Latin Name: Onopordum acanthium
Origin: Native of Europe, western and central Asia and Asia Minor.
Alternative Name(s): Cotton Thistle.
Known Hazards: None known.
Habitat: Waste places and arable land, especially on chalky and sandy soils, avoiding shade. Also found on slightly acid soils.
Edibility Rating: 2 (1-5)
Medicinal Rating: 1 (1-5)
Physical Characteristics: Flowers: Flowerheads made up of many small flowers (florets); heads 2–6 cm wide including surrounding spiny bracts, heads solitary or in small groups. Flowers late winter to early summer.The flowers are hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees. The plant is self-fertile.Erect biennial thistle to 2 m high. Stems winged, woolly or cobwebby. Leaves woolly hairy to scattered hairy; basal leaves toothed, to 40 cm long and to 25 cm wide, withering in mature plants; stem leaves toothed, smaller with base of leaf extending down stems as wings. Seeds 4-ribbed, ovoid, to 0.5 cm long, grey with darker mottling; topped by minutely barbed bristles to 0.9 cm long.
Distinguishing features: Distinguished by erect branched stems; leaves spiny; flower head bracts ending in an orange spine, largest about 2 mm wide where bent away from heads; all florets tubular, mauve to purple (rarely white).
Dispersal: Spread by seed.
Flowers; Leaves; Stem. Flower buds – cooked. A globe artichoke substitute, though they are much smaller and very fiddly to use. Stems – cooked. Used as a vegetable, they are a cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) substitute. The stems are cooked in water like asparagus or rhubarb. They are best if the rind is removed. Leaves and young plants – cooked. They are harvested before the flowers develop and the prickles must be removed prior to cooking. The petals are an adulterant for saffron, used as a yellow food colouring and flavouring. A good quality edible oil is obtained from the seed. The seed contains about 25% oil.
Astringent; Cancer; Cardiotonic. The flowering plant is cardiotonic. It is used in some proprietary heart medicines. The juice of the plant has been used with good effect in the treatment of cancers and ulcers. A decoction of the root is astringent. It is used to diminish discharges from mucous membranes.
Oil; Stuffing. The stem hairs are sometimes collected and used to stuff pillows. An oil obtained from the seed is used as a fuel for lamps.
Notes: Germinates in autumn; may remain as a rosette over the first summer. Weed of pasture, particularly fertile soils, extending over much of non-arid south eastern Australia. Plants may form dense stands that smother other pasture species and decrease pasture production. Most of the tall Onopordum seen in Australia are hybrids with a full range of genetic intermediates between Scotch Thistle and Illyrian thistle, Onopordum illyricum and with some genes for species not recorded from Australia. Bract width around heads particularly reflects this variation.