruin the plant. If bleaching is carried out, the thistle remains a winter vegetable, excellent for the family garden because it produces at a time when there is no great variety in the garden.

The seeds of thistles. Since this is a biennial vegetable garden, if we leave the flowering thistle plant in the ground, with a formation similar to the artichoke, from which the seeds can be obtained. There are perennial varieties of thistles under certain climatic conditions, such as milk thistle and alpine thistle.

Cooking the thistles. The thistle has a slightly bitter taste, reminiscent of the artichoke, a plant also of the composite family, and has a soft and fleshy, very tasty rib. Thistles are a typical Christmas vegetable, they can be cooked boiled, baked with abundant bechamel or au gratin, or they can be breaded and fried. In terms of properties, it is a purifying and detoxifying vegetable, rich in fiber and magnesium.

Variety of thistles. There are many types of thistles plant, here are some varieties that are known and in use:

  • Gobbo del Monferrato.
  • Giant helpless thistle. Variety without thorns, fleshy and not very bitter.
  • Asti or Bianco Avorio thistle. Very good variety, fleshy ribs, without thorns.
  • Giant thistle of Romagna. Large leaves tending to gray, moderately barbed.
  • Thistle of Bologna, of medium size and without thorns.
  • Thistle of Chieri. Not very thorny Piedmontese variety, it keeps long enough to be convenient for commercial cultivation.
  • Milk thistle. Very famous variety, also widespread in nature.
  • Wild thistle. It grows spontaneously and perennial, it is collected as spontaneous grass (in particular the alpine thistle is widespread, on mountain meadows).

Recommended seeds: Arcoiris milk thistle seeds, organic and biodynamic.


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